Dunkin' Donuts offers free coffee in battle of the beans

All's fair in love, war -- and now, coffee.

When chief rival Starbucks temporarily retreats to its corner today, closing shop at 5:30 p.m. for staff training, coffee heavyweight Dunkin' Donuts doesn't plan to stop throwing punches. The coffee-and-doughnut chain's three Rock Hill stores will try to land a suckerpunch, giving away free coffee to would-be patrons of its fiercest competitor.

Terry Taylor, general manager of the shops on Celanese Road, Dave Lyle Boulevard and Cherry Road, said all guests will be offered free, small cups of coffee from 1 to 10 p.m. today. Taylor said the Rock Hill locations also will participate in the national promotion of 99-cent small lattes.

The free coffee, however, is an extra jab the local stores decided to throw.

"Our motivation for doing it is continued service to our regular customers, and also to capture those that would normally be at Starbucks," Taylor said.

Local Starbucks stores on Celanese Road and Market Street in Baxter Village will take their own coffee break of sorts at 5:30 p.m. today for what the company calls Art of Espresso training. They'll re-open at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

It's part of CEO Howard Schultz's Transformation Agenda, a plan revealed this winter designed to re-focus the hip coffee chain.

Plans also call for layoffs

Last week, Schultz also announced that Starbucks -- which has 170,000 employees worldwide -- would begin a management restructuring resulting in about 600 job cuts.

A company spokesperson said today's closings aren't about layoffs, but espresso training. She said the closings are an investment because they aim to teach employees how to make the "absolute finest espresso" drinks.

"We will begin to elevate the Starbucks experience for our customers," Schultz wrote to employees. "We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us."

Taylor, the local Dunkin Donuts manager, countered with his own take.

"Our CEO says we don't have to shut down to train our employees," he said. "They already know what they're doing, and we've been doing it a lot longer than Starbucks."

Coffee addiction

• There are 108 million coffee drinkers in the U.S.

• About 54 percent of the adult U.S. population drinks coffee daily.

• Coffee drinkers annually spend more than $9.2 billion in the retail sector and $8.7 billion in the food service industry on coffee. That averages out to $164.71 per year spent on coffee per drinker.

• The average American coffee consumer drinks 3.1 cups daily.

-- Source: Coffeeresearch.org