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Before you flame me, I said “better than most.” Obviously I wasn’t talking about your local coffeehouse. So get over it.
I just returned from a trip that took me through 12 states, across 3/4 of the country, and that put over six thousand miles on the Scarlet Stang I rented. Coffee may have been the most important fuel on my trip, and therefore I visited I-don’t-know-how-many coffeehouses. Some of them S$ locations, most of them not. I’m back to tell you that Starbucks beats almost all of them hands down, and for one reason: service.
I know it’s fashionable to rip on Starbucks: their coffee is bitter (because they roast it too long), their stores have become cluttered with merchandise, their espresso machines suck, their baristas aren’t quick/talkative/quiet/comely/cheerful/flexible/efficient… enough. There are countless other complaints I’m sure.
And don’t get me wrong. I’m a big supporter of local coffee shops. Big supporter! Just ask the staff and owners of those shops I frequent and write about in my freelance work.
Yet here’s the thing. I was on the road for 15 days during which time I visited on average two coffee shops a day. Three or four of them were Starbuckses, the rest were locally owned businesses. The one thing that Starbucks does undeniably well, and better than almost (there’s that word again) any local place I’ve visited on this or any trip, is train their employees to put the customer first. While on the road, only at Starbucks did a worker drop what they were doing to take care of me when I arrived at the counter. In one particularly irksome case, a barista was polishing silverware as I stood waiting. She finished the piece she was working on, and then polished two more before another person appeared from the back room and nodded in my direction. Maybe she didn’t see me though I was no more than 10 feet from her with nothing between us but the counter. Maybe I should have cleared my throat.
At Starbucks I have never, not once, had to wait for a barista to finish another task before getting served, unless that task was waiting on a customer who was there before me. At local coffee shops I have routinely been made to wait for no reason, been treated brusquely, had to ask three and four times for the same thing, and even been made fun of by the person behind the counter for mispronouncing an item on the menu.
Not that I’m complaining. Sometimes the coffee and/or the food I bought was terrific even when the service wasn’t. But service counts and as anyone in the restaurant business knows, it can count even more than the quality of the food. For some reason, many local coffee shops are slow to learn this. Maybe it’s why most of them don’t survive. A shame really, because some of these places do actually serve better coffee. But me no buts about the worker pool that local places have to choose from. Starbucks hires from the same demographic, and the exceptions I’ve listed below discount that argument. I think it’s a training issue.
If you wish to disparage my thesis, by all means go ahead! You may do so in the comments, but be warned: this is not a thread where we complain about Starbucks baristas or rehash any of the numerous reasons why some folks don’t like Big Green. Comments like that will be removed with extreme prejudice.
You can say you don’t like Starbucks, but do it quickly and then offer something pertinent to this discussion. This will help others to more readily agree with you that I’m full of it.
Finally, before I close, I’d like to point out a couple of establishments that were/are the exception that proves the rule (and all have free wifi). Sad to say that these are the only ones out of the many non-Starbux I visited that come readily to mind as examples of good service:
- The Homepage Cafe in Bozeman, MT. Above average coffee, excellent food, and great service from well trained and good humored people.
- Jackpine Java (formerly Black Moose Coffeehouse) in Park Rapids, MN. No fanfare, just efficient and good natured service. Excellent coffee and homemade goodies!
- Churchill in Pottstown, PA — my hometown coffeehouse and third place. Baristas Erica and Dana are the very personification of excellent customer service. The coffee is better than average and the food is second to none.
- Java’s Brewin’ in Limerick, PA — my fourth place because nothing can displace Churchill. If it were possible though, this place would do it. The coffee is very good and the entirely homemade menu is too. Tell owners Lisa and Bob that I sent you.