Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Defense of Starbucks



I've been a fan of Starbucks since they opened a store in my hometown of Yakima, WA many years ago. A more youthful, more robust, less bothered by the presence of calories and sugar version of myself was pumped to learn the coffee shop would blend my beloved Frappuccinos, making them more like a milkshake rather than the watery substance I'd been purchasing at the grocery store.

Yakima is rather devoid of culture. When a chain restaurant opens there, the locals treat it as a momentous occasion and cram its doors until the novelty wears off and they realize the Applebee's they were so excited about is just another mediocre menu with entrees crammed full of sodium and they'd be much better off going to local gem Miner's for a burger.

So, needless to say, I received no flack for my love of Starbucks while living in Yakima. In fact, it may have been the only thing that earned me any cool points at all. When I left, however, I started getting different reactions to the infamous Mermaid cup in my hand.

"Ugh, their coffee tastes terrible." "Those drinks are so overpriced." "You should really support local coffee shops instead."

Well, guess what? Now I live in Seattle, and Starbucks is our local coffee shop. The very first store opened a few miles from where I live. And while I've got plenty of delicious mom and pop shops here to select from (and I admit that I prefer some of them to Starbucks), I still spend plenty of time and cash on Mermaid cups. And I always will. And here's what I have to say to the nay-sayers' comments:

1)      Starbucks coffee tastes terrible. This is a matter of personal tastes, of course. And I admit that, while I brew a delicious pot of Sumatra roast at home, sometimes their in-store brew isn't awesome. But I happen to think their Americanos, lattes and frappuccinos are fantastic. And even better than that, they're consistent. No offense to local coffee shops, but I have yet to find one that will give me the same exact damn mocha every time. I like to know that my beverage I am spending $5 on will be a tasty one.
Disclaimer: It's true that Starbucks tends to taste better in Washington State and the further you get from Washington, the more risk you take with your beverage. I'm looking at you, Florida.

2)      Starbucks is overpriced. The expression "you get what you pay for" applies here. Most frilly fancy coffee drinks are expensive, and Starbucks is no exception. And it's true that CEO Howard Schultz is an ultra mega billionaire who rakes in the profits off his coffee beans. BUT. Guess where else your money goes? To the employees. They're paid more than minimum wage, they're treated well (for an example of a company that treats employees like shit, Google all the dirt on Forever XXI), and they're given health insurance benefits if they work 30 or more hours per week. In fact, Starbucks spends $300 million a year on health benefits. I'll happily pay an extra 50 cents for my Americano for that, thank you very much.

3)      Local coffee shops should be supported. Starbucks is local to me now. But even when it wasn't, they were still my first choice. Why? Let's be honest. Most little espresso stands on the side of the road do not have employees who were carefully trained on how to properly make a shot of espresso (it's an art, people). The result is a drink that tastes like moldy ass. I'd really rather not gamble with my coffee. I take my caffeine seriously. Everyone has a choice on what they drink. I will choose Starbucks.

Now, I realize that Starbucks is a corporation and the entire coffee business is far from ethical, about one step above blood diamonds, and needs to be reformed. But I don't think this company is even close to the worst offender. Here are other reasons why I think Starbucks is getting it right:

Their baristas are friendly. Since moving here a year ago, I have not once walked into the Starbucks by my home or work and not been greeted with a seemingly sincere smile. Not once have I been given an attitude for asking a question or received anything short of stellar service. Even if they're having a bad day and secretly want to punch me, they don't show it.

They go above and beyond. One of my Facebook friends recently said the people at the local coffee shop he's frequented for years still don't know or care who the hell he is, while he can walk into Starbucks on any given day and be greeted by name with his drink started. Recently, my building lost power and all 398734875 of us had to stand outside in the pouring rain while maintenance tried to figure it out. The Starbucks employees across the street rushed out right away with free coffee (with cream and sugar) and pastries for us. Are you kidding me? I dare you to find any other business that would do that.

In 2008, when Howard Schultz returned at the Starbucks CEO, he recognized the problems the company was having as the economy was tanking. He took an enormous profit loss, shut down every single store for half a day, and re-trained every single employee. He also lost more millions when he flew every single store manager out to a conference to give them a pep talk, where he shed tears. There's not a lot of love for Schultz here in Seattle because of the way the Sonics deal was handled. I respect that. But I also respect Schultz. I've had the pleasure of seeing him speak when he came to our company one day to give us an amazing Q&A, and I truly believe he's doing a lot right.

No high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used in their products. Now, have enough frappuccinos and scones and you'll be an unhealthy fatty. Sugar and fat are no bueno. But knowing that my occasional white chocolate Americano won't give me a heart attack on the spot is kind of nice.

So go ahead, fling your Starbucks hatred at me and preach to me about locals and values and what constitutes crappy coffee. I'll hold up my Mermaid cup with my delicious brew and toast my local coffee shop, Starbucks.

2 comments:

Mike Barbre said...

Jessica, you know how I feel about Schultz, but you're right. Their business model is second to NONE, and I'm not even talking about JUST the coffee industry. I doubt I've seen a worldwide corporation focus on their quality, employees as well as philanthropy. They're an amazing company that doesn't compromise quality when looking at a quarterly report.

Mike Barbre said...

Jessica, you know how I feel about Schultz, but you're right. Their business model is second to NONE, and I'm not even talking about JUST the coffee industry. I doubt I've seen a worldwide corporation focus on their quality, employees as well as philanthropy. They're an amazing company that doesn't compromise quality when looking at a quarterly report.

 
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