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Starbucks in Hospital: To Be or Not to Be

The 39th Starbucks outlet in Shanghai is expected to open at the end of this month.

That in itself might not seem like big news, but its location in a hospital marks it as a first for both Shanghai and China as a whole, in whose cities the chain has become as ubiquitous as elsewhere.

Shanghai East Hospital in Lujiazui, the most prosperous commercial part of Pudong New Area, did not organize the arrangement itself, but handed negotiations over to the Yipu Company, affiliated to the hospital, according to a spokesperson.

The new branch of Starbucks, the biggest coffee retailer in the US, was scheduled to open its doors on October 20, but construction and decoration was delayed and a new date has not yet been disclosed.

The final appearance of the new outlet remains a mystery, despite efforts of passers-by to peek through cracks in the boarded-off area, as do its business prospects inside the hospital.

In response to concerns about hygiene Summer Li, spokesperson for the President of Starbucks Coffee Shanghai Corporation, said, "We will use disposable cups in the new outlet instead of the coffee mugs used in ordinary outlets in order to prevent diseases from spreading."

As for Shanghai East Hospital, its spokesperson said hospital space was divided into three categories: sterile, clean and contaminative. The clinic hall where the Starbucks will be located belongs to the clean area so - in theory - there is no difference between this spot and any other public place.

Liu Zhongming, president of the hospital, said people should not worry about the risk of contagion - after all, customers at any cafe could become sick. Strict disinfection measures will be undertaken to lower the possibility of contamination and the new 60 square meter-outlet will be enclosed. Liu said the introduction of Starbucks into the hospital had been approved by the local health inspection department.

It is not unusual to find cafes in the halls of hospitals in many countries. In these cases, however, due to their larger main halls and lower visitor numbers, it is easier for cafes to operate in well-ventilated areas. Some experts have suggested that Chinese hospitals should be more concerned about their general conditions than about housing coffee shops.

"It's important to keep in line with the best international standards - not just medical expertise, but also service concepts," said Liu, "We want to create a more relaxed and cozy environment for patients, their family members and medical staff."

The hospital had previously planned to establish a cafeteria of its own, but switched to the idea of partnering with Starbucks because of the coffee company's reputation. Starbucks, meanwhile, hopes patients, doctors, nurses and employees from nearby buildings all make use of the new location.

The Seattle-based Starbucks Corporation opened its first China outlet in Beijing's Forbidden City, the former imperial palace, in December 2000. Li said the company chose Shanghai East Hospital after conducting careful research, noting its ideal location, surrounded by office buildings and near a high-density residential community.

Hospital visitors were interviewed by the Shanghai Star. "I think it would make a good place for people to sit and wait for their examination results," said one, named Fan.

But some disliked the idea of drinking designer coffee in a hospital. "I often drink coffee in Starbucks, but I will not drink here. There is a Starbucks near my workplace, and I would prefer to go there," said a young woman named Li.

"It would be better for the cafe to be located outside the main hall," said a man named Xu. "Most people are used to avoiding hospitals. Unless they have to stay in the hospital for some reason, they would not choose to come to a cafe there. I am not sure whether it will prove very profitable."

(Shanghai Star October 27, 2004)


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