3.04.2007

message in a (frappuccino) bottle

*happy bloggerversary to me!*
i can't believe a year has passed since i first started posting, but here we are: 200 posts and 270,000 hits! thanks to everyone for making my blogging experience so successful. i appreciate each and every one of you.

- back to our regularly scheduled post -

some of you might have heard some buzz about a leaked memo from howard schultz to bux ceo jim donald.
of course there's been much talk about this in my own store, as well as every other corporate owned store. one of the gratifying things to learn was that howard schultz has many of the same concerns we lowly baristas have. it feels almost satisfying to know that even his eye (all the way in seattle) is capable of recognizing key issues the rest of us at store level have been dealing with for months (years, for some).

do i think this (now very public) memo will change things for the better at bux?
dare i hope that howard will do away with excess syrups and powders?
will we finally be permitted to pack up that monstrous convection oven and send it back to whatever cruel animal sent it our way?

yeah, right.
a big fat NO to all those questions.

i'm not afraid to say bux now feels like an entirely different company from the one that hired me. when i was a newbie we never had understaffing issues, we had plenty of room for all our product, and we never felt like we were heading away from 'cafe' and speeding towards 'donut shop'. now we have more drinks, more pastries, and more ways for customers to customize beverages to their hearts' content. we offer so many more choices and are pressured to complete the orders in record time (long gone are the days of timing a perfect shot).

and even though howard schultz knows that his operational decisions have created their own unique set of challenges, it does not mean he will be able to fix them.

why?
because bux caters to a different type of customer now. and these customers will not accept service delays or minimal beverage choices. they prefer quantity over quality - and they are willing to pay for it. so even if bux did everything in their power to woo back their original customer base, they wouldn't be nearly as profitable as they are now. and we all can bet our little tushies that "profit" will beat out "nostalgia" when it comes to our favorite corporate coffee slinger.

but i know that as a barista i am also reaping the rewards of profitability. medical benefits, stock options, discounted stock purchases, 401k, high pay raises and the opportunity to advance are only possible because i work for a company that rakes in the dough. sure, i may think fondly of my early days at bux - i might even occasionally be envious of the hipster barista at my local independent coffee house - until i think of all the things i'd have to give up to work there. that's when i remember i have nothing to be envious of.

so, i'd like to pose a question to you all:
would you be willing to give up efficiency and speed for 'the warm feeling of a neighborhood store'?

barista rant: don't ask us to put a mug on hold for you, neglect to purchase it every time you come in the store, then expect us to give you a super discount when you decide to buy it three weeks later. and don't ask us to put it on hold (again!) until it gets marked down.

46 comments:

Maura said...

I actually frequent my tiny neighborhood coffee stand frequently and am happy to wait a bit and have fewer selections.

I like the fact that I know the barristas and we chit chat a bit about the local happenings if there aren't too many people in line.

A lot of the 'bux feel very assembly line and impersonal and the poor barristas would probably be shot if they said more than a cursory hello....

Anonymous said...

I always frequent my tiny neighbourhood coffee shop - the quality of their drinks is much better, and the people actually want to be working there.

At this point, 'bux produces drinks that just taste - almost plastic - to me. Spoiled tastebuds, I guess.

plain(s)feminist said...

Yes - I generally avoid bux and do the local independent thing, for reasons that have already been given - the relationships I've grown to have with the baristas, the flavor of the coffee - but also because the independent shops are more comfortable and less uniform, more relaxed (people who want efficiency don't come in as often - no drive-through!), more diverse (different music plays in different shops, different decor), the food is freshly made...

I stopped at a bux last week and did some work for an hour while I sipped my coffee, and I really noticed the difference.

MAW said...

Well, here's the thing. I just don't equate Starbucks with the comfy homey indy coffee shop around the corner. When I want somewhere that I can chill on a couch, drink my white chocolate mocha and listen to tinkly Indian music, I head to Karma Cafe on the corner. When I just need my venti triple shot, extra hot, skinny, no whip sugar free hazelnut latte, I head to the bux! Different stores, different expectations.

Short answer; I wouldn't want Starbucks to change from what they've become because it's what I've come to expect. I expect there to be long lines, I expect to have to pay exorbant amounts of moola for a ridiculously named cup of 'venti' joe. And I'm ok with that.

Thanks brat! I <3 you and your crazy coffee!

King Billy's concubine said...

Ah, gone are the days when you paid for quality instead of quantity. You just confirmed it: by paying £2.25 for a medium (I think) latte, no frills, I'm actually paying for all those people with exorbitant wants. You've finally convinced me, I don't think there'll be much bux for me.
But I'll keep reading your blog!!

Sling said...

If I'm going out to have coffee I want to kick back in a quiet atmosphere and enjoy the ambiance.Hoestly,I've only been to 'Bux twice...both times I was in an airport,so it was just handy.
Congrats on the anniversary B.Brat! :)

deadspot said...

Actually, I always go to my local. I even have one of their debit cards in my wallet. The only cash I have to carry is for the tip. Parking is a nightmare, but the wait is minimal and the coffee is fabulous. It doesn't hurt that they usually comp me an extra shot on top of my extra shot. They get their bagels and pastries from a great local bakery and anything they don't get from there, they make in the store.

Large cap, extra shot (and an extra extra shot) and an everything bagel with freshly made hot pepper cream cheese: breakfast of champions.

goodnessgracious said...

i work at the local coffee shop, and i love knowing all about the roaster of our beans (not just the beans and the roasting porcess themselves, but the actual guy), knowing the local bakers that make our pasteries, memorizing dozens and dozens of drink orders for our regulars, and really knowing half the people in our nabe, because i cafffinate them every morning. we're better and cheaper than the chains, but then again, i get my benefits from my second job-the insurance and other benefits offered by bux beat the benefits i've gotten at corporate jobs. but living in nyc, there are many areas that aren't neighborhoods-time square, rockefeller, harold square, and there i always go to a bux, because whatever it tastes like, it's always strong (sorry deli coffee and cart coffee) and it's amazingly consistent.

you'dneverguess said...

Congrats on your anniversary! I hope you'll be around for another year.
What you've just written is the exact reason why I quit working for Starbucks in 1998. I was on the opening crew of the first Starbucks in our city. That was in 1994. Over the years the entire culture of Starbucks changed, and it changed in ways that I didn't agree with. There is much to be said for benefits and profit-sharing. But the current corporate structure of Starbucks and what it represents is exactly what's wrong with our society in general. Starbucks is just a microcosm of the world we live in.
Yes, in a second I would give up the Starbucks way for an independent store. I won't go to Starbucks anymore in fact.

Rambling Mom said...

Brat,

I read and enjoy your blog. But Starbuck's -- not so much. I rarely go there, and then only if it's a great matter of convenience. When I want to "hang" at "the coffee shop" Buck's is not the first thing that comes to mind.

But, as a business owner I'd much rather frequent small, locally owned businesses. I'd rather spend money that's going to stay local than send money to Seattle (nothing against Seattle, lovely city).

Fabulously Broke in the City said...

Like most people I've just come to accept the lines, the cost of a coffee, and just to get in and get out.

The only reason I go to a Starbucks is either to meet up with friends for a quick chat, or (more often than not), that I'm really craving a Tazo Chai. No other store makes it better...

But as for forming relationships with the baristas.. they don't have time any more, and since I've never had that pleasure, I don't expect it.

Xtine said...

Even if starbucks adopted a more homey enrivonment (btw, who do they think they're fooling by taking names for drinks?), I would still go there the same amount as now. My local, independent coffee shop just can't even come close to a caramel frap, and when a craving hits...Also, when traveling, I spend my money on starbucks, because I can count on knowing what I'm getting.


I would never considering hanging out at starbucks. It's not a place to hang out at.

rach said...

Honestly, my local bux is neither efficient or speedy. I occasionally go in for a black americano after doing the grocery shop, but only if there is no queue; the staff don't seem to be able to cope otherwise. I would rarely choose it over one of our many local, independent places, most of which have a real soul and quick service.

I'm sure it's different in each store but ours has a few issues! As I rarely order a drink with a flavour other than coffee, why bother paying steep prices in bux? Having said that, I'm a sucker for some of the frappucinos, so in the summer I'm more tempted.

I guess it depends what I'm after, but given the choice I'd most likely head for an independent place.

vrai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vrai said...

I generally prefer the indy's but only if they have their act together. East coast, the south, good coffee hardly exists but I can always rely on a bux to satisfy my caffeinated needs.

Regarding bux specifically: the coffee bean, the drinks, every one of them, is a consistent quality no matter the location — something I like very much. And being from the NW originally bux is a "local" shop to me. Sure, the company is massive now, but because it has it's act together. Admittedly, it's also nice to know my baristas are also well taken care of and that bux has many sustainability projects in the coffee industry. All of this is something I will gladly support when I'm in the bux neighborhood.

One little point on the syrups, powders and crazy concoctions handed you from team corporate. These days I'm not so sure I'm giving up efficiency and speed when I visit 'the warm feeling of a neighborhood store.' I've noticed that as the bux drinks get fluffier, the menu more expansive, I have to wait in line longer for the funky-haired CRV driving poodle toting lady in front of me to figure out what the heck she will drink. And then she decides she wants a muffin — but which one?

Oo! Seriously my biggest complaint (I'd almost forgotten): bux needs to free-up the internet. Really.

Ceetar said...

I would give up speed and efficiency, but not variety. And I don't think Starbucks has a large variety anyway. there are few local coffee shops near me that are easy and quick to get a drink to go in, but a bunch of them have dozens of drinks and syrups, and I like the variety.

I'd sure go more often, but I think the draw of Starbucks is the part of the convenience. It's kinda like the fast-food of coffee in a way. Most people do enjoy eating at McDonalds, but if they're going to sit down and have dinner, they don't go there.

You buy a Hershey bar at counter at the supermarket, even though you know you could go out and get a much better product somewhere else.

I think coffee houses should be more come in to enjoy a cup of coffee and less 'getting in my fix ' as fast as possible type places.

Anonymous said...

"would you be willing to give up efficiency and speed for 'the warm feeling of a neighborhood store'?
"

NOPE. I go to starbucks for a quick cup of good drip coffee before work. Lately the ones local to me are SLOW and have huge lines as a result. If I see more than 4-5 people in line, I skip it and drink the dishwater at work. If I want really good coffee, I make it myself or go to an independant or *gasp* Pete's. Starbucks is now in a tenuous make or break position in the market. They no longer make top quality brew and unless they get much more efficient will also lose the low/mid end market to much faster stores. If I owned starbucks stock I would be selling. This is looking like a classic example of overgrowth and under developed.

Meira said...

"would you be willing to give up efficiency and speed for 'the warm feeling of a neighborhood store'?

Yeah, I would.

Anonymous said...

Eh.. if I want the warm feeling of a neighborhood store, and a high quality drink, I don't go to bux. I go to bux when I want consistancy and speed. I think that's just the way it is now, it would be too hard to go back.

Anonymous said...

I love Starbucks and I go there all the time when I'm on the day shift. Would I be willing to give up efficiency? No. And frankly, the cushy seats and cute mood music give me all the warm fuzzy feeling I need. I like it that the barista smiles at me and says hello, but that's all I need. When I'm holding a book and looking to hit one of those chairs, I don't really want to talk anyway. And I don't want lots of choices either. Bux menu is fine with me.

I do think that bux shouldn't have a convection oven. Some basic pastries and maybe sandwiches is all you need. I'm pretty sure the bux I frequent don't have ovens...

Moxie said...

I agree with many of the previous commenters, especially the one about McDonald's. You always know what to expect when you order a latte at Bux.

As for that warm feeling, there are Bux stores where I'm more than willing to sit and hang out for a while. Others have an energy that's too harried and noisy.

That whole thing with the convection ovens totally threw me. I always wanted a toasted bagel there & couldn't get one, but these egg/bacon sammich things are a whole 'nother ballgame. Do they even taste good?

A Margarita said...

Speed and efficiency please! I'm in a rush in the morning. Ugh, my personal rant - the person who doesn't have to be at an office on time stands in line for 5 minutes, gets to the register and when prompted for what they want, look at the menu and ask, "What do you recommend?"

Starbuck's has a standard. The neighborhood places are kind of iffy. In my opinion, of course.

Anonymous said...

As a stock broker I love SBUX, but as a consumer I have been saying for sometime now that the stores and drinks changed when they got rid of the old machines. It now tastes bland and weak. I much prefer Coffee Bean since they have all the old style machines. I agree with Howie, yet I also agree with the brat, it was nice of him to tell us what it wrong, but doubt anything will change.

Veronica said...

Hey Brat,
Congrats on the anniversary!
It's been a good year of blogging, I've really enjoyed your stories and look forward to reading more.
Coming here is always time well spent :)

Anonymous said...

add my voice to the chorus -- I much prefer quality over efficiency. nasty over-sugared coffee drinks are nasty no matter who makes them, efficiency isn't going to make them more palatable. Given that there's a market for such drinks, though, I think local independent shops will continue to draw true coffee afficionados and Bux will continue to cater to the housewives out for a 3000 cal "coffee" beverage and a piece of pound cake.

pseudostoops said...

I prefer the local spots, generally, but it's only recently that I moved to a place that had local spots- before then it was bux or nothing, and the answer was certainly not going to be *nothing*.

Happy 1 year! Keep up the good work!

Beth said...

Happy anniversary, Brat! And I was feeling cocky about my 30,000 hits. You're the Homecoming Queen of Blogspot, doll!

DrinkingTea said...

I will go there for the hot chocolate because the one local place here always gives me some sort of coffee drink by mistake. I don't care for the smell of burned beans that seems to be the trademark of Starbucks, but the hot chocolate is really good.

The aggressive friendliness when I walk in is a bit of a turn off for me, so I really need to want the hot chocolate bad. The one near where I live has someone greet you when you walk in the door, someone to take your order, someone to cheer you on and tell you it's a good choice when you give your order, and someone to make your drink. The order taker and the maker, I can see having. The greeter and the cheerleader? Not so much.

The Wandering Author said...

Happy Bloggerversary!

My own answer; normally, I'd go with the neighbourhood shop and quality every time. Most of the choices are insane anyway. Because of your blog, I do have a certain fondness for 'Bux that softens that stance somewhat.

I'm glad to know you're at least getting something from the changes that caused the customers to lose something. At least it's a trade, and not an outright ripoff.

Lisa said...

I definitely prefer bux over any other of our neighborhood coffee stores. But... with all the additions to the menu, and customizations for customers to mess with, I find the lines longer because you (the baristas) have to wait for decisions, confirm crazy concoctions, etc. There've been a few occassions I've decided the wait wasn't worth it and gone off to another store.

georg said...

The bux on the highway ain't a place to hang. It's just reliably consistent coffee exactly the way I want it. Ditto really for the local stand alone bux. It tries to be comfy, but it isn't. I like the bux in Barnes & Nobles, because I can get a book and sit and read and enjoy. I also occasionally go to Dunkin Donuts, but while the coffee is consistent, the amount of flavor shot/sugar/milk is not, and usually it ends up not as sweet as I want, even when I've asked for extra sugar. I will also state for the record I do Not like Starbucks Liquor. It tastes like something made from all of the coffee left after the timer expired- terribly burnt.

grats on the anniversary.

Yuri said...

First up, I have to say that reading your blog, brat, has made me a better bux customer. :) Having worked in a past life in retail, I totally feel your pain and try to be conscious of the baristas pain when I visit. And I am now a "tipper". :)

To answer your question: I would love it if bux could "go back" to the old days. I'm sure then the monster crowds would give up and go someplace else and everything would be peachy. But you're right...bux ain't giving up the dough for nothing and nobody! So that's probably not ever going to happen. It would be nice tho.

OldSchool36 said...

Happy Bloggerversary to you
Happy Bloggerversary to you
Happy Bloggerversary dear Bra-at
Happy Bloggerversary to you

And many more!

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question:

When I'm in a hurry to get to work in the morning, I'd much rather have speed and efficiency from the people who pour my coffee. If the service at Starbucks was too slow to suit my needs, I'd just have to get my coffee somewhere else.

(One more thing: I can't imagine paying those sky-high prices at your place of business and getting slow customer service. It just wouldn't be right!)

mellowlee said...

Happy Blogoversary Brat!!! I enjoy your blog, and hope you continuefor along time! You are an amazing writer, and an awesome blog buddy :O) *blogohugses*

I do go to my local bux on a weekly basis, but I also go to a few small indieb places too. I guess I get the best of both worlds really. Its nice to have a choice. I do know people who only shop locally, therefore won't set foot in a bux, or a large grocery store, and other chains, and that is fine for them. ok this took 4ever with one good hand, im exhausted now ;)

Allan said...

Only a year? Time flies. Congrats!

Yes, it would.

Warrior Knitter said...

I prefer the neighborhood coffee shop /diner, etc but apparently most don't feel that way as those businesses usually only last a couple of years or so if that.

However, if the chain store had better quality (not more or faster) than the neighborhood store I would patronize the corporate store.

L said...

"would you be willing to give up efficiency and speed for 'the warm feeling of a neighborhood store'?"

yes. and not only would i be willing, i've done that. and not only as a customer but also as an employee.

Lizabeth said...

It is interesting that I read this post this morning, because just the other day I was discussing with colleagues how Starbucks has grown and changed. One woman was telling me you guys don't steam the espresso anymore, it comes in little silver bags...I didn't believe her but maybe I am not paying attention when ya'll make my drinks. I have a lot of questions to ask you about this...


I would definitely prefer less choices and accept more of a wait for a more neighborhood feel. At this point you guys are everywhere and you have become a national obsession. I, however, am a coffee/tea purist. Tea English style, or a grande fat free latte. That's the most complicated I get typically. And i spend a fair amount of dollars at my neighborhood non-corporate shop. However, you do offer coffee drinks in suburban neighborhoods that don't have that kind of a shop, and in all sorts of convenient places such as the I-5, the I-15 and the non-urban outlying neighborhoods I go to work in several times a week. You also offer wi-fi (it would be better if it was free) at every location. And I love your travel mugs, I have about 10 and use one nearly every day.


So clearly there are two sides to this coin. And I disagree about baristas being unfriendly. I have come across the rare chilly barista, cannot ever remember one being truly UN-friendly, and have had MANY many great and friendly experiences.

It is what it is. Keep up the good fight.

barockstar said...

sorry to get in so late on the thoughts...and congrats on the anniversary!

i am of the oldskool - and my answer is this:
why not have both?

i think the fundamental problem isn't the environments, it's the people.
we're not always hiring the right ones, and when we do - we don't always train them properly (either because we hired the wrong ones to train or because we need them now, now, NOW!)..

i think the focus should be put on retraining and ensuring culture understanding for all - there is absolutely no reason not to be able to get both speedy, efficient & legendary service - making it a fast place AND a great place to hang out.

i agree that i don't think much will change - but its good to know that the changes have been noted, and at least going forward we may try to revisit our cores before making any more changes...

Anonymous said...

As a non-coffee drinker, my opinion will probably be discredited, but I will not frequent any Starbucks with my coffee drinking family due to the fact that as they moved in to other markets they tried very, very hard to put my Bro-in-laws coffee shop out of biz. Even tried to get the management company to break his lease. I am happy to say that they didn't succeed, and my bro-in-law is doing very well.

I will never step foot in one, but I am quite happy to keep reading you, Brat. You have made me a better customer.

Support your small, local businesses whenever you can!!!

-Leonesse

You are fake. said...

You are a fraud.

Writeprocrastinator said...

Happy Belated Blogiversary!

I'd rather wait and I have no problem waiting. Only people who have worked on the other side of the counter seem to realize that things do not magically appear and that everything takes a certain amount of time to prepare.

The more elaborate the drink or dish, the greater the preperation time, regardless of how fast or slow the person behind the counter is. I cannot believe that even college graduates still haven't figured this out.

Anonymous said...

My neighborhood coffee shop is efficient and they make really good espresso. I don't think people go to Starbucks because they want a community feeling.

Anonymous said...

I always prefer to visit a locally-owned shop than to visit Bux. I like supporting local businesses. If I visit a local shop and I get poor service, I know that I can usually talk to the owner and get something done.

I would rather wait a few seconds for a good drink, than have a lame drink in seconds. Worst of all, the other day, I waited ten minutes for a bad, incorrectly made drink at a local bux.

What you said about Bux, is one of the main reasons I bought myself an espresso machine. Prices at bux are going up and up, yet quality is falling down and down. When I was a bux barista, we timed every shot. Quality was important. It is very clearly not important to bux today.

The Foodie: http://foodielicious.net

Anonymous said...

I prefer the bux where I live to the local coffeeshops, mainly because the local ones are REAAAALY DIRTY!!!!