Does Starbucks deliberately abuse people who linger?

Var

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Jun 6, 2008
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Hi folks,

I've traveled all over the USA, spending most of my time on the coasts. As a convenience I've spent hours at Starbucks, not because I like their coffee really but because it's easy to find one in an unfamiliar town.

In many Starbucks that I've gone to, I've observed behavior that seems to be aimed at making their clientele leave i.e. to clear the place out.

Here are some antics I've observed:

* They turn up the music volume, blasting it at an unhealthy volume.

* They turn the temperature down to around 55 F, necessitating that paying customers demand they raise it.

* They literally throw heavy objects into the sink.

* Their employees engage in loud, boisterous behavior as though drunk, laughing wildly at any unfunny thing.

* They send their employees out to "clean" but who are actually loudly disruptive or intrusive.

Mind you it's not just Starbucks. For instance, as "Cafe 976" in San Diego they blast the music so loud that regular customers bring ear plugs.

Thanks.
 
Interesting Var, interesting. Being a roaster and generally having a good network of cafes that serve my coffee around the area where I live, has somewhat insulated me from the Starbucks environments you have mentioned. However I will relate a couple of stories. There is a very busy Starbucks downtown, nestled between 2 fully occupied office buildings. I was getting a Visa from an embassy in 1 ofthese and had to wait. There was only a Starbucks or a local cafe (which has coffee even worse) that I could wait at. I chose Starbucks. It was 11.30 am and a number of early lunch goers were heading into Starbucks. Just in front of the door, in the outdoor court yard, were 3 staff in uniform puffing away on cigerttes. Inside was a que of customers and the last remaning staff member trying to serve by herself. Dispite her pleas, and the angry comments of customers, the 3 staff members refused to help out. Being at the back of the que I went next door, where despite the coffee being attrocious, I at least got good service.

The other story is related to a doppio, or what I debated with the barista what the definition of a doppio is. I was waiting at the airport and again, through lack of real choice, went to Starbucks for a doppio. I know Starbucks here are big on training, but the girl this time making produced a gusher that must have taken about 7 seconds to extract. When I asked whether she could make it again properly I got no joy. Now I must say that despite rarely drinking coffee at SB's, I do know the country manager here is hugely focused on delivering quality service to clients. However, sometimes I think the corporate culture (as you have perhaps alluded to) can defeat efforts of 1 man and his team!

I must say for me, I would generally rather take a punt on trying an indie or at least a chain well known for their coffee quality when I am in unknown territory- where at all possible.
 
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Var

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Alun_evans said:
BTW, having just posted something on "Cafe Culture" under another subject heading- I was wondering does SB's pay just minimum wage in teh US, or do they try and attract talent by offering above average salary and conditionsfor their employees?

In California, they only paid $8 per hour a couple years ago. This of course is not a "living wage" -- except for people who live in a van. I suspect many people who work at Starbucks have a spouse with a more substantial job, or supportive parents. Tips do help but not much, especially because managers take a share of the tips (which is illegal in California, hence the current class-action lawsuit...).

Where I am now, on the East Coast, one local Starbucks person said people start at $7.50. Not surprisingly I've seen a lot of turnover at the SBs I've visited most. Local rents are high. A one-room apartment is $600-$700 per month. Working at $7.50/hr full-time means an after-tax income of maybe $1000 per month, but most Starbucks workers in the US are part-timers, so they might make half that.

I heard some time ago that in Canada some Starbucks baristas have unionized, thereby gaining a living wage. I was told that this is not possible in the US due to labor laws. Even if it were possible, Starbucks tends to hire people who are unlikely to unionize, e.g. teenagers and college students.

I'm under the impression that they hire people who are obsessive about the brand, to the detriment of themselves and of customers. What's disturbing is that some of these underpaid workers can be induced to abuse customers into leaving in order to maximize profits.
 

CCafe

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Des Moines, Iowa
I know a lot of places that do that at the end of the day just to get people to leave.

I think a lot of the things you have listed are not done by Starbucks intentionally. I personally believe it is a sign of people with poor customer service skills.

I have found music to be the biggest offender in most coffee shops that have a lot of youth working. They tend to try to turn it up louder and louder until you can't hear yourself talk. I don't think they do it to be mean but more over because they forget that they are there to serve. I think they forget that serving someone else requires that person to be happy. Music seems to be the most overlooked aspect to customer service.

Often I have wondered why someone hasn't started a customer service training school. I don't know if it would work but think if you had a school that was a full mock up of a restaurant and actually did serve people for a few hours a day for training purposes. There are so many ways this could go but in the end maybe you could convince local restaurants to only accept people who have passed a training coarse. No pass no job.
 
In NZ we have a program called "Kiwi Host", that is designed to focus and train staff on all aspects of service- with a particular emphasis on the "hospitality" angle- ie meeting or exceeding customers expectations when the visit a cafe, shop, restaurant etc. Initially the program was a big success- you have to remember in NZ the hospitality industry does not receive tips- so salaries are not always great..but fortunately often those in the business are in it because they eventually want their own cafes. My comments on recent visits home (NZ) is that while the top cafes still have pretty sharp service standards, full employment nationally has meant that many other cafes perhaps do not longer have the quality staff. I think this is one area the independents always will have it over the big guys- the ability to attract top staff.
 

John P

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Lingerers should be abused. :evil: :wink:
A decent customer will continue to order something now and again rather than just take up space.
 
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Var

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CCafe said:
I know a lot of places that do that at the end of the day just to get people to leave.

Often I have wondered why someone hasn't started a customer service training school. I don't know if it would work but think if you had a school that was a full mock up of a restaurant and actually did serve people for a few hours a day for training purposes. There are so many ways this could go but in the end maybe you could convince local restaurants to only accept people who have passed a training coarse. No pass no job.

In the case of Starbucks, they're nasty it in the middle of the day to get people to leave, but also if they see someone show up with a laptop or book, they may be nasty right away... before they know whether the person will continue buying.

As for the training school idea, I think it's a smart idea. Whether fast food joints like Starbucks have smart people planning their moves is the question. I doubt it... they're rather dumb-and-arrogant.

I do know that Culinary Institute of America in NY state has some student-run restaurants for that purpose however.
 
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Var

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John P said:
Lingerers should be abused. :evil: :wink:
A decent customer will continue to order something now and again rather than just take up space.

Oh, you're right, sadism is the answer. That'll get customers coming back every time. Sure works at Guantanamo. ;-)
 

MakoShark

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Nov 23, 2007
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"The way life should be"
Starbucks

I do tire of Starbucks bashing. It seems it's the favorite activity for many.

If you are a consumer and don't like the way Starbucks treats you, don't go there ever again. Banish them from your existence forever! You will live a happier life.

If you are a business person or a prospective business person and believe Starbucks does just about everything wrong, then make all decisions exactly opposite Starbucks and you should be a raving success!

I am sure everyone can do a better job with their customer service, their product and their overall offering. We all should strive to improve.

Considering the size of Starbucks and their unique challenges, I think it's amazing they do as well as they do. And considering their current business challenges, I respect their effort to return to basics. It is a monumental undertaking for a company their size.

I wonder if GM or IBM, etc. would prescribe such a remedy...

Mako
 
Hey Mako, I would add than in any situation where you have a succesful business (or individual- business, sporting or otherwise) you always will have detractors. In New Zealand we call this "Tall Poppy Syndrome"- a natural reaction to someone, something that stands above others.

From a specialty coffee point of view, it is hard to argue that Starbucks has not contributed hugely to all of us in the industry having growing businesses today. Their efforts, for instance, in new and devloping markets such as Indonesia, China and the Philippines has helped to bring specialty coffee to the masses- where as before their entry into these markets Instant coffee or local blends (robusta in the case of Indonesia and Baroko in the case of the Philippines) were the norm.

I think Starbucks are now facing the challenges any large food retailer faces sometime in their devlopment- how to continue growing, remaining profitable while somewhat inventing the product lines they have. It is a challenge that McDonalds had a decade ago- and have manged to overcome by diversifing their product lines (and selling good quality specialty coffee), and What Kentucky Fried Chicken had to do- becoming KFC (what does the F stand for...lets try and remove "Fried" fromour name). I think Starbucks have been brave enough to realise that sheer size means their coffee quality is not ever going to be able to compete with the smaller roasters who can source smaller, very specialised greens. However they do realise that through training and perhaps the cup serves of coffee via the Clover Leaf machines, the flicking off of the Superautos they can perhaps refocus on being a coffee company.

I for 1 hope they suceed- because I for sure do not have the mrketing budget they have. :grin:
 

MakoShark

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Nov 23, 2007
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"The way life should be"
Tall Poppies

Tall Poppy Syndrome"- a natural reaction to someone, something that stands above others.

I like this quote. Thanks Alun. And I appreciate your take on the business. Your "international" perspective adds much to the discussion, as do many others on the forum.

I agree with your points.

Mako
 

JohnB

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May 30, 2008
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Connecticut
Alun_evans said:
I think Starbucks have been brave enough to realise that sheer size means their coffee quality is not ever going to be able to compete with the smaller roasters who can source smaller, very specialised greens. However they do realise that through training and perhaps the cup serves of coffee via the Clover Leaf machines, the flicking off of the Superautos they can perhaps refocus on being a coffee company.

I for 1 hope they suceed- because I for sure do not have the mrketing budget they have. :grin:

I hope they succeed also but all the training & Clovers in the world won't change the fact that they need to start with better coffee. A Clover can't transform burnt, mediocre beans into a wonderful cup of coffee. For the price they are charging you should expect & receive a good tasting cup of coffee.

After hearing all the hoopla I went in & ordered a cup of their new Pikes Peak Roast coffee that they've made such a big deal about. Tried it black & just about gagged. Even with a large quanity of Half & Half I could only get half of it down before it went in the dumpster. The only flavor is burnt coffee & until they can do better then that they deserve all the criticism they receive. The sad truth is I may now be able to get a better tasting cup of coffee for less money at McDonalds.
 

nomistakes

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Jun 19, 2008
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mcdonalds can do the same too...lets face it is not profitable to have someone waste time, who does not order much...could depend on personel and their judgement.
 
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