September 30, 2009

-image-call me, starbucks

(Disclaimer: Forgive me, Katie, dear Starbucks employee. This is not directed at you, of COURSE. I’m just opinionated about coffee issues. Uhm, as we all know.)

We’re at a Starbucks this morning. It’s a little crowded. The barista on bar steps in to help with the overflow and asks MB, “Can I start something for you?”

Good. Fine. This is standard coffeehouse practice when things are busy. At least give the appearance that we’re here for you, working for you, blahdie blahblah.

MB orders our two small coffees. He actually orders them as smalls because he refuses — REFUSES — to say “tall.” The barista corrects him, which is, uhm, annoying, kind of makes me want to smack him, but not part of this story.

MB pays and we stand there. We don’t have our coffees and we don’t have our money anymore, either. I’ve already discussed this backwards practice here.

Clearly, the barista who asked what he could start for us has started nothing for us. We wait several moments. One of us waits patiently; one of us does not. I leave you to decipher which is which.

Then MB says, “Oh, they’re doing a traveler for someone and they’ve run out of coffee.” So that’s the reason for the wait.

A “traveler” is basically a huge to-go container of coffee. (I don’t know what Starbucks calls them.) Offices order them for meetings, conferences, etc. They’re a pain in the bottom, I ain’t gonna lie, because of how much coffee they take to fill them. Still, there’s a way to manage the situation and not run out of coffee for the rest of your customers. Whenever we filled them at The Beanhouse or at my own coffeehouse, as we were decanting coffee into the traveler, we instantly started brewing on top of that. Pour and brew, pour and brew, or, yeah, you will be out of coffee for several minutes. Which is what happened today. It’s not the end of the world, obviously, but as a former coffeehouse mistress, I notice these little details. I can’t not notice them. And since Starbucks is this huge corporate entity, I guess I have higher expectations of their customer service or their ability to finesse a tricky situation.

Another problem: None of the baristas told us what was happening. We figured it out because we’ve been in that situation, but other customers were standing around not knowing what was happening.

To me, this is a no-no. My employees were taught to communicate if something had gone unexpectedly awry AND to offer another option. Not to communicate shows contempt for the customer. One may very well have contempt for the customer, but one must try to smile and hide it.

For instance, here’s a possible happier ending for our scenario today:

A barista steps in and speaks.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve run out of coffee for the moment and need to brew. Can I offer you an Americano instead, no extra charge?”

“What’s an Americano?” the customer might ask.

“Well, it’s espresso and hot water. So basically, you’re getting a really strong cup of coffee. I could add more water or leave more room for cream if you like.”

Ta-da. Options. Choices. People hate waiting because, well, we’re all big impatient babies. I am. But doing that soothes customer irritation, makes them feel cared for, and gives them a sense of control over the situation.

I mean, sure, we eventually got our coffee, but NOBODY soothed us. And we NEED us some soothing. Who will soothe us?? I WANT TO BE SOOTHED!!



So call me, Starbucks.

I’m just here to help, mmkay?

May 14, 2009

-image-look, starbucks

All right. I admit. Since I no longer have my own coffeehouse, I’m now a coffee whore. I patronize whatever-whichever coffeehouse happens to be closest to my hot little hands at any given moment. Seattle’s Best, Peet’s, independent coffeehouses, and, yes, even Starbucks. So, whatever, I drink around. A coffee slut with no deep foundational principles or steely moral core; that’s me. This, because I started to feel sorry for Starbucks since they now suck so bad and because I evidently thought my personal patronage would make ALL THE DIFFERENCE in their sucky bottom line.

But there are ongoing customer service problems I’ve encountered that go beyond their typical bitter brew. I’ve experienced these two issues at multiple Starbucks locations now, so it’s not a fluke or something unique to a particular location.

And I must address them.

(And Katie, I know you work at Starbucks — please don’t hate me.)

All right.

1) The way Starbucks handles the simple purchase of a cup of coffee is totally whack.

Here’s how they do it:

~ You order your cup of coffee.
~ They take your money.
~ They give you change.
~ (You leave a tip for, um, receiving nothing at this point.)
~ Again, they have your money, they have a generous tip, YOU have nothing yet.
~ So your end of the transaction is over — the cashier has moved on to the next customer, even, — but you must stand there off to the side, trying not to be in the way, while someone is back there, pouring your coffee. You hope.

No, Starbucks. NO. This is lame. It’s rude. It’s awkward for the customer. It creates a traffic jam. Not to mention it’s just flat-out inefficient. It happens EVERY time I go — in EVERY Starbucks I patronize. It’s like they’re told, “Get the money first and maybe the customer will just wander off and forget they ordered coffee.”

I understand, of course, that when you order a latte, a cappuccino, any other bar drink, you need to wait for it. But for a simple cup of coffee? No. NO.

Here’s the way to do it, Starbucks. The right way. Uhm, the way I did it, which — this cannot be overstressed — is THE RIGHT WAY:

~ Customer orders a cup of coffee: “I’ll have a small coffee.”
~ Cashier punches in the order and says, “That’s going to be $1.60” or whatever.

This next part is the key:

~ Cashier then steps away and actually gets the customer’s coffee for her.
~ This brief moment allows the customer time to dig around for the cash to pay for the coffee.
~ Cashier places freshly poured coffee in front of customer and repeats the amount due.
~ Customer pays, gets change, leaves a tip, and most importantly, her end of the transaction is over AND she has her coffee, simultaneously. Imagine that!

See that? That’s an even, simultaneous exchange. Coffee for money, money for coffee. No one stands like a poor lost soul in no man’s land waiting for her cup of coffee. No one gets the sense that you care more about her money than you do about her satisfaction. It’s beautiful is what it is.

Moving on.

2) The way Starbucks handles its paper coffee cups is whack. By that I mean, the way the barista grabs the cup into which they pour the coffee. (Yes, I notice even this tiny detail.)

Before I describe how they do it, I need you to picture your typical stack of paper coffee cups at your local coffeehouse. Picture it in your head right now. They’re stacked like a little paper pyramid, right? Stacked upside down, one on top of another. (Or they should be.) The bottom of the coffee cup is on the top of the stack, closest to the barista using it. You’ve got that in your head now, right? Okay.

So you’ve ordered a cup of coffee and here’s what Starbucks does:

~ Barista grabs a coffee cup
~ Barista grabs a cup sleeve
~ Barista puts the sleeve on the cup, most likely touching the lip of your cup — where your mouth will soon be going, pippa — with his hands, which, well, might be clean but might not be. And let’s not forget, there’s the dread swine flu. Now, personally, I’m not really a germaphobe, but some people are and coffeehouses need to take that into consideration. And anyone who puts milk, sugar, etc., into his coffee will do a “test-taste” after stirring and drink from the cup with the lid off. Right? You take the lid off to add stuff and then stir it and taste it before putting the lid back on. Right? Well, of course, right. I watched this every day. I mean, I secretly TIMED people at the condiment stand with my stopwatch, for Pete’s sake. I noticed things.
~ Barista pours coffee into the cup and then — ugh — grabs a lid, gets his hands all over it — where your mouth will soon be going, pippa — and, ta da, hands you your pristine cup of coffee. YUM. Drink up!

No, Starbucks. Again, NO.

Here’s the way you handle your cups. The right way. The way I did it.

Someone has ordered a cup of coffee.

~ You grab a cup sleeve, FIRST — key, key, key
~ You shape it into an O — just curl your fingers
~ You take that O of a cup sleeve and you slam it down on the bottom of the cup at the top of the pyramid
~ You take a finger from your free hand and place it on the cup pyramid — in the space between the top cup and the next cup in line — and use it as a little bit of leverage whilst you pull the top cup off the pyramid by the sleeve that you just placed on it. This whole action takes two seconds. It’s fast. It’s easy. And no customer will every say, “Did you just put your finger on/in my cup, the top of my cup, somewhere I don’t want it?” Because that does happen. People notice. Or, rather, certain people are prone to notice and make it an issue. So just de-issue it, okay? De-issue everything as much as possible on the front end of things. This method — the “O” coffee sleeve method — is so fast, so clean, really, I don’t understand why I don’t see it at every coffeehouse I ever go to, but I’ve only seen it in two places: The ol’ Beanhouse and later, my own coffeehouse.
~ The final step, the lid step — well, that just shouldn’t be happening, in my opinion. Lids should be at the condiment stand for customers to put on for themselves. I know putting lids on for the customers minimizes spills, but I never once had a customer complain about being able to handle their OWN lid. It gives them control and they don’t worry about any random barista cooties.

And, sometimes, pippa, I hate to tell you: there be cooties.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fought the urge to demonstrate the O Coffee Sleeve Trick to Starbucks employees. I mean, I have stood in Starbucks recently, like, oh, maybe today, literally telling myself, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” A couple of weeks ago, I took a manager’s business card from the little cup on the counter vowing to “write him a helpful letter.”

I have not done that.

But I still have the card ….

April 30, 2009

-image-speaking of coffeehouses ….

Several times a week, we’ll be driving down the street, around the neighborhood, and one of us will point and say, “Oh, look! It’s Cigarette Butts Guy!” Or maybe, “Hey! It’s Dirty Santa!” Or maybe, “Wow. There’s Highchair Robert. I was hoping he was still alive.”

This is what comes from having a coffeehouse. You end up knowing lots of people and the ones you don’t know, you ruthlessly pigeonhole.

April 29, 2009

-image-men and espresso: what women think of what you order

During the time I worked at a coffeehouse and later became mistress of my own coffeehouse, I formed certain opinions about men and their espresso drinks. Now why I waste my time forming these useless opinions and then actually posting about them is truly beyond me. I’m sorry. I just don’t understand myself. Really. I lack basic self-awareness on every possible front which creates untold suffering for everyone around me, alas, including you. I probably should be writing about how SWINE FLU IS GOING TO KILL US ALL, but, so far, I’m a bit agnostic on that point. Besides, this topic — the men and espresso topic — falls in the range of slightly-to-somewhat more fun, based on my knee-jerk assessment of both topics a mere two seconds ago, so I’m running with it.

All right. My expert coffee analysis on men and their espresso drink boils down to this:

The more milk your espresso drink has in it, the less manly you will seem to be.

I’m sorry. It’s true. Do you think the (hetero) chicks who work in coffeehouses don’t discuss this stuff? I tell you they do. And they especially do if I’m there because, well, I initiate the discussion.



Because I care deeply about manliness, because I oppose the gender neutralization seeping into the culture, because I believe men in general are simply yummy, I give you, from the bottom of my heart, my list of ….

What Not to Order if You’re a Man in a Coffeehouse:

~ Cafe Au Lait: This is half coffee, half steamed milk. No, menfolk. This is not appropriate for you. This is a drink you give to gammie to help her fall asleep, not a drink to carry around in your thick, manly grasp. In fact, did you know that a recent Johns Hopkins study showed that male rats who were given cafe au laits every morning for a mere week lost their sex drives entirely and never got them back and later, drowned themselves in their water dishes? S’true. I don’t make this stuff up.

~ Any kind of Latte: Oh, please, no. Please. It’s espresso and steamed milk with foam on top. Very soft and milky and girlie. I forbid you to order these. If you currently order these, well, you simply must stop. In fact, right now, I wish I still had a coffeehouse because I would immediately institute a tough-love espresso policy wherein I tell various charming yet unenlightened menfolk, “No, I’m sorry. I care about you too much; you cannot order that. I implore you to pick something else.”

~ Hot cocoa: In the privacy of your own home, fine, I don’t care what you do. But don’t strut into a coffeehouse, looking all hunky, open your mouth to order a hot cocoa and then expect me, your certified barista chick, to ever look at you the same way again. Two exceptions: You have children with you and the hot cocoa is for them OR the children plead with you because they want YOU to have one, too, Daddy! If you are forced, as an act of solidarity with your kids, to partake of public hot cocoa, I give you a pass. Also, if you seem like you’re on a date and it’s late and everything is suddenly getting cozy. Fine. I will grudgingly facilitate the romantic hot cocoa vibe you’re trying to create with your little snuggle bunny. Whatevs. Just don’t do it in front of me, okay? And I don’t mean snuggle; I mean drink the hot cocoa.

~ Mochas: Espresso, steamed milk, a widdle bit of chocolate, whipped cream on top. No. NO again, menfolk! May as well just sidle up to the nearest cow and suckle on its teat. I’m serious. Ugh. At Boheme, we had this jolly group of gay guys who hung out on the patio every Saturday morning, about five or six of them, and I tell you true, every last drink was a vanilla latte, a hazelnut latte, a raspberry mocha (ick), extra syrup, heavy on the whipped cream, etc … sweet, frothy, milky drinks. I rest my case here.

~ Any drink involving espresso and sweetened condensed milk. They have various names: a bonbon, a Vietnamese coffee, etc. Good Lord, no. This is strictly verboten for men who care about manliness. Are you aware that a recent Harvard University medical study showed that poo-flinging male monkeys who were given just one espresso drink with sweetened condensed milk and were then informed by the researchers that the drink was, indeed, called a “bonbon” all suffered instantaneous atrophy of their bicep muscles and were forced to fling their poo with their feet only? So sad. Do you want this to happen to you, Peaches? Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t think so. I just present the medical facts. That’s what I do.

~ Any drink with syrup added. Hazelnut, mint, raspberry, coconut, almond, caramel ….. you get the idea. I give a slight pass for vanilla. Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you. Again, with the lack of self-illumination. A mind ravaged from the drink and the drugs.

So. All right. What’s left for the menfolk to order at a coffeehouse, you ask?

Well, basically, everything else:

~ Coffee: Yep. A straight cuppa joe. Red-blooded and muscular.

~ Espresso shots: Also kinda sexy, but a tad on the over-compensating side for me. Again, I don’t know why. Someone tell me.

~ Americanos: espresso with hot water. Good choice. Robust.

~ Eye Openers, Red Eyes, Hammerheads, whatever you want to call them: coffee with espresso shots. Another good one. Although because of the name, I always think men who order these are hung over therefore I judge them harshly, which is a glaring double standard considering I’m a raging alcoholic, now isn’t it?

~ Macchiatos: espresso with a touch of foam on top, nothing too emasculating, I promise. Manly, if slightly Euro.

~ Cappuccinos: espresso with steamed milk, but much less than what a latte requires, foam on top. I don’t know why I give a pass on this one because there’s still milk, just not too much. Maybe it’s a matter of proportion, for me. Some proportions simply seem too milky to be masculine.

Then again, I have no problem whatsoever with menfolk eating cheese of all kinds. In fact, I heartily support it. Cheese is men’s chocolate and they seem to require it just to survive. So, cheese away, I say.

One dairy, bad; the other, good. Again, who understands me? I sure don’t.

February 27, 2007

-image-“loss of aroma”

(You know …. I really feel I could have told Mr. Schultz all of this a long time ago. However — and, believe me, I’m as baffled as you are here — I don’t seem to be in his confidence.)

By JANET ADAMY, The Wall Street Journal

In a blunt memo to executives, Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz warned that the fast-growing chain may be commoditizing its brand and becoming more vulnerable to competition from other coffee shops and fast-food chains.

Mr. Schultz sent the memo to top Starbucks executives on Feb. 14. in an email with the subject line “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience.” It first appeared on the Web site A Starbucks spokeswoman confirmed the memo’s authenticity.

“Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand,” Mr. Schultz wrote in the memo.

“Many of these decisions were probably right at the time, and on their own merit would not have created the dilution of the experience; but in this case, the sum is much greater and, unfortunately, much more damaging than the individual pieces,” he wrote.

Mr. Schultz went on to write that when the company switched to automatic espresso machines – which are now in thousands of its stores – “we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency,” he wrote. “At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre.” Starbucks used to have all its baristas pull espresso shots by hand.

That move “became even more damaging” because the new automatic machines “blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista,” he wrote.

Mr. Schultz wrote that Starbucks switched to a “flavor locked packaging” for its coffees that eliminated the task of scooping fresh coffee from bins in stores and grinding it in front of customers. “We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost?” Mr. Schultz wrote. “The loss of aroma — perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores.”

Mr. Schultz also wrote that changes in the store design process had created “stores that no longer have the soul of the past … Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter,” he wrote.

“While the current state of affairs for the most part is self induced, that has lead to competitors of all kinds, small and large coffee companies, fast food operators, and mom and pops, to position themselves in a way that creates awareness, trial and loyalty of people who previously have been Starbucks customers. This must be eradicated,” he wrote.”

“Let’s be smarter about how we are spending our time, money and resources,” Mr. Schultz wrote toward the end of the memo. “Let’s get back to the core.”

Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie O’Neil said the memo is “a reminder of how success is not an entitlement. It has to be earned every day,” she said. “We can’t embrace the status quo.”

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