I had about 20 minutes to kill until my bus arrived. I was cold. Wanted something warm. There was a Starbucks nearby, with free wifi and hot coffee.
There’s always a Starbucks nearby.
But I wanted decaffeinated since Dr. Carl has told me to cut back, and the three cups of coffee I had eaten with breakfast were probably my limit.
The last several attempts to order decaf at this specific Starbucks had been marred by a complete lack of decaf, which news was delivered with an apologetic tone of voice but no real explanation. In each previous case, I had been offered a decaf Americano, which I had sometimes accepted with resignation, and sometimes declined along with any other option.
I waited my turn, and when the black and green clad employee asked me what I wanted, I said, “Tall decaf, please, with room.”
The boy barista (baristo?) half-turned towards their brewed coffee, then turned back with a familiar faux-sad expression. “I’m sorry, we don’t have any decaf. We stop brewing it after a certain point.”
Still smiling my I-expected-this-answer-but-it’s-not-OK smile, I sighed and said, “OK, give me a tall decaf Americano, with room” and handed over a couple bucks. As he rang me up, I said, “This is the fourth time I’ve come here and you haven’t had decaf.”
The girl making the espresso drinks piped up. “They told us not to, anymore.”
Baristo handed back my change and kept talking. “I guess they figured that we just don’t sell enough of it.”
I shook my head, smiling faintly, and stepped back so the next customer could order.
The baristo said, faux-sympathetically, “You’re not the only one!” Really? That’s the exact opposite of the excuse you had before, you know, I thought, either no one buys it or lots of people ask for it. Which is it?
“Sure, great,” I said, “but it still disappoints me.” They? I thought, who are they? Is that corporate? “I’ll just have to tell them that.” I tried to project a sense of I-know-it’s-not-your-fault-but-it’s-still-not-OK-but-please-don’t-spit-in-my-drink as I walked over to the espresso-drink waiting area.
The girl ahead of me had ordered lots of drinks for a big group of people, and when she was done collecting them, finally the girl behind the counter called out, “Tall Americano!” and set a drink on the ledge.
I walked over, put my hand on the cup, and said, “You mean ‘tall decaf Americano,’ right?”
She turned the cup around to see what was written on it, her face falling. “Oh! No… I didn’t see it,” as the baristo called from the cash register, “Yeah, that’s supposed to be a decaf!”
Honestly, I wasn’t upset so much as amused. How much more wrong could this transaction go? I now looked like the customer from Hell, even though I thought my requests were well within the bounds of reason. The blockage wasn’t me, and the initial problem was up the corporate ladder somewhere, and this current blip was an honest mistake. Still, everything was conspiring to turn it all into a Really Big Deal. I smiled wanly, then stepped aside so she could make me the right drink.
The baristo, who had some experience in these things, told the girl to keep the Americano because someone would probably order one soon enough. Lucky customer!
She completed my drink and brought it out; she handed me a coupon at the same time, worth one free drink next time. I thanked her, then walked to the condiment area. Yay, a free drink. If I had been really unsatisfied, would a reason to visit again in the future really be the trick to turn me around? Luckily, I’m addicted, and Starbucks are everywhere. I tucked the coupon away for later.
I waited for the clueless elderly Asian couple to finish stirring their coffees and adding their flavorings, then stepped up. Everyone has a routine, a little coffee meditation, a ritual they perform. Mine is: take the lid off, pour in a little half-and-half, tear open and pour in two packets of turbinado sugar, stir thoroughly, replace the lid so the cup seam is on the back.
Only this time, it went like this: take off the lid, reach for the half-and-half… of the two stainless steel pitchers, one was labeled “2%” and one was labeled “Whole milk”. No half-and-half. Oh, this is an easy fix, I thought, and turned to the girl. “There’s no half-and-half,” I said, as gently as I could after the customer catastrophe earlier.
And she gave me the face again, the one that says she’s really really sorry, but… “We ran out of half-and-half, we don’t have any.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Loud. Hard. I hope I didn’t hurt her feelings. It was simply absurd. I turned back to the condiments area and reached for the 2%, while the girl continued to explain that she had used the last of their half-and-half to make someone else’s drink. Now I started to notice more little touches to this comedy: there was no turbinado sugar so I used regular white sugar; in their urge to satisfy me they had not given me a cup with room as I’d originally asked, meaning I had to pour some out to make room (which, if the employees had seen, probably felt like salt in the wound but was simply me being practical); and when I stirred, I got a little hot coffee on my fingers.
I intend to send an email to corporate telling them about my experience and the contradictory “we don’t sell enough decaf so that’s why we often disappoint our customers” reason I was given. I’ve had reasonable responses to complaints to Starbucks previously.
I’ll leave the entire story here, though, for your delight, to live on the internet for as long as the internet lives.