Sunday, March 07, 2010

Starbucks Observations

While working in downtown Chicago the proliferation of Starbucks outlets over the past decade just baffled me.

Coffee was free in the office yet some workers chose to stand in line to get “gourmet” coffee or some coffee flavored icy milk drink with cream and caramel for $4. at Starbucks. I believe flashing a Starbucks cup simply gave trendy time-poor young urban moderns another piece of hipness bling to wave around and were willing to pay a high price to flaunt. Call me cynical but the free office coffee was just fine for my taste.

One day in a management meeting our office manager offered up the notion of bringing in Starbucks to be the official office coffee supplier as a “perk” for employees. The real reason behind her idea was to keep employees in the office as opposed to having them spend non-productive time off premise waiting in line for the same thing, or so it appeared. It seemed like a smart business move and was unanimously approved.

One day while I was in my office early a peculiar sound came from a nearby cubicle. It was a grinding noise that was unlike any other familiar sound in the office but similar to a malfunctioning copy machine in self-destruct mode. I expected some possible construction in the office with union carpenters removing or adding a wall or such. What I found was a young employee, a writer, grinding coffee beans in a motorized canister. On his desk was his personal coffee maker waiting to be charged.

I asked him, “Geoffrey, what are you doing?” His response? “Just grinding some Starbucks dood.” “But Geoffrey, I asked, the company already brings in Starbucks, what’s not to like?”

Geoffrey looked up, gave me a slight sneer and sniffed, “that’s their house blend”.

Another time I was going home early, about 4:30 PM. The elevator opened and I encountered Lisette, a young little Puerto Rican hottie cuter than all get-out carrying a domed-lid tall, icy, clear plastic Starbucks cup as she exited the elevator. I asked Lisette, “are you working late tonight?” Lisette responded with, “no, I usually have three of these each day but this is my fourth, I just love it.”

Lisette was an entry level IT person who trucked workstations around on carts and hooked them up to the network. She was OK at trouble-shooting but not to the level where I wanted to see her show up in my office to fix a serious problem. My guess is that she was making $15-20,000 per year. As a single mom with two kids she bore a financial burden. Lisette had a $12 per day Starbucks coffee jones. If this was her only vice then not bad, but she also had a costly clothing and expensive sexy shoe habit as well.

Then there’s the Starbucks baristas, which is an ancient Mayan term for “kid who pours the coffee with silver bolts sticking out from eyebrows”. Downtown Chicago Starbucks seem to hire the ones with the most outrageous piercing and tattoos but out here in the hinterlands most baristas look more like 4-H members ready to enter a goat in the county fair.

Look, I am not passing judgment on anybody, just relaying a few experiences through my consistent amateur anthropological observations of urban Starbucks devotees and employees.

I admit Starbucks makes a fine coffee. Their success story is one for the business history books but lately they seem to be having financial problems due to rapid expansion and a poor economy. Due to recent news coverage I have newfound respect for the Starbucks Corporation.

Check it out here and here.

From what I gather on the internets Starbucks refuses to bend to pressure from the gun grabbers and declare all Starbucks outlets are to be “gun free zones".

From one article:

“On Wednesday, Starbucks said adopting policies different from local laws that allow open gun carrying would put its employees in unfair and potentially unsafe circumstances.”

Here’s a report from CBS News.

We’re talking loaded firearms in holsters proudly displayed on belts in plain view legally while slurping lattes in Starbucks. This is a very bold and risky move for a company that projected a hip passive environment with ersatz jazz piped into trendy locations outfitted with alternative style furniture, decorated with soothing earth tones and modern artwork where elitist urban types feel very comfortable and rustic types like me feel a bit awkward.

If it were about having a PC image Starbucks would immediately declare all locations as gun free zones. Instead they chose to jump off the idealistic environmental bandwagon of peace. love and earth worship.

Good for them. It will be interesting how this move will impact sales in those states and I have no idea if it will be positive or negative. But I am sure there will be many small local organized protests being staged with plenty of mass media coverage.

It makes me want to go to Starbucks and order a mucho size mochalattechino with a dollop of cordite.


Dan from Madison said...

Interesting post. Their drive throughs that they have in my area are a great idea as well.

I am glad that I quit drinking coffee altogether though. On a cocktail napkin I figured that if I included all the restaurant/coffee shop espressos and other things like that along with the beans I bought at home and used in my french press that coffee alone was costing me well into the four figures every year.

Jonathan said...

Starbucks is smart. If they made an issue of guns it wouldn't help them or their customers, but it probably would generate boycotts from pro-gun people. If Starbucks does nothing, after a while the issue will fade. Activist anti-gunners are a small minority; most people probably don't care. Also, if Starbucks gives in on this issue they can expect to be shaken down again by other types of activists.