I’m standing in line at Starbucks to buy an expensive coffee drink that I will not enjoy.
I don’t like strong coffee. I don’t like espresso. I don’t like milk in my coffee. I’ll use cream, or half and half, when that is the choice available. But what I really like is corn syrup. Coffee Mate. Powdered Coffee Mate – not the refrigerated liquid, I like my coffee hot. Starbucks coffee is strong and bitter. So my normal way of enjoying coffee at home, with my weak, store-brand coffee and my drip coffee maker and my Coffee Mate, is impossible to find at a Starbucks.
But here I am in line. There are a number of reasons for this behavior. First, the hotel I’m in is far too fancy too have coffee makers in the guest rooms.
You may not be aware of this fact: at hotels there is an inverse correlation between the price you pay for a room and the number of ‘freebees’ you receive. At the bottom of the scale are the motels like a ‘Best Western’ – for $89 a night, you get an in-room coffee maker, with more than one serving of coffee, free wi-fi, and a continental breakfast. (Actually, I think Best Westerns always give you ‘hot’ breakfast, scrambled eggs and bacon.)
Conversely, at this fancy $600 a night establishment, what do I get? Nothing. The low-speed wi-fi costs $14.95 a day, breakfast is a minimum of $25 dollars in the restaurant and there is no in-room coffee maker at all!
The second reason I go to Starbucks, despite the plethora of coffee selling establishments in and around this hotel, is because of my ‘ordering’ anxiety.
Starbucks ordering is regimented and safe, I can’t get it wrong. There are helpful signs indicating exactly where to line up, where to order and where to pick up your drink. There is a pattern, a routine to ordering at Starbucks. At the deli across the street, where I’m sure the coffee is probably better and definitely cheaper, people bunch all up to order, there is no clear line, no corralling stanchions. I don’t know when it is my turn. I don’t know when to expect my turn to come. There is no set time to prepare my order. I’m so worried about missing the eye contact of the person behind the counter, my sole indication that it is my turn, that I can’t look around and see what else to buy. The simple process of ordering a small coffee and a bagel turns into a stomach wrenching, sweat inducing, ‘fight or flight’ hormone injecting disaster.
So to the lobby Starbucks I go.
This morning, in the Starbucks in the lobby of this fancy hotel, I will order a tall latte. Even though I don’t like espresso and I don’t like milk in coffee. A latte is weak and it is hot, and it is easy to order. I don’t have to think. I don’t have to cause trouble. I will order the tall latte because it is what I always order. It is an established pattern of behavior that is comfortable and safe.
As I’m standing in the comfortable line however, and this morning the line is comfortably long, I start wondering about this. Why do I do this?
Why am I so afraid to ask for what I want? My boyfriend does it all the time. He orders a large black coffee (he refuses to say vente) and asks for a couple of ice cubes in it. He likes the strong bitter flavor, but he doesn’t want it scalding. And every time the employees accommodate him. He is friendly and polite and gets what he wants. They don’t sigh or roll their eyes at his unreasonable demands.
In fact the only time they get annoyed is with people who either don’t know what they want, or are rude when they ask for something. The easiest customers to serve are the ones who know what they want and understand the limitations of the items available for request.
What do I want? I want weak drip coffee. How could I make the Starbucks coffee weak? Add water to it. And how do I keep it hot? Add hot water to it. There, behind the counter, right next to the coffee machine is a hot water dispenser. I know exactly what I want and it is a perfectly reasonable request.
When my turn comes I say, “I want a tall coffee, half blonde roast and half hot water.” Without complaint, the barista makes it for me. I pay. I add a bit of cream. It is perfect. It is the best coffee I’ve ever had at a Starbucks.
An inherently disappointing experience is now enjoyable all because I figured out what I wanted and I asked for it!
I’m soaked in the glory of my own brilliance… for about three seconds. Then I realize I forgot to get a bagel.