The “Cheers” of Starbucks

I almost never go to Starbucks. Not unless I’m in an airport or I’m really craving it, neither of which are particularly common. But this morning, running earlier (than usual) to work, I passed the Starbucks at 39th and Park Avenue. I think I have gone into this one and just as soon turned around and walked right out (because the line is often so long — and deceptively short-seeming from the sidewalk) more times than I have actually successfully obtained a cup of coffee from them. The few times I have actually obtained said cup, it was with a great deal of frustration and unnecessary waiting. One time they even completely forgot my coffee … and my oatmeal! Nevertheless, the line was particularly short this morning, and I speed-walked in to join it. A soy latte was exactly what I needed. I have two more full days of work ahead of me before my vacation and I need all the help I can get. If I have to spend $4 on a small cup of coffee to brighten my mood, so be it.

The first thing I noticed in the ‘bucks this morning, aside from the shortest line I’ve ever seen there (thank you holidays and all you people already on vacation), was that about one-half of all the customers knew the staff’s names. That took me by surprise. None of the places I ever go have this sort of familiarity. But it seemed as if every other person in line was recognized by or knew one of the Starbucks employees. One man called out “Jorge” and said, “The usual” from the back of the line. I envy this sort of familiarity. I can’t even get Gladys the stoop lady in my building to remember my name, only known as “hey baby” even though I shared my freshly baked pumpkin bread with her two months ago. The coffee shop was filled with rich people in cashmere coats and ladies toting Louis Vuitton bags—the real ones, and not just the logo style either. I suppose I’d expect nothing less from a Starbucks planted at the base of a financial skyscraper.

The employees spoke with ease to the customers they knew, while I couldn’t even get a smile from the guy taking my money or the guy making my coffee. What’s up with that? Oh, was it the puffy Patagonia jacket that made me look out of place? The lack of designer bag? The crooked aviators? The less-than-perfect hair? (Whatever, my bed head totally rocks.) I guess smiles are in short supply when you have to deal with people all day and reserved only for the most familiar faces. Fine. I’ll give them that.

The only thing  that would have completed this experience would have been if someone walked in and the entire staff shouted their name, a la Norm from “Cheers.”

“Hey! Tony! Triple shot grande red eye coming right up!”


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