Boo-hoo, Starbucks!

Poor Starbucks!

They missed their earnings call, boo-hoo. Moreover, they are blaming it on the Chinese. (You can’t make this stuff up!)

I think that Starbucks has owed its success to its pretense that people were drinking coffee when they were actually drinking 30 ounces of condensed sugar syrup. People like sugar syrup more than coffee. Nonetheless, Starbucks is trying to deliver the alleged coffee in ever more perverse ways — adding olive oil? — and failing. They could always try keeping their menu the same for a year at the same prices.

My wife goes to Starbucks for a $5 “trenta” iced tea when I can make her 30 ounces for 70¢ – with much better quality tea. The reason she goes there is the kids. They know her and love her. They tell her about their lives. They know what she orders depending on the kind of day it is. So, customer service wins the day. The difficulty is that Howard Schultz has designed the business so that there is 99% barista turnover every year. Soon, my wife has to make new Starbucks friends who are much like the old Starbucks friends but younger.

This reminds me of the novel “Never Let Me Go” by Ishiguro, where clones are raised so their organs can be transplanted into the original children. Clones come and disappear based on how many organs they have left. The Starbucks kids are giving away their youth and attention for minimum wage. It’s not such a great bargain for the kids, who gradually find out the realities of their situation over the course of their employment.

I should add that Howard Schultz is terrified of the prospect of a barista union. He and Jeff Bezos are trying to eliminate unions altogether by asking the courts to make the NLRB disappear. So, union deterrents are built into the job itself, like mandatory anti-union lectures and scheduling design that ensures that the workers are compartmentalized and can’t be visited by union representatives. (If you know a barista, and they don’t have a shift that day, ask another employee when the barista will be back. You will not get a straight answer.) My wife made a bûche de Noël last year for the Starbucks crew, and she didn’t know whether they liked it. Because of the scheduling permutations, only 2-3 baristas knew the cake existed on any given day By the end, the ganache must have tasted like modeling clay. She was thanked a week later when the rota had cycled around. I think she will make seven small cakes this year, one for each crew.

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