Saturday, April 4, 2009


Or “Starbucks Lingo”

Sorry Andy, this is not a BSG post. :)

I had coffee with my friend Steve the other day at Starbucks, I got there a little early so I decided to grab a coffee and read while I waited. So I was in line to order coffee and there was a short Hispanic gentleman in front of me and it was his turn to order. I really don’t care what he is getting, so I automatically tune it out, but about 10 seconds  into his order process I realize that this is taking far too long so I tune in.

Barista: Well, would you like strong coffee, something more mild, or…
Customer: Uhh, mild I guess.
Barista: Leave room for milk?
Customer: SSSSure, why not?
Barista: Tall, Grande, or Venti?
Customer: Excuse me?
Barista: Tall, Grande, or Venti?
Customer: What?
Barista: Would you prefer a Tall, Grande, or Venti?
PaulC: Excuse me. (to the customer) Small, medium or large?
Customer: OH! Medium please.

So I order my “Grrrrrrrande Latte”, they put a top on it like they always do, I go to  throw it away, like I always do, and there at the coffee  condiments stand is the Hispanic gentleman. I say “excuse me” while I reach past him to put my lid in the garbage. He says, in broken, but understandable English “Oh, no problem.”

I go sit down to drink my coffee and ponder this situation.

I have never liked the Starbucks affectation of made up size categories and this situation perfectly exemplifies why. The customer had never been to a Starbucks before, English is not his native language and he is asked seemingly random questions about his coffee. Now some of the questions are just cultural noise, for example “would you like room for milk”. Uh, really? Just leave room and don’t ask. But by far the more interesting random question was the “what size would you like” fiasco. The barista did NOT say “What size would you like; Tall, Grande, or Venti?” thus giving our intrepid foreigner a clue as to the nature of the question, that fact alone is worth noting, but far more interesting are the choices. What was the poor man thinking?

Let us assume that his native language was Spanish or based on Spanish. He is in a foreign country, so he has had at least some exposure to other cultures. The barista says “Would you like tall, grande, or venti?” Lets jump into his head, shall we?
”hmm, I am only  5’-4”, by no means tall, so I don’t want anything made for a tall person. Grande? No, that sounds too big and I am still traumatized by that ‘big gulp’ that I had yesterday, I just want a coffee. Venti? Hmm, no, I want one cup of coffee, not 20!”

So the barista, seeing his confusion, hearing his accent, repeats herself, again with no clue as to what these three unrelated words mean. Now THATS helpful. She could have said “Would you like needle, cow, or jet?” and had the same impact. And in fact, why not? Jets are bigger than cows, and cows are bigger than needles. So why not use that for size nomenclature? Because its stupid and would require that customers understand your secret language. And in fact, that’s exactly what Starbucks wants, and that is why they use “Tall, Grande, Venti” it sounds so European! But “needle, cow, jet” makes me think of possibly farmers, but really it just sounds ludicrous as there is no obvious connection between the objects. Don’t get me wrong, “Tall, Grande, Venti” is pretty stupid too, but it makes customers feel European and “in the know”. Great marketing.

So, when you are at Starbucks, order a grande as if you are an 18th century Spanish courtier, and just roll the shit out of that “r”. I mean if you say “grande” and it takes you less than 5 seconds, you aren’t rolling it enough. When they look at you like you are insane (and they will) just say “Hey man, its your affectation, not mine, would you prefer that I order a medium?”

There are, as of today, 3 Starbucks’ near me, that when I walk in, the barista yells “grrrrrrrrrrrande latte!”. Spread it.