Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Coffee At Starbucks

It was 5:30 am at the Boston-Logan International Airport and Starbucks was out of coffee. OK, that's not strictly true because they were making espresso, but the drip coffee machine was out of order.

I had just made my way through the security line, and, with coffee and a blueberry scone on my mind, I got right into another line outside of Starbucks. I did find it mildly odd that the line had only a few people in it, but being that I had yet to completely wake up, I didn't see this as significant. I also failed to connect this with the unusually large number of coffee cups from McDonald's in circulation that morning. Taken together, I should have known that something was amiss, but I just had enough mental energy to focus on getting coffee that morning; nothing else seemed to register.

I placed my coffee mug on the counter and the following conversation ensued:
Me: I'd like a decaf coffee please.
Barista: We're all out of coffee.
M: Uh, you're Starbucks. What do you mean you're all out of coffee?
B: The machine is broken.
M: Uh, OK.

At this point, I scratched my head and wondered off to seek other breakfast options. The only other option open at the time was McDonald's, which explained all of the McDonald's coffee cups that I had noticed. Unfortunately, I don't like their coffee. There was an au bon pain nearby, but it was still in the process of opening.

I left the area and returned just as au bon pain was opening. The coffee that I bought there was smoother and much more pleasant than the typically over-roasted Starbucks coffee.

This poses the obvious question - why was Starbucks my first choice? In a word, habit. Since Starbucks is just about everywhere, I frequent them more often than I care to admit, and I can't recall the last time that I had au bon pain coffee.

The next time that I have a choice, you can be sure that I'll pick au bon pain for my morning brew (and morning pastry). To top it off, the coffee even costs less at au bon pain. For a 12 ounce cup, you pay $2.05 at Starbucks versus $1.70 at au bon pain. If you can handle the coffee at McDonald's then the cost of a cup of coffee goes down to $1.39.

In sending me away that morning, Starbucks sent me to find something better and has effectively lost some of my business. If I was the only one that to whom that happened that morning, I think that Starbucks would be fine. The fact remains that many people were forced to find other coffee that morning, and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose eyes were opened in more ways than one by coffee that day.

I can only assume that the sending customers away when they are out of drip coffee reflects Starbucks Corporate Policy, and this disappoints me. I have been to several independent coffee shops and encountered this sort of situation, and it always results in the offer of an Americano, usually at the same price as a brewed coffee.

Had Starbucks done the same, they would have kept me as a customer even if it cost them an extra few cents to do so. This was clearly an opportunity for Starbucks to build some goodwill and expose their customers to a drink that they might not have otherwise tried.

I'd like this story to remind Starbucks that no company is big enough to be able to treat their customers like they don't matter. If this type of behavior continues, their customers will just find something better (and cheaper) around the corner.

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