Wednesday, January 11, 2006

B: Back when I was picking coffee in Guatamala

Slate has a pretty cool little article explaining the economics of why the coffee shop I hate to love and love to hate (Starbucks) won't post the short size on their menu board. This has been an annoyance to me because for most drinks prepared by starbucks I want a higher ratio of expresso to filler (milk, water, foam) than they typically provide. The key to this I discovered (thanks to my Starbucks insiders) is to order the short size and have then leave extra room for cream, or add a shot. Viola! You have a stronger drink that is cheaper or at least the same price.

The funny thing is that Starbucks doesn't even try to help their customers learn about what they offer, or what the various drinks actually are. You would think they would have a huge website explaining each drink, what it is, and how it is made, and maybe even a matrix that would reccomend drinks based on your preferences. You would think a company this rich and powerful would want to support their customers in this way, but they don't. I think this is a bit of a Wizard of Oz thing that if you know what is behind the curtain a bit of the magic is lost.

There are a few starbucks menu explainers out there like this one. But it is out of date and not nearly as good as it could be. This guy thinks he has some schemes on how to get free drinks from Starbucks, but I think these will have mixed success so I wouldn't try them at your local store if you want to go back (I just google searched and found this site and didn't really look at the rest of the content on this site so I can't comment on anything else you might find there).

Based on what this article says the people that buy a solo decaf venti breve peppermint latte for $8 or whatever are the ones that are subsidizing my drinks. I used to think of these people as sheep being fleeced for paying several dollars extra for a drink that isn't even really coffee, and is actually only a few cents worth of hot milk. The truth is that we are actually all sheep paying too much for hot water run through crushed up beans (is this like the juice they pack pinto beans in???), and those people buying the huge vats of milk are simply my benevolent benefactors.


Merce said...

I may be a little late on this one, but I have to comment. You knew I wouldn't be able to resist...

Here's the skinny on price vs. size: If you order a short latte as opposed to a venti latte, you actually pay more for the short.The price structure per ounze is based off the short size. Yes, that's right, the larger size is the better deal in terms of milk, which last time I checked is twice the price of gas per gallon. That's not to mention price of a larger paper cup, a larger plastic lid and the sleeve that must go on the venti size.

The whole size thing is really a taste thing. I happen to subscribe to the more coffee and less milk method of drinking coffee, but like you, I'm in the minority.

Things change substantially in terms of pricing if you order a drink that is based on the number of espresso shots, i.e. straight espresso, americano, espresso maciotto, espresso con pana. If all you want is espresso with hot water, Starbucks doesn't charge for the size, because that would mean charging for water. As much as people want to believe Starbucks is trying to rob them, I think, well..., I think people need to think.

And for the stupidity of anyone wanting a single venti breve anything... don't even get me started on that. But rest assured they are certainly not subsidizing anyone's short beverages. That's just funny. I think those crazy bastards usually end up getting even a better deal because of the way our POS system works. Let's just say it's not a perfect system.

Articles like the one in Slate crack me up. The guy clearly has no idea what he's talking about. We offer the venti size because that's what people said they wanted. When it first came out, they took the short size off the boards due to space constraints with the old tile style boards and no one really cared. Now the menu is so complicated and people have a hard enough time reading it, that it doesn't make much sense to further muddle it up with an additional size column. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

As for those who feel entitled, (this is my rant to the rest of the world), to something as petty as a free drink from Starbucks or bother to spend time devising lame and sneaky ways to rip a coffee company off, get a life. Really, it's just coffee.

Merce said...

Oh, and one more thing... Starbucks is making a killing whether you order a short or a venti of anything and you should see the mark up on drip coffee. If Starbucks was truly worried about the mark up on the short size, we wouldn't sell espresso at all and just sell drip and blended bev's. That's where a lot of the money is.

Sorry, I probably have plenty more to say on this, but I'm done for now.

Bodie said...

Excellent!!! I was hoping you would have something to say here.

The reason I brought this article up has mostly to do with a) my constant problems getting what ought to be a pretty simple cup of expresso and water or milk foam, and b) that as you ststed there is no clear reason for why things are charged the way they are.

I just wish they did more to help all of us understand this funny little coffee world they have created. It is like they gave birth to the gourmet coffee boom, set all of these silly terms and sizes loose on us in a marketing frenzy, and then abandoned the system to their customers with no real explanation. I need a map or something just to make sense of it all.

I agree that guys free coffee tricks are pretty lame, but funny that he spent the time to think them up and then to write them up. He is pretty proud of that I'll bet.