The Coffee Race Heats Up: Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts

By Carlye Mazzucco

Editor's note: Senior Carlye Mazzucco has some strong feelings about which local coffee chain serves up the best cup of joe. She shares her opinions with The Buzz readers here.

"I’ll have a triple mocha dark chocolate double caramel frappe please."

People in line for coffee usually hear a similar phrase in many chain coffee shops. But, which chain coffee shop holds the most of these species? Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks? Each shop possesses qualities that lure their customers. Most people have no preference; they just want some coffee. However, others argue that Starbucks trumps the other or vice versa. Why do people prefer one over the other? What differentiates one over the other? Which breakfast/coffee attracts more people?

Quantity or Quality?

In this day and age, most people look for price efficiency. Starbucks tends to lean on the more expensive side of the spectrum than Dunkin’ Donuts.  A Dunkin’ Donuts large coffee usually costs about $2.50 while the same drink at Starbucks costs almost $4. Looks like Dunkin’ Donuts wins the Financial Efficiency round. But does quantity overrule quality?

If I drank two different cups of coffee, one from each coffee shop, could I pick out which shop made each one? Most people can’t tell the difference between the two. To them, coffee is coffee. It doesn't matter where they buy it from. The coffees from both shops relatively tastes the same. On the other hand, the variety of coffee between the two coffee shops differs. Starbucks offers more types of coffee: macchiatos, lattes, etc. Therefore, Starbucks will attract more on-the-go coffee people, but not for people looking for a hearty breakfast.

Starbucks displays pastries for a quick bite to eat. However, Dunkin’ Donuts provides meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition to the pastries I can buy from Starbucks, I can also buy more substantial food like egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and delicious donuts. If a customer wants to share with friends, Dunkin’ Donuts triumphs over Starbucks, offering a “Box O’ Joe,” which contains ten 10 oz servings of coffee and boxes of donuts or the famous munchkins. Overall, I believe Dunkin’ Donuts sells more food and Starbucks sells more coffee. Again, Starbucks provides sufficient “to-go food,” while Dunkin’ Donuts lures people with their entire breakfast menus.

Location, location, location.

In a national study, journalists showed that Starbucks shops are located near affluent, trade areas. Statistically, in cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. or Chicago, I can find Starbucks in the more "glamorous" business side of the city. Business workers (the people most likely to be on-the-go and in need of a quick cup of coffee) have easy access to Starbucks. Dunkin' Donuts generally locates itself in the suburban areas of the country. For example, look at Branford: our town provides five different Dunkin' Donuts restaurants and only two Starbucks. Essentially, Starbucks appeals to those on-the-go more than Dunkin' Donuts. Starbucks takes pride in its Italian cafe/bistro atmosphere, however their coffee size names don’t benefit the customer. Instead of the generic small, medium, and large that most restaurants (including Dunkin’ Donuts) call the sizes, Starbucks names them tall, grande, and venti, respectively. Unique. However, they all relatively translate to large in a different language. Tall correlates with big in English, grande means large in Spanish, and venti translates to twenty in Italian. Not only does this system befuddle the average customer, but also frustrates them. Personally, I can never remember which name means which size. Also, the employees sometimes sass me when I can’t remember them. One time when I went to Starbucks my order conversation went like this: Me: “Hi, can I get a medium caramel iced coffee?”

Employee (rolling her eyes): “Do you mean grande?”

Me (giving her a wry look): “Is that medium?”

Employee: “Yes”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Then yes.”

Needless to say, I, like many other average Joes, prefer the regular size names at Dunkin’ Donuts rather than at Starbucks.

Starbucks appeals to the person “on-the-go,” and coffee extremists. But Dunkin’ Donuts dominates when it comes to efficiency in price and hearty breakfasts. Someone also has the option to share donuts and coffee when going to Dunkin’ Donuts. People simply have their preferences even if there is no real way to differentiate between the food.

Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments or @BranfordBuzz on Twitter.