A Point of Pride – Seattle Starbucks Baristas

January 19, 2009 at 11:25 am (My Daily Life) (, , )

I know – another Starbucks-based post!  I think it’s because now that I’ve been here almost a year, I’m seeing more subtle differences between Minnesota and Washington.  That, and the fact that I didn’t visit a Starbucks for the first six months I was here.

Anyway, the cool weather combined with the lack of latte access has driven me to unearth my Starbucks Barista machine and make myself lattes on the weekend. Since my local grocery store doesn’t carry any espresso beans in bulk, much less decaf beans, I’ve been using a dark french roast.  Yesterday, as I was making my morning nourishment, Tom asked if he could have a sip.  He really liked it, which surprised both of us, so I made him his own.  Before he had finished his travel mug, he had decided that he would like to learn how to make these for himself in the morning! 

We went to Starbucks to pick up some beans (decaf for me, regular for him) and a second travel mug.  When I was at the Starbucks in Bridle Trails over Christmas, I noticed that they were selling seasonal syrups, which I thought was very cool.  You never see peppermint syrup or pumpkin.  I asked the local gal if they still had the seasonal syrups, and she looked at me blankly.  You know, the peppermint and the pumpkin syrups, they come in a bottle like those vanilla ones over there?  To which the other gal behind the machine chimed in and said they don’t sell the pumpkin flavor, they never have and they probably never will since it’s made just for them.

Excuse me…I explained to her that I indeed DID see them for sale, in a store in SEATTLE, so is this something that’s not being sold in all the stores?  I had specifically driven the 10 miles to a Starbucks store since they are all supossed to be identical and sell the same product.  Basically, she told me that she didn’t care what I saw (crazy lady), I wasn’t getting any seasonal flavors, much less pumpkin.

This peeved me a little.  Remember last year when all the Starbucks around the world closed at the same time on the same day so all the employees could receive Starbucks-approved training?  It was an effort to standardize the Starbucks experience so your coffees always tasted the same, the baristas all projected the same attitude, and in general, made the stores fit the corporate mold better.  I thought it was a brilliant idea – who wants to pay $3+ dollars for a drink only to find that it’s not as good as the Starbucks on the other side of the street.  Or that the Starbucks on the west side of the street skimps on the milk, but the one on the east side gives you extra sprinkles.  All of this has happened to me before this training session – although to be honest, I don’t visit Starbucks often to I can’t say for certain that the after-training was really successful, but in my experience it seems to have helped.

My point is that the Starbucks in Minnesota seem to lack the pride that the Seattle Starbucks’ have.  In Seattle, the baristas know they are something special being part of the State-Drink.  They treat you like they should – that they know that spending $4 on a drink is a luxury and it’s something special, and deserves special treatment, some panache, and a nice attitude.  Seattle baristas know they are providing more than liquid refreshment, they are providing an escape, a treat, and a familiar, comforting routine.  They treat the customers with a sense of friendliness that I haven’t seen here – they take pride in knowing your order, or at the very least, getting it down correctly without a deer in the headlights look (even ordering beans seemed to confuse this gal).

Minnesota isn’t void of pride however.  Target and Best Buy are both locally based stores, and I have great experiences in those stores.  The people who work at Target are extremely helpful, considerate, and dare it say it – intelligent.  Shopping at Target is a much better experience in Minnesota than Washington.  I know the ability for employees to take pride in what they do and deliver a good shopping experience exists, but for whatever reason, corporate Starbucks isn’t able to communicate that to the local stores.

I came home from Starbucks and called a store in Washington.  I explained that when I was there at Christmas, I noticed they had seasonal syrups and I was wondering if they were still selling them and if so, did they still have some pumpkin.  The guy was very nice, didn’t miss a beat, and said that they did have seasonal flavors, but they were peppermint and gingerbread!  OMG – see how easy that was!  He knew the answer!  He knew what I was trying to ask and instead of telling me all the reasons why pumpkin will never be sold to the public, he just gave me the correct answer.  Problem solved and I can move on with my life.

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