Sunday, 1 December 2013

Of Gingerbread Lattes

Picking your battles is a very good idea. Which arguments do you need to have, which points are worth dropping, and what is the ultimate outcome that you need to achieve?

This is what I was thinking about after I had a stand up argument with a Starbucks barista. (Barista has always struck me as a very impressive sounding name for someone who foams milk.) I had ordered a latte with gingerbread syrup and whipped cream (I know, not exactly a cutting edge hipster coffee choice). He put it through his till as a gingerbread latte, and tried to charge me accordingly.

Now, the problem is that a gingerbread latte costs more than the sum of its parts. If you take an ordinary latte and add supplements for syrup and cream it costs 20p less (for a tall latte) than a “gingerbread latte”. I pointed this out to barista-man. He told me I was trying to be clever.  I would like to think that when I try and be clever, gingerbread lattes are not key players.  We had an argument and eventually, reluctantly, he worked some magic such that a till, that hitherto was completely incapable of putting through my order as I’d ordered it, was finally able to deal with the complex concept that I had shared with its operator.

I don’t think I was being clever; I think Starbucks was being cheeky. There is a good rule of thumb in business ethics that your customer should understand what’s going on – that you, as a business, can explain frankly and openly how you operate and make money. To have a surcharge attached to a name is pretty hard to explain.

I know Starbucks have a pretty poor corporate governance profile, and the Battle of the Gingerbread Latte is probably not the key one. But it really does not help Starbucks’ image.