Online, a friend reattaches and sees the scroll... the last few things said give me away as being in Tempe, out to coffee, hiding from the world, trying to get work done. "Where are you in Tempe?", he asks. "Starbucks". I know what's coming next. "Starbucks sucks". "Yes, I know", I reply. A few minutes later, the friend, who lives in the area, appears and reminds me coffee shop X is much cooler. Yes, I know, I reply, not moving, and not showing any indication of moving. Hi friend!
A while ago I wrote about the coffee shop at which I took off my shoes before putting my feet on one of the ottomen that people sometimes grab and use as extra seats. I was taught this is the polite thing to do -- when putting your feet some place people sit, take your shoes off. Returning to the same shop a few days later, a new, hand-written sign reminded everyone to keep their shoes on and feet off of the chairs. But... but... but... it's an ottoman! Oh, nevermind. This is exactly the kind of thing that will never happen to you in a Starbucks.
Today, I meet my girlfriend in my current favorite joint. It's an out of the way place that keeps poor hours. Girlfriend was already plugged in, and I had to stretch my cord to get it to the next outlet. One glance at the arrangement showed it was too percarious to be acceptable. Girlfriend pointed this out, which was redundant, and with the matter resolved, I reached for the laptop. But the owner had been watching too, and we both got an ear full. It was made quite plain that it would be fine if I never returned. Attempts to reassure the owner that the cord situation would be straightened out in a minute failed -- that did nothing to fix his christmas lights that someone "shorted out" (it's not a short, that would blow the fuse -- it's an open circuit). This is a place that I've frequented since before they were profitable, and where I often tip 50% of the tab because I'd *hate* for the staff to resent my being there. And now, after one moment's slip-up, I'm history.
If you go to a small coffee shop long enough, you'll eventually catch the owner on a bad day, unless you manage to get yourself into some freaky little cliche. If you hang out there long enough, they'll start to question your motives for being there. If you buy enough coffee, they'll suspect you're reselling it and somehow stealing from them in doing so. In short, they've got small dog syndrome, and they're paranoid, unfriendly, resentful, yappie bastards. They make unreasonable demands of their employees, pay them poorly, have high turnover, and give up on any sort of training, or else let the employees completely run wild. They sell you a latte with organic milk and then whip out the RAID and start spraying the counters -- while you sit there. They don't know what they're doing, but they have very certain ideas about what
Now let's talk about Starbucks. I was having a bad signal day on my GPRS, so I hung the phone from its data cord from a fancy glass light fixture that hung down. One of the staff members approached me and asked if there was somewhere else I could put the phone to get a signal. They explained that they'd recently lost another one, pointed across the room to where one was missing, and explained that they found it that it will take two months to get it replaced, and they'd hate to lose another to an accident. How could you say no to that? No problem. I set it on the ledge in the window and adjusted my position slightly to make slack on the cord. I've seen people spill their entire drink on the big comfy chairs, have their drink replaced at no charge and the chair cleaned up while they waited, and then paper-towel dried by the staff, so they could sit down again. No one was banished from the comfy chairs for making a mess.
At Starbucks, people converge on the outlets, nap in the big comfy chairs in the corner while on break from the office, have animated meetings, and generally make themselves at home. The staff is trained, they have benefits, and turnover is kept to a minimum. If you order your drink a strange way, they don't look at you like you're an ogre -- heck, if you want something wild, they'll proffer up ideas. Management sets an example with regards to handling customers, and the policy is permissive enough that customers aren't kept guessing if they're doing something wrong by taking their jacket off or putting their feet up. How do you make a crowded, over-priced chain more comfortable than a mom and pop shop? Easy. Keep pop out of the shop. He's bad news.
Starbucks is eating your favorite coffee shop's lunch. And for good reason. Starbucks might suck -- trendy, aggressive in positioning themselves near competition, subpar coffee, crowded, corporate -- but your coffee shop sucks worse. Oh, but