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Nov 9, 2009 07:26 AM

Starbucks sucks, but I stil go there

Starbucks sucks. Their coffee is burnt and awful, their teas are lame supermarket stuff, their food is hyper-expensive, their music is very loud and their employees are encouraged to act like drunks. Probably the only good food they offer is bagels, which they always keep in short supply. Their new attempt at offering coffee crystals only underscores their cluelessness.

So why do I, and so many others still go there? Is there anything that "indie" cafes can learn from Starbucks?

Yes. Starbucks does several things right that even their obnoxious coffee and most doltish employees cannot completely undermine.

First, they provide a functional environment. Their solid chairs, tough tables, decent lighting and available electrical outlets are reliably pervasive. If I can't have high cafe culture (Vienna, Budapest etc), then let me do my thing. People who go to Starbucks to read, write, or work on a laptop can do those things for the most part.

Second, the employees, despite yipping like monkeys half the time, are forced to be friendly and upbeat. In the Philadelphia area, where I have witnessed workers at Borders and Blockbuster Video inventing cruel names for customers, where I have been given filthy silverware at Bertucci's, and where I have seen trash strewn all over the floor at other cafe, frankly the idea of employees aspiring even lamely to professionalism and being nice even if in a dippy Starbucks way is refreshing. I don't ask for much, but customer service in this region is horrific, which makes Starbucks look all the better.

Third, Starbucks often is situated where parking is free. There is a trend now for business to set up shop inside little towns and on Main streets, where parking is expensive. This is a mistake. Starbucks is everywhere. With them, I don't have to risk getting a ticket.

Fourth, in Washington state whence Starbucks originated, they have serious competition. Not so in most other places. They learned things by competing with equals that gives them the edge over relatively weak indie cafes. It seems every indie cafe reinvents the wheel and gets it wrong half the time. I've seen indie cafes done horribly wrong, like incompetently-made "artsy" chair that were painful, or idiot owners who smoked in the cafe, and I've seen it done really well. Starbucks is the Model T of cafes: One size fits all.

In summary, even though Starbucks is a clueless company that makes awful coffee, and in fact it is a union-busting company by the way, they do a few key things right.

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  1. Your points are well taken but what does this have to do with Pennsylvania? Where do you live and frequent? We might be able to suggest other coffeeshops that are an alternative to Starbucks. I know the situation is not so great in the suburbs,. but in Philly at least there are many good and "functional" alternatives to Starbucks.

    I agree with you for the most part but a big functionality issue for me at Starbucks is the lack of free wi-fi. With a couple exceptions, wi-fi is free at indie coffeeshops.

    1. What I don't understand is they decreased the price of a tall coffee from $1.60 to $1.50.

      They made a big deal how they had to increase the price by a dime and now they've lowered it. People got used to paying that extra dime which I'm sure contributes to their bottom line...what are they thinking is a dime going to "help" the average customer in this recession.

      BTW: That "burnt" taste put them on the map.

      1. Love your post Foonbubby. I have the misfortune to live in the Philadelphia area also, though on a sunny day when the trees blaze red and yellow I'm pretty glad. I appreciate that at Starbucks the customer service doesn't fall below a certain level. I used to live in North Carolina for a bit and when I came home to Penna to visit I experienced cultural shock from the rudeness that is so prevalent. I go to starbucks too. There is a saxbys across town that has much better coffee but once when I was in the foyer I heard one of the workers lament loudly " here comes that lady who never tips!" Naturally I didn't tip that day either. The worker dropped the Ma'am bomb on me when she gave me my latte. For the uninitiated or male hounds the ma'am bomb is when they say ma'am it kind of comes out between a snarl and a hiss. Ah the veneer of good manners. I've never been back. I tip erratically at the starbucks and they usually still squirt the little bit of chocolate sauce on the whipped cream atop my hot chocolate. At least the one in Lansdale does. Starbucks do change though. The sbux in North Wales on route 202 used to be my favorite until my last visit. There were only three young males working there and even though my friend asked for mugs they still put the cocoa in to-go containers and alas no chocolate syrup topping. At starbucks there is a general level of decency as far as service, cleanliness and atmosphere. As someone who frequents gaming shops where the owners and employees can be openly cruel to their customers I appreciate the brief respite sbux offers.

          1. Starbucks does not suck.

            1. The stores are generally always clean and well-kept
            2. Their restrooms are clean and free
            3. They use filtered water for their ice
            4. They don't look at you funny if you sit and lounge around without buying anything
            5. They're a great place for last-minute late night birthday (or Xmas) gifts
            6. They donate to and are actively involved in community events and functions
            7. They pay living wages and provide health benefits
            8. They made it possible for all those "indie" coffee shops that people seem to love to open and thrive (before Starbucks would you ever think of paying $2+ for a cup of coffee?)

            10 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Ipse, it looks like your post was taken from an employment brochure. It has that disconnected from reality cluelessness that is typical of Starbucks propaganda.

              Regarding water quality, restrooms and cleanliness, I'd expect that of any cafe or restaurant and if I did not see it, I would call the Health Dept. Therefore mentioning these does not distinguish Starbucks whatsoever. Same with the "gifts" you mention since indie cafes sell ceramics etc.

              > 6. They donate to and are actively involved in community events and functions

              That's mostly untrue. I've observed that when they "give to the homeless" for instance, they throw food in the dumpster. For more info on Starbucks' dishonest marketing, google "starbucks lies".

              > 7. They pay living wages and provide health benefits

              Patently false. Most Starbucks workers are only part-time and not permitted to work over 20 hours a week, because that's the threshold for getting health benefits. At $8 per hour and 15 hours per week, that's only $480 per month before taxes -- not enough to live on. Starbucks also has a crazy rule that any lapse in earnings disqualifies a worker for getting health benefits. This is why workers want to unionize Starbucks.

              > 8. They made it possible for all those "indie" coffee shops that people seem to love to open and thrive

              Starbucks is infamous for its predatory policy of setting up shop near indie cafes in order to wipe them out.

              Itse, your dishonesty harms Starbucks. If you treat customers like they are children who can be easily misled with second-rate marketing nonsense then you drive them away.

              Of interest:

              1. re: Foonbubby

                I do not work at Starbucks, nor am I a *regular* at Starbucks. The only connection I have with Starbucks is that my portfolio probably holds Starbucks stock, mostly indirectly.

                But to respond to your points:

                Starbucks v. Indies. The point of my post wasn't to say that Starbucks was somehow intrinsically or objectively *better* than Indie coffee shops. As the preface to my post states, it is merely to point out that Starbucks "does not suck." So the fact that the stores are clean, the water is filtered etc., goes to support that statement. Same with the gifts.

                As with the living wages ... I don't disagree with you that many of Starbucks employees are part-timers (in fact, many people prefer to only work part time at Starbucks -- e.g., students). But there are many that are full-timers, e.g. managers, and they do make living wages and do have good benefits. Again, not all employees have these benefits, but then again that's true for all companies. And if you want to compare it to Indies (which I was *not* trying to do), how many Indie coffee shops provide their full time employees with health benefits? Again, the point of salaries and benefits was not to say that Starbucks is better than an Indie, merely that Starbucks does not suck.

                As to predatory pricing ... that's just smart business. But you cannot argue the fact that but for the popularity of Starbucks there wouldn't even be a market for Indie coffee shops. Starbucks -- almost by itself -- has created the market for designer coffee, and which has now allowed Indie coffee shops to ride the coattails of that trend. (Note: if Starbucks was so good at setting up shop next to an Indie coffee shop to wipe them out, how come there are still so many Indie coffee shops? Why isn't the world populated exclusively with Starbucks?)

                And, heck, if they want to treat me like a child ... Great! I'm already feeling too old ...


                1. re: ipsedixit

                  As to health insurance, all companies offer full time employees health insurance so again Starbucks is not special because of that. To boast as they/you do that they offer health insurance generally is disingenuous, as you are ignoring the plight of their part-time staff, which is the vast majority of workers.

                  As to whether Starbucks created the market...

                  False. If you're talking about rural Missouri, or a bedroom community in the suburbs somewhere, I would agree. In many places like that, there were no cafes nor coffee culture. Coffee was only sold at restaurants, truck stops, supermarkets. But in cities where the majority of the population is, cafes of varying quality existed before Starbucks. I know because I went to them. Some have withstood the Starbucks onslaught by innovating. But Starbucks did not create coffee culture in the cities, it existed already. They just expanded it.

                  Therefore your argument is wishful thinking, like someone bragging about a sports team.

                  Starbucks is the Thomas Kincaid of coffee.

                  1. re: Foonbubby

                    Sorry Foon

                    I'm with Ix on this one. You argument seems more like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist. Ignore everything that doesn't fit your argument.

                    So we're to assume that you and a few others have figured out that Starbucks sucks while the rest of us millions are all wrong??

                    I regularly go to Starbucks. I'll sit and chat with the employees. They love working there. Some are part time, some are full time. The FT's get a nice benefits package. The PT's well, most places offer no benefits to PT's. Does that mean all places suck?? It also means less turnover so that the latte's, etc. are served by people who have done it before. Not newbies.

                    I live in a major, major metropolis. There were a few Indie coffee stores before Starbucks came. Now there are several. Ya, you're right that they didn't invent the coffee scene. They did however make it main stream.

                    It took me a while being dragged in by my wife to find a coffee/group of coffee's I like. Now I'm a coffee nerd. I have a French press at home and a few different coffees.

                    The fact that young people are in there on a Friday night doing homework is something I really like to see. Heck, if they existed when I was in school, I may have done well. Hard to do home work at a bar or a movie theatre.

                    The fact that you don't like their coffee does not make it suck. You are not Judge Judy and executioner. You merely have an opinion. You are like my dad. If he doesn't like it, it sucks. It can't possibly be good but just not to his liking. It sucks. Period.


                    1. re: Foonbubby

                      There are 29 different coffee bean blends and roasts (5 are decaf). I prefer some over others, but by no means are any of the beans "burnt". You can ask to try a French Press of any flavor for $3.50. It's on the pricing board.

                      You started out with a title of it 'sucks' but you still go there and now are ranting about busines practices.

                      It *is* a business. It exists to make money. There is not a high employee turnover rate. You can barely tell when someone is a 'new' employee, because they are all trained and professional.

                      Minimum wage exists to be a starting point or to supplement an income, not a permanent way to support a lifestyle for a mortgage, spouse and children.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        I agree that Starbuck's French press coffee is much better than the brewed swill. Consumer Reports also agrees the brewed swill tastes burnt.

                        Saying "It *is* a business. It exists to make money" is a child's argument. You might as well say "The Italian Mafia exists to make money" to justify their crimes. Or "slavery *is* a business after all, geez". Starbucks is union-busting, employee-unfriendly company. That's evil.

                        You ignore also that Itse was claiming Starbucks provides a living wage, which I was rebutting. Read before you type.

                        1. re: Foonbubby

                          Every one of the beans can be made in the French Press as well as brewed. You are saying *every* brewed bean "sucks". I disagree.

                          A legitimate, tax paying business. Al Capone was arrested for tax evasion, not for all his other crimes.

                          I don't like your sweeping generalization that the employees are "yipping like monkeys half the time". They are at work and everyone at work chats with people who they see every day for hours at a time.

                          The common definition of living wage is to pay enough for a single person to survive, not to support a family and mortgage. If you are told you are hired for 20 or less hours per week, are told your hourly wage and can do math, you know this is not the job that will pay your bills and can look elsewhere for a job with better hours/better pay or an additional part time job. You don't need a Union to do that for you.

                          1. re: Foonbubby


                            Let's just agree to disagree. I think some of what your posting is going to get all of us in trouble (i.e., calling Starbucks "evil").

                            We're all here to share and post our experiences and feelings. We now know yours quite well, and I think you know mine (and a few others).

                            Lets just leave it at that.

                            Cheers and happy eating (and drinking)!

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    I'm with you on everything but #4. *I* look at people funny if they lounge around SB w/o buying anything, esp. when it's busy and there are no seats available for paying customers. There should be a policy against that, esp. during peak hours.

                    1. re: gloriousfood

                      I haven't seen too many people not paying at all, except in the city where maybe a homeless person would take a snooze in the Starbucks comfy chair.

                      Usually squatters (my term) buy a $2 item every hour or so. That's about fair I'd say.We're not talking about cafes in Vienna where a waiter serves cappuccino on a silver-plated tray and there's a free cookie with each cup, after all. It's only Starbucks.

                      Anyway I noticed that Panera Bread puts a sign on tables explaining that squatters should respect the store's need to make a profit during peak hours. They also throttle the Internet during peak hours.

                      I think most people would prefer a polite sign to an unwritten policy explained by a person.