I’m not a coffee drinker, and even though I prefer real cafés to corporate clones, I can’t avoid Starbucks altogether. When I’m at an airport and want some tea, Starbucks is often the best or only choice. When I’m on a mountain club trip, sometimes the leader decides we’ll have a restroom break at this chain. In that case, I’m delighted we’ll have access to clean bathrooms, rather than having to suffer a port-o-potty or decrepit gas station (I prefer the woods to those options).
Early this morning, on the way to a hike, we stopped at one. In appreciation for their sanitary facilities, I thought I’d buy something, a second breakfast to fuel me for the climb. I surveyed the pastry case and noticed that they had mini vanilla scones and mini chocolate donuts, three for $2.45. I asked the employee if I could have two donuts and one scone for that amount.
“No, sorry,” she said.
“Really? But they are the same price.”
“I can’t ring them up. The system won’t allow it.”
I stared at her. She shrugged.
“Probably has to do with inventory control.”
Ah! The system. I imagined a hyper-caffeinated bean counter segmenting these treats, assigning them each a special code. Although one was vanilla, the other chocolate, one triangular, the other circular, from my perspective they were the same size and had the same price, making them roughly equivalent. Couldn’t they be assort-able, like at shops that sell doughnut holes and allow you to choose the flavors and quantity of each? What happened to pleasing the customer?
Briefly, I wondered why it was not possible for our human interaction to circumvent the system. But I’m guessing another java-stoked corporate type had designed the electronic cash registers that require an employee to simply push a button corresponding to the items in the order, no thinking required, no overriding allowed. For the folks who worship efficiency and standardization, and for the shareholders, these are marvelous machines that keep track of every single scone, but they don’t account for customers who might wish to order à la carte, or the employee who might wish to accommodate a patron.
Since it was 6:40 a.m., and I was still waking up, I didn’t press the point. The employee seemed powerless anyway. But I was hungry so I went for the mini donuts. They were meh. It’s likely that, on a future trip, we’ll stop at a Starbucks. Next time I’ll show my appreciation for their restrooms with a smile, rather than flushing money into their coffers.