An Open Letter To Starbucks

Starbucks, it is time to rethink our relationship. It has been a good run. Almost twenty years of providing me a morning jolt, a quiet place to sit and prepare for the day, a quick breakfast on the way to any number of events. But I think we have come to the end of the run. Now do not get the wrong idea. The quality of the prepared food is still acceptable, and the coffee is still what gets me going in the morning most days. And least you think I am upset about the new rewards program, I am not. In fact, it suits me better than the old one. On any weekend I am expending $40 a day and only getting one star for that, the same as for buying a bottle of water. But I was not in the reward program for the stars. Heck, I probably have let more than a dozen free drinks fly by.

No, I am afraid the problem is service. Pure and simple. Starbucks used to be the gold standard for customer service. But lately, something has come off the rails. And not just a little. Allow me to illustrate.

I have two Starbucks within a mile of my house, pretty much on the same street. I pick one over the other by proximity. What we call in the business, the intervening opportunity. I visit the store that is closest to what I am doing at the time. Today, when I pulled up, there were fifteen cars in the drive-through. When I walked into the store, there were at least ten waiting to place their orders. This being a Saturday, you can expect that most people are ordering more than one item. I did not even pause, but turned on my heel and left. With only three people behind the counter, I did not have much confidence that I could get in and out quickly, and I had a bit of a time crunch.

Instead, I went to the other shop. Again, busy, but not as busy and the people ahead of me were only ordering one item. I placed my order and waited. This is where we come to the second problem in service, quality control. My daughter likes frappuccinos, but is not a fan of whipped cream. Go figure. So I always order hers without. Starbucks, if you could make one rapid improvement, it would be in the literacy of your baristas. In the dozen odd years I have been ordering her frappuccinos, without whipped cream, your baristas have got it wrong 50% of the time. And in 90% of those cases, it has been marked correctly on the cup!

I am not going to expect perfection. The baristas are human. Stuff happens. I expect that an order will be wrong on occasion. The problem is that the definition of occasion is not weekly. Worse, if this was something that happened in only one store, I would have a quiet word with the manager and that would be that. But it is not just one store. And it is not the only error, which have run the gamut from missing coffee in coffee drinks, missing syrups and sometimes straight up the wrong drink. I could go on. Since most of my drinks are coffee drinks, I am usually far away from the store before I notice something wrong at which point it is more of a hassle to go back.

Which brings me to the last issue. I would have words with the manager, but I cannot easily tell who the manager is. I am the first one to say that leadership and age are not synonymous, but sometimes the oldest person in the store is the worst offender and the youngest is the manager. Maybe if you make them stand out like the coffee masters, it would be easier to bring these issues to their attention.

Are these insurmountable issues? No. Are they resolvable? Yes, and in many cases, very easily. If it was just one store, I would chalk it up to that store and find another, but it is apparent that it is systemic. And because of this, I am considering my alternatives. Including making it myself.

Katerina’s Greek Cuisine – Manassas

I am not what you could describe as an adventurous eater.  In fact, for most of my formative years, I considered lettuce to be a food stuff to be avoided.  Garlic?  Ha!  Would not touch the stuff.  Now part of that is the environment I grew up in and certainly at school I was not exposed to things that generally are considered flavourful.  But thanks to a friend, I was introduced to Greek food (specifically gyros) before I learned about a taco (no, I am not kidding).  Since then I have forced myself to try new and different foods.  I am still not hot on things like eggplant and you can keep your broccoli, even if it is covered in soy sauce.  But I still like a good gyro, and I am generally willing to dive into most Greek foods.

So, this weekend, as part of our no chicken fingers pledge while the Elf is at camp, we went to dinner at a new Greek restaurant in Manassas called Katerina's Greek Cuisine.  Now we like to patronize our local restaurants. Most are family run, tasty and offer a good deal and Katerina's is certainly a fit in all three.  The portions were healthy and we left after three courses for under $50.  Of course, that was without wine (they are still waiting their ABC permit) and as you know we both like wine.  I am hoping they have a good selection of Greek wine when they finally get their license.

It was a wonderful dinner.  We started with Saganaki, which is Kaseri cheese flambéed at the table, and it was very tasty - you squeeze some lemon juice on it which really makes wonderful.  I had a gyro platter with lamb (it is the only time I will eat lamb) and found out that pork is the traditional Greek way of making a gyro and the chef graciously gave me a small sample of it.  It is very different if you are used to the lamb version.  The pork was light and floral rather than the spicy lamb I am used to and I will certainly give a try next time around.  My wife had a selection of spreads, and other than the hummus, I cannot tell you what they were, other than very tasty as well.  One of the ones we had was lots of feta, garlic, some sun roasted tomatoes and a couple of other things tossed it - it was very tasty and our favourite of the bunch.  We wanted the rice pudding for dessert, but they were out, so we had the Galaktoboureko –  a creamy baked custard and filo dough drenched in lemon & orange infused syrup. I highly recommend it!

I give it five stars.  The food is good, the atmosphere is friendly and you want to go early, because it only has a handful of tables and when we left at 6:30, it was already full.