By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (

Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame has often touted the inspiration of his coffee empire stemming from his earlier years traveling through Italy. But until up very recently, the global franchise has had difficulty penetrating this market. The top brass knew that they needed something special to stand apart from the cafés that already dot nearly every corner in every Italian city.

Moreover, the senior team knows that resting on your laurels is a death knell and that they needed to start testing the next evolution of the Starbucks brand. The solution was to crank the amp to eleven by launching the new roastery concept right in downtown Milan where the coffee drinkers are as shrewd as they come. And during my lasted trip to Italy, I carved out an afternoon to see what it’s all about and what hoteliers can learn from this new concept.

The Milan Roastery
Converting a historic post office into what is officially called the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan, it is undoubtedly the largest Starbucks in the world. Dominated by a multi-story, unobstructed roastery and adjoining packing line in its center, eight serving counters wrap around the outer walls with coffee-related merchandise sold in the middle.

On the mezzanine, you’ll find a bar with a half-dozen mixologists whisking together a wide range of alcoholic beverages with, surprisingly, no coffee service on this level. Instead, with most every order comes free pizza to ply patrons with a little nosh.

On a weekday afternoon, service was brisk and efficient. Above all, the coffee was superb. Looking over the vast expanse from my balcony seat, I estimated about 400 people actively pursuing a cup of their favorite brew as they watched the brewers shuffling about in the center to roast and bundle the beans on the spot.

It’s All About the Experience
While every café in Europe has its charm, the experience offered by this Reserve Roastery was exceptional, and therefore memorable. While any place can inevitably make a fantastic cappuccino, here it’s all about the experience and the vivid activation of the five senses.

Beyond the taste, think of how the wafting of freshly roasted beans smells, how the constant grinding of those beans from every corner plays on the ear drums or simply how having so many people in one room resembles less a traditional café and more a German beer hall.

Applying this to the hospitality industry, how do you move your aspects of your business from serviceable or great to something truly experiential? Certainly, you’re not going to spend a massive amount of CapEx to build a roastery in the center of your restaurant, but the core idea of full sensory activation is nevertheless critical for the next evolution of your operations.

Thinking experientially does not have to be limited to your coffee program, of course. Initiate a dialogue with your staff to see how you can slowly integrate newer and wilder ideas into your restaurants, your bars, your lounge areas, your pool areas, your meeting spaces or anywhere else that’s guest-facing.

Ask what measures can be taken to create elements of your service delivery with a unique thumbprint. Hotels must be fun and exceptional in order to truly command an upwardly moving ADR and to create year-round demand. Designing micro-experiences are a great way to make your hotel stand out.