The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, November 21, 2005


What distinguishes The Starbucks Ins from the Starbucks Outs? how do we partners know that the customer in front of us is not only a regular but practically one of us? is it frequency of purchases? complexity of beverage choice? no and no. it's the lingo. the true sbux customer speaks the sbux language; she orders her drink correctly and quickly, without thinking about it, like second nature. why do sbux partners like these people? because when you the customer order your drink perfectly we don't have to stand there and mentally reformat it before calling it to the barista. so listen up. this is how you should call your drink:

Every sbux cup has a number of boxes down the side that we use to mark the cup, and we call the drink in the same order that we mark the cup. first comes the caffeine box. we mark it with an X or a slash for decaf and a 1/2 for half-calf. if you want either of these things this is the first thing you say, "decaf" or "half-caf." then we have a box for the number of espresso shots, so if you want more or less shots than your drink comes with, you would indicate that next. shorts and talls come with 1 shot, so if you want 2 you order a "double." grandes and ventis come with 2 shots, so if you want only 1 you order a "solo" and if you want three or four you order a "triple" or "quad" respectively. after that we run out of fancy words and you have to use numbers, as in "five shots." the next thing you order is what size you want. normally this comes first, but the number of shots and the amount of caffeine is so important that we put it first for emphasis. the crucial thing to remember at this stage however, is that "iced" should be inseparable from size, as in "iced grande," because iced drinks come in different cups. when you order your size you are really indicating which cup you want. next you order your flavor syrup, as in vanilla, sugar free vanilla, etc. then you specify what kind of milk you want. most people mess this up and indicate milk first, including plenty of sbux partners. but we are all supposed to say the syrup first because, guess what? when the barista makes the drink she puts in the syrup first, then the milk (after the espresso of course). so, once you have told us what kind of milk you want, you can customize your drink indefinitely. this is where we come to the "custom" box on the cups, and it's where we specify things like extra hot, no foam, light whip, etc. after all of that you can finally tell us which drink we are about to make. it's kind of like how in german the verb comes at the v. end of the sentence, leaving the reader in a literal state of suspense about what's actually going on.

so, let's review. you order drinks by specifying your preferences in this order:
1. decaf or half-caf
2. number of shots
3. cup size (hee hee)
4. syrup
5. milk
6. custom, and by the way, please keep this to a minimum. the more you ask for at this point the less likely it is that you'll get what you order.
7. drink type

so Karin should correctly order her summer drink as an "iced grande vanilla skim latte" or if it's winter and she's really thirsty, as a "triple venti vanilla skim latte." a jerk ass might order a "half-calf triple grande sugar-free vanilla 2% extra hot no foam latte." this would elicit much eye rolling but it would be technically correct.

if you are ordering a regular drip coffee than of course things are much simpler, all you need to know is what size and what type of coffee, and you only have three choices. there's bold, which is our most popular and therefore our default type; if you don't specify than this is what we'll give you. then there is the decaf, and if it's before high noon we also brew a mild or medium-bodied coffee. why we only brew this in the morning is a little mysterious but i suppose it's because we have more customers in general in the morning. so you would order regular coffee as a "grande drip" or "grande bold" (which means the same thing), or as a "venti mild." some people actually look at the menu and order the actual coffee blend, as in a "tall yukon," but i would advise against this. chances are, especially at the beginning of the week, that the sign on the menu board does not match what we are actually brewing, because we are still using up the coffee from last week or haven't changed the sign yet, and then we just feel bad that we are serving you the wrong thing, but we won't make the situation awkward by actually telling you that we are brewing something else, so just ignore the name of the coffee and order by type: bold, mild, etc. and don't ask for a house coffee! the sbux house blend is a specific mild coffee that we sell as bags of beans, one of our twenty different or however many kinds. we don't brew it in the store all the time, and if we did it would be our mild coffee rather than our regular bold.

i could get into the iced coffees and teas and frappucinos but no one should be ordering those anymore anyways, especially not frappucinos (they are horribly messy)! and if after all this you think, why on earth should i bust my ass learning pigme italian just to please sbux, i sympathize. i used to be like you, resisting the tide of change, shutting my eyes to the future of self-identity formation. and maybe ten years ago that resistance was credible. but give it up. buy the cell phone, get an email account, and figure out what you want to drink. it's a brave new world . . .

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Siren's Call

Today my two work-a-day worlds, Starbucks and the Gallery, converged in a rather unexpected way. i noticed that there was another lunchtime "works in progress" talk, a short lecture given by Gallery fellows and staff about their current research projects, so i decided to go. the topic didn't look v. interesting, something about Renaissance bronzes, but i figured it was a good way to extend my lunch break. Lo and behold the subject of the talk turned out to be a siren candle holder, that is a bronze figurine of a siren (a sort of mermaid with a split tail) clutching a candlestick base in each hand. I wish I had a picture but the gallery hasn't yet posted one online. The statue/candelabra is by Severo da Ravenna, who created a number of fantastical sea creatures, such as:

which is also at the gallery. But of course, the last time i saw something that looked like the siren candle holder was yesterday when i was working at Starbucks, because for reasons unknown to 99% of sbux employees (including myself), Starbucks chose the siren for its logo:

you can see the actual siren a bit better on images relating to Starbucks' anniversary blend:

i still have no idea why sbux chose the siren for its logo, but i sure know a hell of a lot more about sirens in general. they are famous of course for trying to get Odysseus off course, but interestingly in the Odyssey they are not mermaid-like at all but birds with female heads. they could attract sailors to their deaths by singing beautifully and luring ships onto the rocks. they didn't even sing about love or sex, but rather about knowledge. they promised Odysseus the knowledge of the gods, in a sort of classical rendition of Eve and the apple. in medieval times sirens were used to represent various sins that could destroy men, and it was during this time that the siren took on her mermaid-like form, which was adopted from an originally Eustracean sea monstress Skylla, who also turns up in the Odyssey. Skylla was a far more violent monster with the upper body of a woman, two fish or dolphin tails, and a "belt" of snarling dogs:

So medieval artists take to this embodiment of the siren, and plaster her on manuscripts and church doorways, and the question is, why use her for a Renaissance candelabra? is it a pun on water holding fire? a reference to the earlier classical notion of the siren as a fount of knowledge, an illuminator? or is she just sexy as hell? it's especially interesting that many images of the Skylla-Siren, including early versions of Severo da Ravenna's bronze, show her holding the end of a tail in each hand, and that is exactly what she appears to be doing in the Starbucks logo. why would you do that sbux? why why why why why why?

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Ultimate Starbucks Secret

After conducting a rigorous and widespread poll (otherwise known as listening to two friends) and carefully analyzing the results, i have reached the conclusion that my readers overwhelmingly prefer those posts that reveal secret Starbucks culture (in other words the preferences of Karin and Dani beat out those of Adithi, who claims she likes the more psychological posts). Since i have a responsibility to my fans, i have decided to risk possible termination of employment, lawsuits, etc., in order to reveal the Ultimate Starbucks Secret.

And the Ultimate Starbucks Secret is . . .

Christmas is coming. i spent two hours yesterday at our store meeting being informed of this. Starbucks considers it a v. big deal. as the Starbucks holiday theme puts it (yes, apparently Starbucks comes up with a theme for the holiday season every year, although why the holiday season needs a theme beyond, you know, the holiday season, is a mystery to me): "it only happens once a year" (again, how this statement constitutes a "theme" is mysterious).

mark your calenders: on Thursday, November 10 (i.e. this thursday), every Starbucks across the land will be red from rafters to floor. the partners will wear their complimentary red holiday t-shirts (which we can only wear on nov. 10, when in fact we must wear them, and on fridays, saturdays, and sundays, from then until christmas). the merchandise displays will be entirely red and consist of new holiday products, most of which will be $5 or less, because, lets face it, you only buy holiday gifts at Starbucks for people you don't really like. apparently sbux makes a killing every year on this obligatory holiday cheer. but you'll really know its christmas because the cups will be red. but ONLY AFTER NOV. 10th! Anyone trying to sneak a customer a drink in a red cup before nov. 10th will be put to death, or at least that's what i have to assume from the amount of emphasis my manager put on this.

Melissa the manager also emphasized that we should get to know our regular customers on a first name basis and create a connection with every customer we serve. to learn about this last bit we did role-playing "games" that were only bearable because we got prizes afterwards. i won a set of two cups and saucers with a sugar and creamer. and i also won a christmas-jazz CD, that i will probably hear a million times anyway in the store from now till christmas, because i was the only one who knew that the proper temperature for a cappuccino is between 140 and 148 degrees. apparently that's because cappuccinos are supposed to be sweet, and whereas milk between 140 and 148 degrees is caramelly and delicious, the instant milk gets hotter than 148 degrees the sugars begin to burn away (presumably this is why hot milk eventually gets that icky scalded taste).

as you can see the meeting was not exactly enjoyable, but there were a few perks besides prizes of questionable quality. first of all we closed early and all the supervisors had to clean up while the partners got a talking to. but even better, people came out of uniform, and i got to see my coworkers in normal clothes! Yirga was all decked out to go dancing afterwards, and Dan my crush object looked really hot in a, what guys in high school used to call a "young," i.e. kinda tight, t-shirt. these examples caused me to blurt out, "wow, everyone looks so much more attractive!" much to the enjoyment of the group.

hope my group of readers (four and counting) enjoyed my comments too. and remember, if you spot any red before thursday call 1-800-RED-SBUX so that the Starbucks Death Squad can find the leak and "solve the problem." ciao.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Greetings from the Graduate School Tour

This is day 9 of a 10 day graduate school tour, and as usual with my blog, i am slow to tell the tale. so let's have a brief synopsis (good GRE word):

first of all, planning this trip has been one of the most stressful experiences of my life. it is incredibly frustrating to exchange a few emails with a professor and then, in the moment of truth, when you tell them you are planning to visit on such and such a day and would they be able to meet with you? you hear . . . nothing. no response! over and over again, getting these profs. to commit to a face-to-face was like pulling teeth (from a patient who hadn't even showed up). yet somehow i managed to plan a trip and it went something like this:

eve of the trip (wednesday): my stress and frustration comes to a boil, literally. i decide to make dinner for my parents, except my mother has just started weight watchers again and i have no idea what she can eat. i decide on an imitation beef stroganoff but try and fail to make a nice sauce three times before i:

a)start crying
b)yell at my parents for exepcting me to make dinner/not helping me
c)tell my mother i need her "moral support" while i pack, then make her do it for me
d)cut off my sister abruptly when she calls with a curt "i don't have time to talk, Laura, i'm packing."
e)all of the above

you guessed it, (e) is the correct answer (can you tell i've been studying for the GREs yet?

day 1 (thursday): go to work at the Gallery, lunch with Molly Donovan (my curator/boss). i ask her to write me recommendations for grad school and she says it would be her pleasure. run around getting stuff done before catching an afternoon train to New Haven. spend the night with Eileen, and old family friend. v. relaxing.

day 2 (friday): morning meeting with Frejya, a grad student at Yale, which is really great and informative. then i have to track down an "artist's book" by Andy Goldsworthy, meaning a book conceived as an art work and made in a v. limited edition (in this case, 100). go to the rare books library, register etc, only to find that it's at the british center's rare books library. so i go back to the building i had just come from, get the book and spend the next hour taking notes and scratching my head. afternoon meetings with profs. the first one v. hyper and bubbly, the second incredibly morose and undemonstrative. in other words, polar opposites. evening commuter train back to the city (of New York). meet friends at the hungarian pastry shop, dinner at the little mexican place, drinks at 1020. sleepover at Karin's.

day 3 (saturday): take the bus with Karin to Boston, then train to Gloucester, where my cousins live. it's snowing (!) when we arrive. dinner with my relatives and a family friend of theirs who is a v. charming 83. post-dinner movie. awesome.

day 4 (sunday): gorgeous warm weather, all the snow gone. walk on the beach with the dogs, collect kindling in the woods, buy pumpkins to carve. go home and collapse on the couch. more movies, leftovers for dinner, packing, never actually got to the pumpkins.

day 5 (monday, also Halloween): welcome to Harvard, or as Louise loves to say hahvahd. our first mission is to walk to my sister's old apartment to see if her crazy roommate will let us in and look for my sister's coat, which has gone missing. crazy roommate isn't home. back on campus, Karin and i have meetings with profs. and students, me for history of art, her for history of science. we sleep on the bus back home and catch a cab from chinatown up to morningside. i'm staying with a childhood friend of my moms named of all things, weezie. we chat for a bit before going to bed. she is v. sweet and maternal.

day 6 (tuesday): wake up early to get to the Met before it gets crazy crowded. go to see the van Gogh drawings show and love it so much i buy the catalog. back to campus, lunch with Dani and Karin. then the day turns to pot, spend all afternoon trying to track down profs. and futzing around on the Internet in the library computer lab. its stale air and fluorescent light gives me a headache. i can't go to weezie's because i don't yet have a set of keys. finally Karin's lab ends and we get food and watch a movie at her place. i go back to weezie's and we watch commander in chief together.

day 7 (wednesday): sleep late and watch, get this, a harlequin romance movie on "we" women's entertainment television. then get on the train to Princeton. meeting with a grad student who is also a Barnard alum. Adithi finds me and we rent a movie and go to her place. she has made me a fabulous gourmet dinner that she refuses to believe i might actually enjoy. lovely chats, lovely movie, lovely sleep.

day 8 (thursday): walk around campus with Adithi, breakfast together, then walk her to work at the university press. everything is gorgeous, fall never looked better. meeting with a v. polite prof., then a quick look at the museum. train back to the city, and a late lunch with Dani. meet Ricardo at the Neue Gallerie to see the Egon Shiele show. love the drawings. Ricardo buys the catalog. back to his place where Dani is staying for wine and cards. meet Eva and Emily for dinner at Spice, where the pad thai is delicious. Emily and i decide to watch a stupid movie and settle on the legend of zorro, and it's everything we want it to be. back to weezie's. she's out of town so i have the place to myself for a few days.

day 9 (friday, also today): wake up surprisingly early and watch a 60s sci-fi movie on TCM. beginning of two day conference "the Barnard Leadership Council," to which i am invited because i'm a fund chair for my class. the morning meetings are interesting, but the lunch is poor. now i'm back in the hideous computer lab blogging away before the afternoon sessions begin, but i sort of want more food. might have to get a frap at sbux. i only ever buy them at other locations because they are too messy to make for myself.

tonight Ricardo is throwing a dinner party in my honor. i feel like visiting royalty. tomorrow i have the conference in the morning and then an afternoon train back to DC.

i've realized two things, and i don't have much time so i'll just come out and say them. the first is that USC, even though it's in the dreaded city of LA, would be the best place for me to go for graduate school. the second is that i will spend the rest of my life after grad school living in New York. this is it baby. bye.