The new “let’s make it slightly uncomfortable” model has a larger effect on the psyches of the customers – those who come to work or to play – than we might think at first. This is because the coffee house plays the central role of “Third Place” in our lives – home being the first and work being the second – and Starbucks has always been vocal about its desire to be this third place for its customer. What’s interesting is that humans actually really need this place, and we’ve needed if for practically our whole existence, according to some.
About 20 years ago, Ray Oldenburg, PhD, who wrote a book called The Great Good Place, argued that there are a number of attributes that make a third place a third place: It has to be convenient, inviting, serve something, and have some good regulars (which, he says, is actually more important than having a good host). People have had third places throughout history, and they’ve ranged from taverns to coffee houses to barbershops. They’re definitely better than street corners. Third places are different from first or second ones because we go to them in our in-between time – their voluntariness is what makes them so special and unique.