Saturday, January 17, 2004

Customologist, hold that whip!

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America is divided into three social classes: Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and “other.”

I used to be a Dunkin’ Donuts person — practical, easygoing and simple. There’s something nice about waltzing into any of the 73 Dunkin’s on Greater South Main Street and receiving hot, liquefied caffeine with fewer than four words, like, “Medium regular,” “Tea, two sugars” or, “Same as him.”

Also, Starbucks is confusing as hell. Every time I wander into a Starbucks store, I stare at the menu board and think, “I have no idea what to order.” Sometimes I know what to order, but I’m not sure how to pronounce the beverage name.

But like a hazelnut-flavored beacon from the heavens, I recently received a press release from Starbucks beginning thus:

“Have you ever walked into a Starbucks store, stared at the menu board and thought, ‘I have no idea what to order?’ Do you know what to order, but are not sure how to pronounce the beverage name?”

For the love of Mergatroyd, yes! Call me a dunce, but I don’t know a Frappuccino from a latte, a Venti from a demitasse, a breve from a half-caf ristretto light whip macchiato. But I’m willing to learn the hip Starbucks language.

According to the press release, the Starbucks chain is now making a sincere effort to teach people how to order a goddam cup of coffee.

“With more than 19,000 beverage possibilities and a unique vernacular, it is easy to understand how ordering Starbucks drinks can be overwhelming,” states the unhappily named Michelle Gass, vice president of Category Management at Starbucks. So, starting now, the company is “offering customers new tools for easy beverage ordering.”

After reading over the eight-page, single-spaced press release and its accompanying 24-page illustrated owner’s manual entitled “Make It Your Drink: A Guide to Starbucks Beverages,” I realized they were right — ordering from Starbucks is childishly simple. Did I say “simple”? I meant “complicated.”

We don’t have a Starbucks in Fall River yet. Something tells me with our low average incomes and at least 10 Dunkin’ Donuts solidly planted, we’ll see Satan draping an afghan over his chilled shoulders before Starbucks comes to town. But you never know. There are 7,225 Starbucks branches as of this writing, with more cropping up nearly every day — and the stretch of Robeson Street between that one Dunkin’ Donuts and the other Dunkin’ Donuts is woefully underserved in the coffee department.

So I took the initiative and became fluent in Starbucks. Here, then, is a brief Q&A lesson on how to order a coffee. Apologizes in advance if it’s a bit jittery, because I visited that Starbucks in Seekonk and I’m a little buzzed on a with-legs quad Venti soy milk no-whip with room Caffe Mocha:

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Q. What size coffees does Starbucks have?

A. Short, tall, grande and Venti.

Q. What’s up with that?

A. Using confusing words keeps away the riffraff.

Q. Are they ever going to offer a super-Venti, because I got a Venti once and, like, it was all foam and no coffee.

A. The easy solution to your problem is to buy three or four Ventis. They’re cheap at $5 each.

Q. What do I call the people who make my coffee?

A. Starbucks actually prefers to call them “customologists.”

Q. Can I get my hair done at Starbucks?

A. No. You’re thinking of a cosmetologist.

Q. I like macchiatos, but am absolutely petrified of ordering one. The mere thought of buying a macchiato gives me cold sweats. What can you tell me about cappuccinos?

A. Here’s what the press release says: “A cappuccino is similar to a caffe latte, but contains more foam. ... A cappuccino with less foam than milk is called a ‘wet cappuccino’ and one with more foam is a ‘dry cappuccino.’” Also, a cappuccino with equal foam and milk is a “slightly damp cappuccino.”

Q. I am unwilling and/or unable to pronounce “frappuccino.” Am I wrong?

A. Try another of the 19,000 Starbucks drink combinations. In fact, advises the press release, “try them all — at Starbucks you can create a beverage with endless options.” At an average of $4.50 a drink, it will take a mere $85,500 and 52 years to do it.

Q. My local customologist is a bit of a nincompoop, so I don’t trust her to tinker with my coffee. Is this common?

A. Just tell your friendly customologist, “Give me room, you bloody nincompoop!” The press release addresses this: “Ask for ‘room’ and your customologist will leave about an inch of extra space at the top of your cup, so you will have room to add cream and sugar.” Alternatively, you could tell the customologist, “Please rip me off by not filling it to the top.”

Q. I’m on a diet where my daily intake of whipped cream is limited. But I can’t seem to stop drinking Starbucks mocha beverages, which come with whipped cream. I crave these delicious drinks so badly it frightens my loved ones. I often hide in the closet and consume illicit mocha espressos under cover of darkness. It’s costing me my sanity. Help!

A. “If you are looking to cut calories,” the press release states, “ask your customologist to ‘hold the whip.’” This is one of the principal differences between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Asking a Dunkin’s server to hold the whip is a quick way to get accused of sexual harassment.

Q. Mmm ... Dunkin’ Donuts. Is there one around here?

A. Wait up — I’ll come with. The quad Venti breve extra hot hold-the-whip mocha’s wearing off.

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