Things To Do At Starbucks
A Scalding Look At America's Latest Obsession
Have latte, or be latte!
Try to guess which
person in your Starbucks is busy writing the next great American novel.
See me, in the corner? Try to guess which groups of people are busy writing
the next, not so great, dot bomb business plan. I've actually done this,
and yes, at a Starbucks, in Deerfield, Illinois.
The really scary part of remembering those crazy, go for broke moments
is that I wasn't the only guy banging away on what would turn out to be
a very non-profit BP, and using Starbucks for office space. On more than
one occasion, I was the position to eavesdrop, and man, was I depressed
afterward! After listening to my fellow entrepreneurs explain their business
plans to prospective angel investors over a grande mocha, I realized I
had no better shot at being the next Jeff Bezos than they did. We were
delusional, flush with the excitement of a future where the Internet would
make us all prettier, smarter, faster, brighter, and wealthier. We had
also consumed half dozen mochas by 9:00 AM everyday, and we later all
realized that if we'd listened to our mothers and taken the postal exam,
we'd still be employed today.
If you see that table of dreamers tomorrow morning, smile sympathetically,
and silently thank heaven you kept your day job.
"The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny."
Start your own chapter of the Caffeine Addiction Club. Meet daily at the
table in the corner!
Have you ever noticed that the same people congregate at the same Starbucks
everyday? Maybe you are one of just such a group.
If this is comfort food, should it have such an overpowering grip on people?
Shouldn't it soothe, not enslave? More on this enslavement thing later...Go
ahead; give some of that Venti latte to your hyper four year old. Have
fun! (My all time favorite, because I've done it with my son! Man, he's
like a Redstone rocket after a nip o' latte and a $3.50 sugar donut!)
Calculate the total
register sales at your local Starbucks for one morning hour. Contemplate
starting your own franchise! Actually, you can't start your own franchise,
because there are no corners in America left without a Starbucks on
it! Amazingly, they're all thriving!
When did coffee become a status symbol in the US?
Or, is it the cup?
Be honest, if you were a Starbucks loyalist, you wouldn't be caught
dead with a Dunkin Donuts cup at your next corporate strategy meeting,
would you? Think about the perception issue you'd have to overcome just
to be heard at that meeting, let alone taken seriously!
Now, admit there's a problem with labels here. I'm not asking you to
change; I just want you to acknowledge the stupidity of it all.
Tomorrow, give at
least some of the change from your grande mocha to the homeless guy
sitting outside. Heck, give him your mocha, too. We both know he needs
it more than you do.
Dateline Northbrook, Illinois - This is the state of wealthy America
when, from out of the blue, the disenfranchised suddenly show up begging
at your tony localled suburban Starbucks, and you actually overhear
people giving the manager a hard time about it! Here's some poor slob
who lives in a "managed care" facility nearby, someplace none
of us would even consider using the toilet in, and he's looking for
a smoke or a few coins, and he gets teed up by some lawyer for standing
too close to the fender of her Jaguar!
I saw it happen, folks. I swear on my mocha, she lit this guy up! The
great part was, he had no idea what planet he was even on, let alone
the potential damage she was claiming his presence might do to the triple
clear coat paint job. Strange world.
Casually flip through Cosmopolitan while your five-year-old tosses bits
of half eaten donut at the businessmen behind you. Anyone ever had the
kid at the next table situation? It's cute for about 14 seconds, then
you are reminded of that flight from Chicago to LA last year when the
kid in front of you repeatedly played with his seat recliner, FOR THREE
HOURS! Mom, seated next to her little pride and joy, was skilled in
the art of ambivalence, a trait no doubt learned at Junior League meetings
throughout the North Shore of Chicagoland.
Note to parents:
Kids, Frappuccino, and air travel DO NOT mix.
Establish squatter's rights in the big comfy chair by the window. Lock
in for a morning of caffeine accelerated introspection.
Have you ever done this? It is the greatest thing in the world to lock
up the most comfortable chair in Starbucks for hours on end. Need to
hit the head? Put all of your belongings on the seat; backpack, laptop,
CD player, maybe some old tissue if you think that guy watching you
might make his move while your gone.
Go ahead; turn your
cell phone ring on the highest, most annoying volume. Wait for calls.
Really, you should do this anyway, no matter if it's Starbucks, church,
the opera, or a funeral. Your important, you need to be accessible!
Turn your cell phone off. Revel momentarily in your self imposed unavailability.
OK, turn your cell phone back on now. We were just kidding.
" Did anyone call?"
You're so important.
Don't get me started on the cell phone thing. Sure, I've got one. But
I'm married, for crying out loud! How else would my wife be able to
keep a permatab on my absolutely up to no good whereabouts?
Actually, the first book I wanted to write was going to be called "My
Cell Hell", and would feature stories of cell phone usage so perplexing
and outrageous as to make one wonder if the world itself had gone off
Then I realized that the title implied that I'd spent a little time
in the slammer and, you know, that kind of killed that book pretty fast.
Any author will tell you that people buy the title, not the story. I
didn't have a snappy backup title, so I shelved the concept. I don't
need prison rumors flying around my neighborhood Starbucks you know...
Feel free to poach the idea, dear reader.
Read someone else's left behind paper. Save .50 and apply to your next
tall coffee of the day.
Try to guess whom around you does what for a living (if anything).
By the way, this is always an interesting game. It's usually unverifiable,
and can be downright funny if played in, say, an airport bar directly
across from Starbucks. You and your buddies get good and lubed up, and
started making up porn names for people as they leave Starbucks! Do
it loud enough (which you inevitably will), and you are guaranteed to
get punched at some point.
Multiply the number of people doing nothing in your Starbucks by the
61 other Starbucks in your small town. Start working on an employment
agency business plan immediately!
Recognize the irony
of the huge "Now Hiring" signs hanging in many of the crowded
"Would you like a job application with your mocha?"
Practice the subtle art of ennui while twelve Grande espressos course
through your veins.
Corporate Flunky Tip -
Remember the corporate strategy meeting last week? Remember all the
bullying you took, and who was doing it? They're picking on you because
you are not hopped up! You simply must match them latte for latte if
you expect to thrive in today's fast paced, caffeine charged corporate
Have latte, or be latte!
Ask your server
very specific questions about mocha preparation while the line piles
up behind you.
Go ahead, it's your $4.75!
This is always a crowd pleaser: be a condiment station space hog during
morning rush hour.
Come to think of it, be a condiment station space hog whenever you want.
I mean, no one else seems to care a damn about your needs at Starbucks!
The condiment bar is like an African watering hole at dawn.
Animals, jockeying for position.
Empty all of the Sweet N Low's into your pocket, then go and ask for
more. I like this one! Get a little back, you know?
On live music nights,
drink lots of coffee then, empowered and hopped up on caffeine, mercilessly
heckle the performer.
"Hey, are they paying you with coffee, dude? Hahahaha!"
If you are sitting alone, be obvious about eavesdropping on nearby conversations.
Take notes, and correct any of the participants if you believe they
misinterpreted a fact.
Mention loudly how
much you missed you daily Starbucks latte on your recent trip to Tuscany.
"Sure the pasta was good. But the coffee? Ughhhh!"
Stroke your goatee thoughtfully while stirring your cappuccino. I mean,
really, why else would you have a goatee?
evolution of your white chocolate mocha. What impoverished Columbian
coffee bean picker wouldn't feel proud to know he was such a big part
of your day?
It's 97 degrees out.
"Hmmmm, grande or just a tall today."
Proudly sport your
cup sleeve as a bracelet.
You go, girl!
Go into a Starbucks, sit down, and order nothing. The place is so self
absorbed, not a single soul will notice. Repeatedly ask the barista,
"You are making me a decaf, right?" They love that, I swear.
Pour your fresh latte into a big Dunkin Donuts cup. Watch everyone around
you shift uneasily, stop in mid keystroke, and glare at your impertinence.
Hey, here's one.
If the café is closing, how about going home?
Ponder this: is
it healthy for a 16 year old to drink a grande mocha everyday?
Now ponder this: is it any healthier for a middle aged, overweight lawyer
to drink two-grande mochas everyday?
Now ask yourself: why did I become a lawyer, and how did I get so fat?
This is always a good game with your friends. Think up new names for
"Hey, I've got one. How about "Crackuccino"? Or "White
"Make a big production of opening up and turning on your big, fancy
Insert a Polka music CD into your big fancy laptop. Turn up the volume,
then get up and go to the bathroom.
If that last one happens to you while you are lounging around, reading
last week's Fast Company, take your tall coffee of the day and pour
it all over that guy's Polka playing big fancy laptop.
Leave. Go next door to another, quieter Starbucks.
No matter what the guy in front of you orders, mumble "Wuss"
under your breath.
* Author's note - be careful with this one. If that guy is caffeine
starved, he'll take it out on your ass. Trust me on this one.
If you are heading
out to the golf course, stop in at your local Starbucks, and buy the
others in your foursome grande double espressos before the round.
Talk about getting the yips!
Count how many of the travel mugs on display you already own. Do the
Fill out employment
applications for your friends.Bring a world Atlas with you on your next
trip to Starbucks. After several grande whatevers, jump up and loudly
demand to be shown exactly where Sumatra really is?
Reconsider the insanity of your property taxes when the guy in line
behind you at Starbucks is your garbage man. Speaking of inline, how
incredibly stupid do you have to be to attempt to drink scalding hot
coffee while skating?
Stuff the suggestion
box with requests for a pool table in your local Starbucks. Hey, tell
the manager that if you are going to spend that much time there everyday...
Speaking of the manager, didn't you used to baby-sit him?
Who's in charge now, huh?
"Oh man, I should've just let him stay up. Now I'll never get the
second shot free."
Sit near the barista. Whenever someone turns down the free second shot,
jump up and shout, "I'll take it!"
Here's a game for you and all of your "used to pub crawl together"
friends. Do a Starbucks café crawl, one drink per location, running
from one café to the next. Watch your split time improve as the
day goes on!
Ponder this: who owns more real estate, the Roman Catholic Church, McDonalds,
or the country's largest coffee house chain?
If Marcus, a Starbucks
employee, gets fired, does he get one pound of coffee as severance for
every week he endured the living Hell that is factory custom coffee
production for the benefit of smarmy, self important, "I'm in a
hurry so hurry up" customers?
No wonder he snapped, throwing a supposedly stale brioche at that guy!
Sit in the window
and make gagging, grossed out faces at passersby while holding a mocha
away from your mouth.Think about why it is that you tip the staff at
Starbucks for the difficult task of making you a cup of coffee, but
you've never once thought of tipping the guy who bags your family's
$150 worth of groceries every week?
Line up your empty
cups on the table.
Nothing screams "You want a piece of me?" more than eight
empty grandes.After blowing through your first cup of the day, lean
over and ask the woman next to you if you can borrow her $6.95 copy
of Vogue while you "hit the head".
While you're in
the bathroom, mention the "uptight skirt" that wouldn't lend
you her Vogue to the stranger in the next stall. Get your ass kicked
outside by Vogue woman's boyfriend. He's the guy from the next stall.
Limp back inside, order a Mochaccino, and quietly curse me for writing
Ask the Starbucks manager if you can fax your 36-page business plan
to a California venture capitalist.
Give him options if necessary.
Ponder this: the
very act of waiting for custom-made coffee is in direct conflict with
the virtue of patience. Want proof? Observe the fidgety, desperate behavior
of everyone standing around, waiting impatiently for the thing they've
come to crave.
American madness at its absolute best! No wonder the rest of the world
thinks we're overgrown children!
If you are about to order your grande skim latte from a supermarket
Starbucks, do some bathroom reconnaissance prior to sitting down. It
could be a painful 75-yard dash in a race against time otherwise.
(Overhead speaker) "Jerry, clean up, Aisle 5."
While sitting around in your local Starbucks, call a Jaguar dealer from
your cell phone. Ask about various options and packages, repeatedly
and loudly saying things like "Don't worry, price is not an issue."
If unattended children are bugging you, or even if they're not, catch
Mom's eye and say to the kid, "Pssst, want to share my donut?"
Here's one in favor
of the employees of Starbucks. Next time you (customer) are about to
be snotty to a server, remember that the grande skim decaf mocha and
chocolate croissant you just ordered cost more than they'll make in
One for the employees. Host a "Make Your Own Damn coffee"
Watch the complaints dry up.
Figure out a rock
solid, guaranteed to get you a free latte every time, complaint. Use
it at all 114,216 Starbucks nationwide. Impress your friends, but don't
let the secret out!
OK, fine, there
are some goods things about the emergence of Starbucks.
Did you ever think in your life you'd see little kids with names like
Gunner (or Gunnar, if you're from the mid Atlantic), Meadow (yes, The
Sopranos imitate life), or Wynston?
"Hi, I'm Brandlee-Chason, would you like a grande or venti?"
OK, here's one thing I really do like about Starbucks.
I like the bathrooms.
At least they're free.
I do sometimes feel
smugly aloof knowing that I was able to scrounge enough money together
for my weekly grande skim latte treat.
When the aloof feeling fades, I realize I'm left with an overpriced
cup of status, and 9 new grams of fat to work off. But I still have
half of last month's Sweet N Low production in my pocket, and somebody's
copy of Vogue!
As a cynic and wannabe
capitalist, I bottom line love Starbucks for its evil genius.
And we thought the tobacco industry was out to get us! Now,
get me another latte!
© Tom Donoghue
Author's Note -
I hope you enjoyed this extract from my book. If you did please visit
There is a fuller version, a complete book on Starbucks with pictures
and everything available from the author email him at to find out more
500 Ridge Road
Highland Park, IL
More Coffee articles:
Kezia Richmond - No More Coffee
(Featured in the UK Guardian April 27th 2002)
No one you know has ever managed to quit without help, but help is hard
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