What price a white Americano?

By Gary Conway, August 26, 2012

"My name? I haven’t done anything wrong"

In recent years there has been a considerable rise in the number of coffee shop chains sprouting up on Golders Green high street.

But how do these multinational corporations sit along side a prominent and traditional Jewish community? Being a local Jew I went into the largest one - Starbucks - to find out.

"A white Americano, please," I asked, in a rush to get to work. I was greeted by a young blonde girl with a strong European accent.

"Would you like any cakes, chocolates, or muffins with that?"

I was confused. I had passed the confectionary counter on the way to the till and consciously concluded that I only wanted a white Americano - hence my order. Other thoughts raced through my mind.

Who orders a cake at 7.25 am? Do I look like someone with an unbalanced diet? Had they run out of fresh fruit? And just where were the plavas? I shook my head, expecting that I would be leaving with my coffee shortly, but another unwanted offer followed. "Would you like a Starbucks loyalty card, it works just like an Oyster card?"

"Good. You should put barriers at the entrance stop the meshugganas getting in."

She did not understand and instead proceeded to regurgitate a monotone script.

"… after 14 coffees you get one completely free," she said proudly.

"Completely free is an oxymoron," I replied. "The 15th coffee is either free or it isn't. In this particular case it isn't given, it's a benefit attached to a series of existing customer obligations"

I hopelessly tried to elaborate. "Something cannot be free if there is a qualifying obligation - in this case a payment. What you are actually offering is a £1.80 discount from multiple transactions totalling £27."

Befuddled, she offered to ask the manager to explain the principle of the loyalty card. "Oy vey, don't ," I said, head in hands. "I just want a white Americano and to leave without incident. I have given you the £1.80 asking price and honoured my side of the bargain."

"What is your name please" she asked.

"My name?" I said defensively. "Why? I haven't done anything wrong."

"No no," she said, with a feigned smile. "We write it on the cup and when the coffee is ready we call you by name, so we personalise the experience."

"How is writing my name on a cup and reading it back to me moments later in any way personal" I queried . "Because we value each and every customer," she boasted.

"What does that even mean? Surely you are simply streamlining your supply chain?" I explained, with appropriate gesticulation.

She tried to appease me. "So how can we make personal for you?"

"I don't know" I explained. "Ask me how my day is? Something like that?"

"OK, how is your day today?" she said. "It is first thing, so the day has not really started yet. Try something else?"

Oblivious to my mocking tone she asked how the previous day was. "Better," I said. "I went to Grodzinski."

The manager entered the fray. "What seems to be the problem here?"

"Well," I said "I asked for a white Americano but for some reason we are now talking about other matters, in particular muffins, the nuances of the English language and the supply/distribution process." He looked at me. "We value each and every customer here".

"True" I said. "But writing the first name of each customer on the cup and reading it out is inherently flawed. If two or more customers ordering at roughly the same time have the same first name - as they might in this area - the system breaks down. What about allocating each customer a Unique Customer Reference Number (UCRN) and asking them for that on purchase? There will be no duplications and you can track the preferences of each customer through it? It's also more personal. No one else will have the same UCRN but lots of people have the same first name"

"Why don't you put this in writing," he said. "Because there is no suggestion box enabling me to do so," I pointed out.

"Suggest that too," he said dismissively.

"Suggesting a suggestion box is somewhat of a paradox, don't you think?"

"You can always go to another shop?"

I would do, I said. "But I prefer the personal experience I get in Starbucks… "

Gary Conway is a criminal solicitor

Last updated: 1:45pm, August 26 2012