Sunday, April 03, 2011

Ode to Starbucks

Sometimes it seems that as corporations grow ever larger their hearts grow increasingly smaller. Today we went to see the movie 'Paul' (Joe loved, I didn't) and as we entered the theatre, I noticed a Starbucks in the lobby area. I decided that I'd love to have a big cup of green tea to sip on during the movie. They had one of those windy line  up kind of things that guide crowds through to the counter. There was no crowd, there was also no room. No wheelchair could have entered and gone through the serpentine path. Purposeful exclusion? Yep, I think so. But that's not what I want to write about.

I got myself up to the counter, by avoiding their inaccessible entrance, and ordered a large green tea. The fellow made the tea and then plopped it in front of me on the counter. It was full nearly to the brim and I asked him, nicely, if he could put a top on it so I would be safe in picking it up and backing up my chair to get out of the tight space. He said 'No'. I was a bit surprised so I said, 'Excuse me?' Now he went on, at some length, that he was not allowed to put tops on cups. That if I was in the States, they would put the top on the cup but in Canada they aren't allowed to. I said, 'But I'm afraid I'll scald myself driving in my chair.' He simply said, 'Sorry, nothing I can do about it.'

Then I realized that I was going to have to back up and go get Joe to get my tea and put a lid on it for me. I was furious. I went from being independent to dependent in a flash. I said, 'Even for someone in a wheelchair where it is clearly dangerous to move without a lid ...' and before I could finish he said, with some relish, 'No.' OK, there is no reasoning here. If I hadn't paid for it already, I'd have just left it. As I backed up I noticed that for most customers ordering fancy coffees those cups were delivered in a different spot right beside the lids. If he'd have moved the cup over I could have done it myself. But he was having none of helping out at all.

So Joe was fetched, and dutifully got the cup and put the lid on it while I sat like a child being cared for. I was spiraling into a ruined afternoon. I grabbed control of both my day and my mood and moved on. I was not going to let the fact that a corporation like Starbucks or one of it's minions thought it was OK to demean someone who needed only small adaptation and insignificant help. All right. Cool.

Joe and I, after the movie, tried to figure out the why behind the 'put your own damn lids on' rule and we could come up with some possibilities. But what we couldn't figure out was why the fellow didn't just move the cup over by the lids so I could have done it or why he didn't just think, 'Hey, the rule doesn't really apply here, I probably won't get fired for helping out a guy with a disability.'

But then big corporations don't have to care about a single customer. They don't have to care about taking an able person and disabling them because of a policy. They don't have to worry if I never go there again because it won't matter to their bottom line. I don't matter to Starbucks. Neither do you. And normally they don't matter much to me either. It's a business transaction, buying what they are selling. It's just that today I realized that what they were selling was attitude and exclusion and really, really nasty treatment of me as a customer.

And by the way, the tea was bitter.

28 comments:

Kristin said...

I'm so sorry you had to deal with that insensitivity and assholery.

Sandi said...

Boo to Starbucks. :P

Elaine Bradley said...

I passed the link and the text to my friend in Canada who manages a Starbucks. I would not have had your restraint but I would have embarassed the crap out of the staffer who behaved so. Policy or not, it is clearly an utterly stupid one. I thought Canada and the US were BIG on service and the 'have a nice day' thing. grrrrrrrrrrr

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Hi Dave,
Sorry to hear about your starbucks experience. We've had a few issues with Starbucks over here, they refused to allow a friend of mine entry to the disabled loo because she wasn't in a wheelchair and the state of some of their disabled loo's is a health hazard.
However, to be fair to Starbucks when we contacted them about both these incidents they immediately took responsiobility, apologised, replied and acted. In the case of the refused entry the store staff were retrained and my friend sent a gift card to apologise, then in the disgusting loos I found they were deep cleaned, apologised for and gift card sent.
I'm not trying to justify Starbucks behaviour, they clearly have a bit of a n issue with all this across their corporation - but unlike other companies I've dealt with they are a happy to apologise and take ownership of the issues in public and act. Perhaps it's worth giving their canadian MD a call?
Best wishes toy uo and Joe and hope they respond, BG Xx

Clay said...

"Be a good lad and hand me a lid, or it might just spill in your direction." That's gotta work.

Kate said...

That's a really weird rule. I wonder why they would have it.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Clay, you've come up with another solution, he chould have handed me a lid. The thing about this there were so many other options beside the word 'no' and an abject refusal to help. Damn, I never thought to ask for the lid. I get thrown in these situations sometime and all I feel is shame and rage. Elaine, thanks for passing it on. BenefitScrounging, I have, because of your comment sent on the post to Starbucks Canada - maybe they have a rule in Canada that they don't open emails from people who need help with lids - but we'll find out. Sandi, boo indeed. Kristin, I like the word assholery, can I borrow it. Kate a rule like that stinks of liability - we guessed it had something to do with personally put on lids became the responsibility of the person who put them on. But we were just guessing.

hwga said...

Grr to heartless corporations. I ended up chatting with a stranger in a Costa coffee here in Scotland the other day as the member of staff wouldn't let him take his coffee without a lid, "in case you burn yourself & try to sue us". So someone who didn't wantjus a lid was treated like a child and in your example someone who did want a lid for made to feel like one. What happened to giving people the service they ask for.
I'm going to stick with my lovely,friendly, independent tea shop I think.

Penelope said...

Ugh. I hope it was just that guy being a disablist asshole. I've known several people who've worked at Starbucks in the US and that's the absolute opposite of how they're trained to behave (they're supposed to bend over backwards for the customer and do it with a smile and your situation should have been a no-brainer thing).

In the US I actually often find Starbucks to be one of the most disability-friendly places. They're often the easiest place I can find with an accessible loo (and in the US it's that all their loos are accessible so there's no specific 'disabled loo') and they usually don't lock them. And I've pretty much always, whether on crutches or using my chair, had them offer to carry my drink/food to a table and be all sorts of useful. And I haven't found a Starbucks queue in the US that I couldn't navigate in my wheelchair.

I'm not trying to justify Starbucks, but I'm hoping that this Starbucks/employee are not the norm in Canada. I'd definitely complain if you can because it is so anti-what I've been told is the corporate philosophy on how you treat customers (and I mean all customers).

Andrea S. said...

Dave,

For whatever it's worth, I probably would have been too focused on humiliation and rage myself to be able to do much thinking, too. I do know at the intellectual level the value of remaining calm and polite in these situations, and occasionally I can even manage it when I need to, but it is so often so hard.

Will be interested in knowing how Starbucks responds.

My Girls R Angels said...

Dave, as I read your post I was more angry at the employee than the corporation. Clearly he was behaving inappropriately. I would bet that he will find some trouble with his employer when they find out how rudely you were treated. I am sorry for your experience and hope that something good will come from it.
Thanks again for writing a wonderful blog. I so enjoy reading along.

lisa said...

Dave,
After reading your blog today, I was so angry/sad. I read your blog on an RSS feed and right under your blog entry was this one

http://www.kellehampton.com/2011/04/here-comes-sun.html

If you can, go look at it, I hope it makes you smile the way it did me.

Take care,
Lisa

Anonymous said...

I agree with My Girls R Angels in that this seems to be an employee issue. Perhaps he's taking his frustration of his job out on you since he seems to be glorying in the fact that the 'starbucks as a corporation' says no lids! and he will therefore play the cog in the corporate machine... sort of disempowering others in order to empower himself in a relatively powerless situation.

Or just maybe he wishes for a complaint to be issued so that they revise their policy! He is an anarchist! A rebel! A martyr! He will risk his employment so that others may be served properly!

Or just maybe he's an asshole. My money's on this. I'm glad you've emailed Starbucks Canada and would love to hear a follow up.

Kristine said...

Wow, that's both awful and shocking. I can't imagine this ever happening at my local Starbucks here in the US. I love going there, because I never have to worry. Everyone's always super helpful and friendly there. The employees will come around the counter to hand me my drink, offer me a sleeve or stir stick or any other out-of-reach goodies, and hold a door open on my way out. I've even noticed friendlier customers than the average person! I rarely have to struggle with the door at Starbucks. Someone always is rapid fire quick to jump up and offer a hand. It may be a giant corporate chain, but it never feels like it in this particular shop, and I appreciate that!

Elsie said...

Definitely awful and unacceptable treatment - by the employee, not the entire company. I don't think it would be fair to paint such a broad brush stroke and include every single manager and employee in the "awful and unacceptable" paint. The employee was horrible, no question, and I'm sure if I were in your position I would have been embarrassed and flustered and then angry. I hope the response you get from the company demonstrates that it truly was one person at fault (the rude barista!) and reminds us all to make every effort not to make huge general assumptions, even in the face of our own anger and hurt.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Elsie, but aren't you making an assumption too. He stated that the company had a policy of 'customers put on their own lids' and he was applying that rigourously. Policies guide and give leadership, he didn't write the policy the company did.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Whatever the company policy this was a kid with attitude pulling a power play. I would have been absolutely furious too. I hope he gets in severe trouble as a result of your inquiry to head office - no one should be treated the way he treated you.

Colleen

lillytigre said...

I really want to know if there is such a policy and what the reason for it is. I buy coffee out all the time and have had really really great experiences, with the local starbucks here and really any place I've gone. Of course I live in the US but Not only will the put a lid on it for me but they will come from behind the counter and carry it to a table for me without my ever having to ask most of the time even when its busy. I should not ever carry hot things without a lid. I'd be asking to get burned. So somebody please tell the reason for such a policy in Canada. Then I'll decide whom to be angry with!!!

Shan said...

The funny thing is, you go through a Starbucks DRIVE THRU, what do they hand you? A cup with a lid on.

Stefanie said...

That policy is so confusing! Years ago i worked at a Seattle's Best and we HAD to put lids on the cups. Even if people asked not to have a lid we HAD to put on the cups. It was stressed to the point of annoyingness. The reason being that someone could scald themselves.

I didn't realize that Canadians are immune to burns from hot coffee.

Susan said...

Ooooh, you're a better man than I. I would have been so tempted to "accidentally" tip that tea all over the counter (whoops!) and then wheel merrily away with a wicked smile on my face... Next time!

At least, that's my fantasy for the day...

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Hi Dave,
I look forward to hearing when/if Starbucks Canada respond. If they don't, or brush you off, please could you let me know? A couple of their MD's follow me on twitter and if I raise the issue there they *will* respond. Sad that that's how we have to make it happen, but social pressure on companies using twitter is huge and it makes them act.
Best wishes, BG Xx

Megan said...

Wow! I gotta say reading this made me a little angry. I work for Tim Horton's and we are the opposite, we have to put the lids on for SAFETY reasons! I love how you have such a great spirit and you didn't let that guy ruin your day. I would have lost it, to be honest!

Lex Sol said...

Dear Dave. I am sorry to hear that something like that has happened to you it is so unfortunate that some corporations are heartless. I also think it is so disrespectful and inconsiderate of the worker to not even attempt to make it easier for you. If it was me in their shoes I would've done the opposite and just put the lid on.

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry to hear that happened to you Dave. I think that is very rude and inconsiderate. How hard is it to help a person out an put a lid on the coffee. I work at a place that has coffee on the menu and we always give lids, and if they come back for a refil and dont bring their lid I always put a new one on. I am very sorry to hear that you had very poor service.

Christine. G said...

After reading this I was in shock. I think that guy was being rude and inconsiderate. Like who cares if that’s the rule, everybody breaks a rule at least once in their life. and its star bucks for crying out loud, it’s not a high paying job, I know people need their job to live and survive but I don’t think the manager is going to fire someone for helping their customer and making it right

Jamielynn said...

I hate this worker who disrespected you and did something so dumb, which could have easily been fixed! It was not a hard thing to do, move the cup over a bit! I hope you have a WAY BETTER experiance at other coffee shops. Have a awsome day! :)

Lene Andersen said...

I was looking for something on your blog and came upon this post, that I somehow missed in April. Did you send a copy to Starbucks? I know somebody who had a bit of a fight with another Toronto Starbucks about accessibility and staff attitude towards helping their customers with disabilities, so it appears to be a bit of a trend. Maybe sending it to their CEO making mention of the inclusivity they go on about in their mission statement could be fun...