Pumpkin Spiced Latte “season” brings back very awful memories for me. Like, when I worked for Starbucks ten years ago, I was forced to wear a pumpkin-colored apron. If I didn’t want to wear the apron, well, I could wear a similarly tinted shirt. Or, when I started working for a local roaster and realized, after seeing how much we paid our farmers, that Starbucks was actually pretty evil when it came to sourcing (not to mention pretty awful at roasting). And how about that time I agreed to be a part of one of the several class action lawsuits from former and current Starbucks employees over missed breaks and lost tips? So you might imagine at how angry I got when I read that Starbucks will buy your cup of coffee as long as you buy another customer’s cup as a sign of solidarity (or commiseration, or sympathy, whatever) with the government shutdown (among other crises) until Friday. Cut the bullshit!
It’s the classic, feel-good gesture known as “pay it forward,” and in essence, it’s a wonderful idea. You buy the customer behind you a coffee, and she buys one for the person behind her, and so on. But when one of the largest international coffee producers and buyers instigates it, don’t you think it sort of sheds pay-it-forward’s utopian, humanistic chords? Covers it in a bit of slime? Sure, Starbucks can afford it, so why not offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal for a couple of days, right? And Howard Schulz: I guess he’s been a pretty decent CEO. Relatively speaking–he is, after all, not a thief.
But this letter from Schulz to his “partners” is flat out patronizing. While they continue to take up foreign land and further extend their corporate reach in Colombia and Costa Rica, Starbucks tries to make an opportunistic promotion sound like solidarity and responsibility. Except, there are some restrictions. Like: “If a customer buys someone else their favorite beverage, we will offer that customer a free tall brewed coffee in return.” But what if you didn’t want a tall coffee–what if you wanted a Grande Mocha-Lappa Froo-Froo Something-or-Other? And, it’s been my experience, as a non-Starbucks barista for six years now, that most customers don’t talk to each other unless they’re already neighbors. It seems like it’s a half-empty gesture of sympathy that leans heavily on pandering’s arm. I don’t know anyone who gets drip coffee at Starbucks because it tastes terrible. All of their drinks need to be dressed up in sugars and syrups.
Schulz gets to says Starbucks has a responsibility to its customers who are experiencing the “hardships, stresses and strains” in “these volatile times” because Starbucks brands itself as a responsible, heartwarming, empathetic company, though they prefer their own “CAFE” principles instead of the industry-standard Rainforest Alliance & Fair Trade Certified criteria. He then mentions, you know, the government shutdown, “pending debt and default crisis, waning consumer confidence.” A buy-one-get-one-free promotion as a sign of solidarity? Though I am not OK with Starbucks trying to make their customers feel ethical by buying their coffee, it’s what they do, but using a socio-political catastrophe? I guess a more sensible sign of solidarity might have been, I don’t know, offering all furloughed employees free coffee and pastries until they were getting paid again, or unlimited coffee as they sat in a Starbucks store while they browsed unfurlough.us.