Dunkin' steps in while Starbucks clocks out

CANTON Mass. Dunkin' Donuts is offering 99-cent espresso drinks today as Starbucks closes its doors for three hours to retrain its baristas.

From 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, Dunkin' customers can get a small latte, cappuccino or espresso drink of their choice, hot or iced, for 99 cents.

Dunkin' Donuts said in a statement that the promotion is to ensure that "no coffee lover is denied a delicious espresso-based beverage" -- an apparent reference to Starbucks' decision to close its stores this evening for employee training.

Starbucks said earlier this month that all of its nearly 7,000 U.S. stores would close from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. local time "to conduct a nationwide education event, designed to energize partners and transform the customer experience." The training will include a refresher on how to pull the perfect espresso shot, steam milk and customize drinks.

The training initiative is one of several of Starbucks' moves this year to overhaul the brand in an effort to build traffic and reignite customer loyalty. The Seattle-based coffeehouse giant has struggled recently in the face of fierce competition from such quick-service players as Dunkin' and McDonald's, both of which have ramped up their coffee programs with premium brews and espresso drinks.

Last month, it was reported that Starbucks was testing a $1 "short" cup of brewed coffee with free refills.

Dunkin Donuts, which is a division of Canton, Mass-based Dunkin' Brand Inc., has more than 5,000 franchised units in the United States.