A place to put random occurrences in my life...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thoughts on the closing of 600 Starbucks

I recently saw that Starbucks is closing 600 of their stores.  At first, I couldn't get my head around it.  After all, Starbucks has been opening stores across the street from their own existing stores for years - and yet they all seemed to be full of people willing to shell out over 4 bucks for a latte.  But it must be true as there's even this Google mashup maintained by the Seattle Times, which is tracking rumors of suspected stores that are going to be affected.

I continued to be a bit perplexed by the announcement.  I know that there are fears of a recession, the stock market is plunging day after day, a presidential election is underway - but people still need their coffee, right?  My best theory around this centered around the price of gas - when people are faced with either fueling themselves or their cars, maybe their cars were just winning out.

Since I'm fortunate enough to not have to drive much, given my one mile bike ride to work, I found myself in my usual spot inline at the Third Street Promenade Starbucks this morning.  In my defense, I skip the expensive espresso drinks and go straight to the drip of the day.  In any case, while waiting to order, I saw a barrista (is it proper to call a guy a barrista?) talking rather heatedly with a customer.  It turns out he was writing down the name of his manager so that the customer could lodge a complaint.

As I continued to eavesdrop on the conversation, I understood that the customer was ticked off.  It seems that the barrista had thrown out the customer's coffee, which had been placed on the area where folks add in their sugar, etc., right next to the tables.  Clearly the barrista had assumed that the coffee was left there by a customer who was no longer interested in it, and so he hastily threw it out.  All of that makes sense to me.  What doesn't make sense is the fact that the customer was visibly agitated after having just had his $4 drink thrown away, and the barrista was continuing to argue with him, saying that the coffee was not on a "table", and he was justified in his actions.  So now you've got 20 or so people looking at this situation thinking "that could have been my coffee that was just thrown out".  Why not give the customer a new coffee and apologize for the inconvenience?

Are the barrista's not empowered in this way?  I thought one of the magic bits of goodness behind Starbucks was their ability to give there employees a sense of ownership.  If you were an owner of this store, wouldn't you give away a free cup of coffee to avoid a lot of bad will (never mind that you would probably have gained goodwill instead)?  Perhaps it's the decrease in the level of customer service interactions that's causing the closing of these 600 stores...  if that's the case, it would seem like such an easy thing to fix...