Over the years, Starbucks has made me happy in a lot of different ways. They did it again this morning and I’d like to tell you about it.
Here in Portland, Oregon, we have begun to take the Coronavirus seriously. Not seriously enough, probably, but it is starting to force people to change well-established habits and that is difficult. For instance, is a Starbucks open or closed?
Even a drive-through Starbucks is either open or closed. If it is open, you can go by the window and get some coffee; if it is closed, you can still park in the drive through lane. But if a regular full service Starbucks is open, you can go in and order a coffee and sit there and drink it. The Coronavirus has made us think about this a little differently. Everyone has to think about it differently. So the trick is to say what has to be said in the right way.
At the Starbucks closest to me, I walked in today and found that there were no chairs and tables. No cream pitcher either. But there was as sign that said: “We have temporarily closed our seating area, but we remain open to serve you.”
I liked that. Think about “we are closed” as an alternative. This says not only “We are open” (it is “the seating area,” not us that is closed) but also that we are open for the purpose of serving you. I know as well as you do that “serve you” might mean only “sell you a cup of coffee.” But unless you a regular at a really good Starbucks, you might not know that they can “serve” in a great many more ways than that. It isn’t just the coffee that is stimulating at Starbucks.
My immediate reaction to the sign was that I would like to be one of the people who writes Starbucks ad copy and gets to sit down with others and puzzle about the most inviting way to say that you can’t sit here and have your coffee the way you always have.
Still, it was Starbucks, so I wasn’t all that surprised. For instance, there was a time when my wife, Marilyn, could no longer drink coffee so when we went out to Starbucks in the morning, I would get coffee for myself and tea for her. They gave me a cup and a teabag wrapped in paper. I would shuck the bag out of the paper, wad the paper up, and throw it (just the right arch makes so much difference) into the opening for paper waste.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that. To make that throw, I had to throw across the busy barista route without making anyone change pace or direction. A well-run place would have asked me not to do it. But this particular Starbucks was a really really well run place and they did not do that. Then there was the morning when my concentration wavered and I missed the shot. It bounced off the front of the counter and fell to the floor. A barista was coming by and he bent down and retrieved the paper and gave it back to me so I could try again.
Really. Had I been the barista, I would have picked up the paper and thrown it away, maybe pausing for a side remark that I am crediting the customer with an assist. That would have been pretty good, except that it contained in it no recognition at all of what I had been trying to do—and had been doing successfully for months. No recognition and therefore also no affirmation.
Instead, this barista took the trouble to look at it from my point of view. What is the really important thing that is going on here? I missed the shot. That’s the only thing that’s going on from my standpoint and there is no reason Starbucks should care about that. The barista’s response affirms the semi-official Starbucks view that I was a really good shot and had never yet hit or even impeded a Starbucks employee and that it was a real shame I missed this one. It offered me another chance of the kind you get when your teammate corrals the rebound and throws it right back to the place where you threw up the last shot, inviting you to try again.
And that is the way I felt about it. That they had treated me as a teammate. They hoped my next shot would go directly in (it did) and virtually gave me permission to wad the paper up again tomorrow and try again (I did)..
That’s pretty classy work, I think, and that is (partly) why I was pleased but not surprised at the note I found at Starbucks this morning.
And I think it might even be why my hopes crept up about the blind date I had at Starbucks some years later. I imagined that I was still somewhere in the middle of a dreary and demanding period of dating after Marilyn died. As I waited there, not knowing I was just about to meet a new wife, I found my hopes rising and it might be because Starbucks has just been the kind of place where really nice and completely unexpected things happen.
Things like a really sweet “you can’t sit here” sign.