Starbucks, according to Statista.com was 2017’s second most valuable fast food brand, coming runner up only to McDonalds. Valued at 44,230,000,000 USD in, they seem to be doing pretty well. There is at least one Starbucks in every major city that I have ever visited, and they have been well represented in most of the minor ones too. They get around. In fact, at the last count, there were 27,339 outlets worldwide.
Put simply, people like Starbucks. And who can blame them? The coffee is good, the cakes are usually pretty fancy, and there is free WIFI. It is also quite well priced, being expensive enough to keep the poor and needy from coming in for the day to stay out of the cold, whilst not being utterly bank breaking for the rest of us.
So what is there not to like?
Well, it’s only a couple of things, but they are enough to discourage me.
First off, let me make it absolutely clear that I have no issue with the company’s history of allegedly colourful book keeping. Everybody with a business and any modicum of sense will try to minimise their tax bill in the same way that they will try to minimize any other expenses. The fact that there are so many ways of legally doing this is testimony to the fact that tax laws need to be tightened. Until that happens, I am quite happy for companies to find the holes and skip through them all the way to the bank.
Secondly, I am fine with the company being a huge multinational which makes billions and contributes to globalization. As far as I’m concerned, capitalism is a competitive game, and it seems churlish to throw our toys out of the pram every time somebody looks like winning.
No. My issues with Starbucks are FAR more serious than that.
The first time I went into a Starbucks, I was in a Malaysia on holiday with my family. We were waiting for some friends to arrive, and as they were not known for their punctuality (sorry, both of you!), we decided to pop into a nearby Starbucks for a cuppa. I have to say that the place was clean and tidy, and had had a very lovely coffee aroma about it. It was also, due to the earliness of the hour, quite empty.
I wandered over to the counter, quite impressed by the place, and asked for a black coffee for my wife, a mineral water for my daughter, and a cappuccino for myself. It was all going perfectly well until the girl on the counter asked for my name.
Now, I had just ordered drinks in what was essentially a café. I had planned for us to drink them at a nearby table, or if when our friends arrived, they were in some sort of a hurry, I anticipated taking the drinks, in their little paper cups, outside with us, and getting on our way. I saw no reason for the girl to take my details, because I DIDN’T WANT THE FUCKING DRINKS DELIVERED. I had a plan, and at no point did arranging a time for DHL to pop round with three drinks in a cardboard box come into it, so suspicious, I refused.
“How will I know who the drinks are for?” the baffled lady enquired.
“I’m right here,” I replied, indicating my position at the counter.
It was only later, when our friends had arrived, and I had recounted my tale that the situation was explained to me. I struggle with it to this day.
The reason, it was made clear to me, that the lady at the counter wanted my name was so that she could write it on one of the cups with a Sharpie marker.
Now, I have bought many cups of coffee in my time, but never had this occurred before. I would simply wait for the coffee and take it back to my table, or go back to my table and have the coffee brought to me. This, I understood, was the way in which cafes work. In this instance, however, it seems that I was wrong.
The girl wanted to write my name on the cup so that she could call it out when my drinks were ready. Again this seemed a little odd. We didn’t know each other from Adam, so why she would want to give a jubilant little cry of ‘Grantham’ when she had done frothing (!) was beyond me. I was, you see, fully aware that I was just one of the thousands of customers that would pass through the place during the day, and I knew that I would probably never return, so the unnecessary familiarity of her squeaking my name would not suggest to me a sense of belonging or friendliness. Neither would it create the belief that I had suddenly been transported thousands of miles to the fictional Central Perk from the Friends sitcom in which the only reason that the fictional waiting staff remembered the names of the fictional characters was that they were printed in the fucking script.
Well, as it turns out, this is standard Starbucks practice, and its purpose is something else entirely.
What I hadn’t realized was that making a cup of coffee is such an art that I couldn’t possibly have waited for the entire time it takes for a barista to go through the entire coffee making process. I mean there is milk, coffee, and some quite hot water involved. It was short sighted of me not to see the immense amount of artistry and professional discipline which must go into getting all of those components into a cup without spilling it or causing some sort of personal injury. Judging from the fuss and bluster that went into the construction of these caffeinated masterpeices, I can only assume that the path to baristry is a long and arduous one fraught with stress and dangers. I imagine that a lot of people who drop out along the way become barristers and then mumble a little when asked what they do for a living, in the vain hope that people mishear them and think that they make hot drinks. All at once, I realised the cups of perfectly good coffee that I had been making at home in just a few seconds, using nothing but a domestic cappuccino machine had been nothing but luck. I will, of course, try to track down some sort of online course. I have been making coffee without the requisite 5 minutes of wankery, and for that I can only hand my head in shame. I don’t even make a little picture in the froth, for fuck’s sake.
The coffee artist (engineer?) required me to go and sit down, presumably for my own safety, and then, when she had prepared my drink, called my name. And this is the best bit, after going into the café, asking for three drinks, paying a not inconsiderable amount of money, and being told to sit down, she then wanted me to get up again and get it MY FUCKING SELF! What?
Having been in the position of having to eat and drink in some of the most unpleasant shit holes on the planet, I have never come across such a system, and outside of a few hotels, I have never seen nonsense like this dressed up as a better or ‘more personal’ service.
So there it is. That’s why I hate Starbucks. I would stop going completely, if only the coffee wasn’t so damn good. I just wish that they wouldn’t make me dance like a monkey to get one.
Minister of Stuff