Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do you really know my name? My relationship with Starbucks

Because I have some fairly clear personality defects, I have a spreadsheet, and that spreadsheet logs how much money I've given to Starbucks since October of last year. Every latte, every mushroom pocket, every blueberry muffin, recorded there.

Well, not every muffin. That would be ludicrous; anal retentive I might be, but I've only got as far as recording how much I've spent. Life's too short to record everything in a spreadsheet.
Nonetheless, I can look back each month and shock myself as I see I've paid more than a thousand Hong Kong dollars over, to receive in return some slightly dubious cheese-based food products, and a whole lotta steamed milk.

What I should really have been recording is how many times the baristas have cheerfully called out my name and, this being Hong Kong, got it wrong.

There are both pros and cons to regularly visiting the same Starbucks, day after day. Whereas the casual customer gets their latte after they have to ask for a latte, I merely acknowledge the barista's enquiry as to whether I'm having my usual drink.

That doesn't sound like much, but if you drink an average of one short latte per day, five days a week, fifty weeks of the year ... it still doesn't sound like much.

Plus, there's the constant feeling of guilt when I plunge them into a fit of consternation when I choose something else, or else the frustration when I ask for a hot chocolate, return to my desk nineteen floors away, and then discover they gave me a latte anyway.

These are only vague concerns, perhaps some way for me to seek distraction from the everyday uniformity of my existence (and by extension, that of my baristas1). What will he choose today? Will it be decaff? Will it be skimmed? You'll have to wait and see!

What is perhaps more of an issue is the fact, apparent both through my experience and from reading some of the literature that encircles Starbucks, is that the staff have been told to find out my name. Which they then cry out whenever I enter.

I know it's intended to show that they value me as a customer, and I'm recognised by them, and they've taken the time to remember who I am, amongst the scrum of caffeine-deprived people storming their shop each day, but it's a crude facsimile of a relationship. We both know that deep down I'm just there to provide a certain amount of money each day, just as they're there to deal with high temperature milk and heat up various baked goods.

To make it worse, in six months they've all learned my name, and I haven't the faintest idea what any of them are called. Now I could ask, but after this long it would at the least seem awkward to do so, and possibly much worse.

Asking now for their names would only highlight how long I've gone without bothering to enquire. My apathy towards my fellow human would be made far clearer than I desire.

Or else there's less fortunate consequences. Maybe customers who try to discover personal details about baristas are flagged as having untoward intentions. All I want to do is appear sociable, and then the next thing I know my coffee will be thrown in my face and I'll be getting called out for harassment, all because I asked for their name. And their address. And a telephone number I could contact them on outside of work hours.

To ask them advice on whether to purchase blueberry scones or blueberry muffins. I'm not some sort of pervert.

I just want to be treated as a valued customer.

But all these is circumnavigating far from the unhappy heart of the matter, which is that they keep getting my name wrong.

I've had to put up with six months of being called "Jimz" and I think I'm about to crack. Six months where they've assiduously followed the partner guidelines for learning their customers' names and drinks, and six months where I haven't had the gall, the heart or the gumption to tell them that please, it's James, thank you very much, or Mr Foreman if we're going to maintain some veneer of social respectability, but please, never "Jimz".

My parents didn't christen me James so that I'd be referred to with the same dubious nom de plume as a failed 1980s pop star. No number of carefully prepared caffe lattes will ever compensate for the crushing pain in my heart I'll feel when the ever-cheery baristas see me walk through the doors and call out a sunny "hello" to their friend Jimz.

I know it, I bet Howard Schulz knows it, and I wish there was some way to politely tell my slightly-too-familiar baristas this. In the nicest possible way, I don't want to be friends with them, any more than they do me. I just want my coffee. And for Jimz to be left out of it.

1 Being something of a solipsist, it's hard for me to conceive of the staff having any existence outside of the coffee shop. I didn't realise this until one day, adding money to my Octopus card, one of the baristas came up to me and said hello. I was most confused. Should I have asked for a latte?


Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of a visit to a Starbucks in Macau, when one of the customers walked off with the only key to the ladies...

Mr Cushtie said...

I have much to write about on those subjects (Starbucks in Macau, and keys to toilets...)

Anonymous said...

I hope I have made a small contribution to the creative process...

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