Moral Dimensions of Starbucks
Someone in MeFi mentioned the phenomenon of the "ghetto latte," where people have figured out how to get a cheaper iced latte by paying only for the espresso.→
[More:]My distaste for calling things "ghetto" aside, I found the moral debate on the Starbucks Gossip site interesting. The question is whether it's right or fair for customers to do this.
My initial reaction was "Why not?" It's the Starbucks business model that makes this even possible. Begin with seriously overcharging for your ingredients. Then make a self-serve "bar" available, where you can doctor your own drinks with sugar and real cream. Of course people will get creative.
In a 'real' espresso bar, the counter service or table service generally means you don't stand at a fixin's bar mixing your own drink. You order your drink, and at the table, you have a small pot of cream and some sugar. Now, Starbucks' genius was to take the espresso-bar concept and de-formalize it, make it friendly and personalizable and casual. They pay less in wages because their staff only work as baristas, and don't serve tables. So what they might be losing in a little extra cream they're more than making up for in saved wages that would, in a traditional espresso bar, be spent having staffers wash, fill, refill, and maintain small pots of cream at each table, and of course, bring you your drinks to order.
I see this "poor man's latte" behavior as somewhat cheap and tacky, but not hugely so, because Starbucks invites it. By making you serve yourself your own cream, they've created a situation in which you're welcome to use it any way you want. For instance, you could get a chocolate Italian soda and then hit it with half-and-half for a nice egg cream.
If you're willing to give some of the labor and resources over to the customer, be willing to let go of control over those resources.
As it turns out, the Starbucks people basically agree
: "Customization is a fundamental attribute of the Starbucks Experience," they said in a statement. A NYTimes story