Thank you #7: Our favorite barista, Merrie

Merrie is one of the baristas at our favorite Starbucks in Durham, NC.

We just found out that she is leaving for a job as a scheduler, coincidentally, at our kids’ pediatrician’s office.

I guess we should not be too surprised.  We love Merrie and our pediatrician’s office, so it is not surprising that they found each other.  They both exhibit the many trustworthy behaviors we admire in people:  we can rely on them to be kind and do their jobs very well. I also think that people trust that both will do their jobs without being thanked, which is why I took this opportunity to thank Merrie for her “kind and gracious way“.  Sometimes, it is the unexpected, but wonderful ways that people treat you that make your day.

We will miss seeing Merrie at Starbucks, but now we have the added bonus of being able to see her at the doctor’s office.  I have a feeling we won’t be seeing her as often as we are used to!


Great Customer Service Tip: Delicious and Delightful

Update 3-19-12: Starbucks in the UK is launching a new effort to ask customers for their names!  Imagine that!  The big question there is:  Will you share your name?  It seems that such sharing is an American thing, not a global thing, and that a multi-cultural place like the UK will find it difficult to pronounce so many different names.  But, if our multi-cultural family is any indication, that should not be a problem.  Aneil is not a common name, but our local Starbucks got the hang of it pretty quickly.  In fact, I wish I had saved Aneil’s cup today so you could see the personalized message he found on his venti up: Feel better soon!  Our local Starbucks is a pretty multi-cultural place, so if we are a barometer for the rest of the world, I think the personalized approach will go over just fine.  Tanya has a loyal following and so far, no one has left in a huff because she tried to learn their name and their drink!


We love our local Starbucks in Durham, NC.  Tanya, the manager, is world class.  She prepares my mocha perfectly every time.  She is bubbly and vivacious.  She keeps the store well-organized.  She appears to be a great manager–you can tell she has a good rapport with her employees (or partners) as she does with all of her customers.  She welcomes her customers by name and always knows their drink.

This morning, I asked her if she has a secret to knowing and remembering everyone’s drinks.  She said that every day, her goal is to remember one more customer’s drink.  Wow!  That is a great goal and you can tell how it pays off when you see that line melt quickly.

Thanks, Tanya, for making my Starbucks mocha delicious and delightful!

Does your Starbucks know your name and drink when you walk in the door?!


Need a Replacement Lid for a Starbucks Mug?

Update 11-9-11:

The other lid appears to be working.  Proceed with caution!

Update 11-8-11:

They do leak after several uses.  Don’t buy them.  Let us know if you find a better solution.

We love our double-walled Starbucks tall mugs that we use a lot, but in our move to NC this summer, we lost the lids for them.  Whether it’s using them while working on our laptops, or in the car, lids are essential.  So I did what I often do, search the internet for replacement lids, and then went to Amazon to see if I buy them.  Just got them, and they work quite well, even if they take slightly more effort to put on because they’re made of silicone instead of the rigid plastic originals.  Still, they don’t leak, they dishwasher safe, and they were only $9.70 for a pair (not counting taxes or shipping, the latter which is free with Amazon Prime).


Starbucks Initiates Job Creation in Low Income Areas

Our ongoing tough economy received some welcome news from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks today, as reported in The Wall Street Journal:

Starbucks Corp. Chief Executive Howard Schultz, who has been on a mission to cut the national debt and boost job creation, has pledged to donate at least $100,000 of profits annually from two Starbucks stores in low-income areas to boost jobs in those communities.


Getty Images

We can’t wait for Washington,’ said Howard Schultz on Tuesday.

Profits from Starbucks stores in the Harlem section of Manhattan and the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles will go toward two community organizations that work to improve education and job training for young adults in those areas. High-school students in those neighborhoods also will receive barista training at the Starbucks shops.

“We can’t wait for Washington. Business leaders have to step up and do our part,” Mr. Schultz said in an interview.

Mr. Schultz, whose political giving skews heavily Democratic, recently got more than 100 business leaders to join him in a pledge to withhold campaign contributions to Washington incumbents until Congress strikes a long-term debt deal.

Comments from readers of the Journal have been quite negative, but I say any private sector initiative that helps put people back to work has to be good.


Howard Schultz talks a lot about trust…

I just had the unique opportunity (I say unique because only 300 or so of us tuned in) to hear Howard Schultz on a webcast this morning because I bought an advance copy of his new book, “Onward“.  I have not had a chance to read the book yet (too many papers to grade!), but did not want to miss the opportunity to hear Howard (virtually) in person.

Here are a few tidbits I picked up from him.

1) The reason those baristas are all so happy is that their goal is to enhance someone’s day.  What a great goal.

2) His biggest challenge: Getting big as a company, but staying small.  Even though there are over 200,000 employees, he wants them all to understand and know the Starbucks’ culture and feel like it is a small, intimate culture.

3) The reason Starbucks can successfully implement something new like mobile payments: they have their customer’s trust.

4) He feels that companies should embrace digital technologies and marketing not to sell, but to build trust and confidence with customers and to demonstrate transparency.

5) Customers want to buy from companies whose values are like their own, so customers will buy from Starbucks because they appreciate that Starbucks gives their employees health benefits and that they buy coffee beans at a fair price.  This also builds trust with customers.

Can’t wait to read the book–probably while I’m drinking my grande decaf nonfat no-whip mocha!


We can finally work at Starbucks, too…

We have been Starbucks fans for a long time.  We have a favorite Starbucks store in each city we’ve lived in (and for those of you who know us, that is quite a few stores).  In our favorite store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I would get my decaf grande nonfat no whip mocha and grade papers, and no one ever asked me to leave.  Now, I can sit there and do other work, too, thanks to free wi-fi (but I’ll be sitting in my new favorite store in Okemos, Michigan).

It is about time that Starbucks joined the ranks of other stores that offer free wi-fi.  One summer, when we were homeless (meaning between homes), we lived at Panera each day, eating lunch and checking our email.  If we had the opportunity to do this at Starbucks, we would have.


This is How Starbucks Rewards My Loyalty?

Update 12-21-10:

The newest version of the Starbucks Rewards program still leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m rewarded for the number of transactions I make, not how much I actually spend.  If I had the time, and I may still try this sometime, I’d ask the barista to ring up each item separately each time I visit, in order to earn a free drink sooner.

While I’m commenting on Starbucks, it’s always irked me that the employees don’t wear name tags.  Starbucks wants me to think of it as my “third place” after work and home, but they also want me to have to ask for and remember their employees’ names?  I think not!


Update 10-22-09:

I’m still not impressed with the Starbucks Rewards program.  Karen received one of Starbucks’s key chain loyalty cards several weeks ago with few dollars loaded on it, but I still haven’t received one, and I spend a lot more at Starbucks than she does (because I’m the one who usually who goes out to get the coffee).  So much for recognizing my loyalty!


Update 3-15-09:

Starbucks clearly has its work cut out for it, as coffee drinkers continue to seek less expensive ways to imbibe at the expense of premium coffee providers, according to the Wall Street Journal:

As consumers gravitate toward cheaper beans, higher-quality coffee retailers have been affected to a greater degree by the economic downturn.

Caribou Coffee Co., of Minneapolis, earlier this month reported fourth-quarter 2008 earnings of seven cents a share on net sales of $68 million, a 3% decline from a year earlier. Net sales at its coffeehouses open more than a year fell 5.1%, as 230 stores have closed their doors since the 2007 fourth quarter.

Caribou is the third-largest company-owned gourmet coffeehouse operator in the U.S. As of Dec. 28, 2008, the chain had 414 company-owned coffeehouses and 97 franchised stores.

Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee chain, posted a fiscal first-quarter revenue decline of 5.5%. In February, the company began the process of cutting 6,700 employees, or 4% of its work force.

In an effort to offer more attractively priced fare, Starbucks has entered the instant-coffee market and is pairing breakfast items with a cup of coffee for $3.95.

High-end coffee retailers “have to convince the consumer that they can drink much better quality coffee for just a little bit more than what you can make at home for a lesser-quality coffee,” said James Cordier, coffee analyst and founder of “That window may have closed already, but there’s a chance they can keep their customers by offering quality coffee at a discounted price, because once people invest in that good coffee maker at home, you’re done,” he said.

Karen and I continue to cut back on our own Starbucks visits, both to save money and to cut down on our caffeine usage.  It doesn’t help Starbucks that they have done nothing to increase my loyalty over the last several months.


Original Post 10-31-08:

Karen and I spend too much at Starbucks, but it really is one our one indulgence (that and eating out or doing take-out dinners with the kids when we’re both too tired to cook).  Starbucks knows how much we spend there, because we both use its card which automatically reloads a set amount when ever the balance goes below $5 (or any predetermined amount).

Why then do I have to shell out even more money, or make the drive out to Costco (where we do have a membership), wasting gas in the process, to get rewarded for my loyalty:

One of the moves is a new loyalty card aimed at Starbucks’s most frequent users. In the next few weeks, the company plans to introduce a Starbucks Gold card. Customers will pay a $25 annual membership that will give them 10% off most purchases and other perks. The company also has started selling Starbucks cards at Costco Wholesale Corp. outlets for a 20% discount. Mr. Schultz said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate the chain will make any changes in its price structure.

It wouldn’t be too hard to automatically integrate with my current Starbucks card, providing me with a 20% rebate or adding free drinks if I spend a certain amount of money at their coffee shops each month.  Starbucks may think it is getting more new customers by selling its 20% off card at Costo, but they are irritating me in the process.

Starbucks is giving me yet another reason to quit going there and put the money I’ll save into my heavily depleted pension account.


Starbucks to Downsize, Close 300 Stores, Discount Coffee & Breakfast Food Pairings

Update 2-9-09 from the Wall Street Journal:

Starbucks Corp., which built a coffee empire on its premium image, wants to convince customers that its drinks aren’t that expensive.

The company said Monday that it’s selling discounted pairings of coffee and breakfast food for $3.95, a type of promotion long used at fast-food chains. It’s the first move in an aggressive campaign to counter the widespread perception that Starbucks is the home of the $4 cup of coffee.

The Seattle-based company is training its baristas to tell customers that the average price of a Starbucks beverage is less than $3, and that 90% of Starbucks drinks cost under $4.

The move shows how premium brands are trying to reposition themselves for a prolonged economic downturn.

“I strongly believe we are going to be in this environment for years,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an interview. “It is a reset of both economic and social behavior.”

For Starbucks, the effort is also an attempt to fend off McDonald’s Corp., which has been taking thinly veiled jabs at Starbucks’ prices as it rolls out its own line of lattes, cappuccinos and mochas. So far, McDonald’s local advertising for the drinks has included a billboard in Seattle with the message, “Four bucks is dumb.”

Original Post 1-30-09:

Karen and I continue to be loyal patrons of Starbucks.  It’s our one luxury these days, although we’ve cut back on the frequency of our visits.  Now it looks like it will be harder to find a Starbucks store when we move back to Michigan this summer, according to the New York Times:

The coffee store chain announced on Wednesday that it would close 300 more stores, affecting 6,000 employees, and would lay off 700 employees who don’t work in stores. Starbucks also reduced the number of new company-owned stores it plans to open this year to 310, from 470.

Mr. Schultz first announced a slowdown in store openings a year ago, before most companies had begun to feel the effects of a recession. At the time, sales growth at stores open at least a year was positive. Then in July, Starbucks said it would close 600 stores. In December, he outlined new cost-cutting plans.

Now, Mr. Schultz is preparing for a deeper recession.

“These decisions have been made to ensure the company is leaner and prepared to endure a worsening economic climate,” Mr. Schultz said Wednesday in a letter to employees.

It looks like Starbucks is adopting several proper methods for its downsizing, based on our own research on how to preserve employee morale during downsizing:

As part of the cuts, Mr. Schultz will reduce his salary to less than $10,000 a year, from $1.2 million.

“The decisions we make are about preserving the future of Starbucks,” he wrote in the letter to employees.

The company will take other cost-cutting measures, including renegotiating prices with landlords and suppliers, trimming vacation and personal days for hourly store employees and adjusting the way individual stores operate. For example, the company announced on Tuesday that stores where few customers order decaffeinated coffee after noon will no longer brew the coffee ahead of time and will instead make it on demand.

We’re doing our part to keep our local Durham Starbucks open, but in this recession, nothing’s guaranteed.


Starbucks: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

I rarely if ever write about the same company again in such a short period of time, but I decided to do so out of frustration or irritation (a typical motivation for my posts), this time with the newfangled chewing gum container that Starbucks has introduced.

Starbucks Gum

Other than the obvious fuzziness of the picture (my new Blackberry Bold apparently doesn’t do a great job of macro/close-up pictures), you’ll notice that the metal container is bent sharply.  I bent it a bit more for dramatic effect, but I did have trouble opening it this morning because I assumed that the top flipped open as did all previous Starbucks gum containers.  The two hinges on the side did not open up easily, and after I’d bent it a bit I managed to get some of the gum pieces out.  It was only then that I realized that the top slides open rather than flips open (I’m not a morning person, and so I was a bit slow).

Starbucks previous gum package and gum were fine, although Trident White’s flavor lasts longer.  So why did Starbucks have to mess with its packaging without letting me know how the new package works?