|Image via Mike Elgan on Google+|
I've asked many a Starbucks barista and manager why they can't turn the A/C to a comfortable temperature. The reasons given are always ridiculous. They'll say that their thermostat is controlled by Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle. Some have added that corporate HQ only gives them a leeway of five degrees on their thermostat. Others have said, amazingly, that the temperature is set to keep the employees comfortable because it "gets so hot behind the counter," implying that they care more about their own comfort, and the customers be damned.
I'm sitting in a Starbucks in a mall in Houston, Texas right now. It's in the mid-90's here and a typically humid day. At 9:00 this morning, the big plate glass windows of Starbucks were wet with condensation because they were so chilled by the cold air within. That's how it usually is, and none of the other shops in this mall had wet windows. The air conditioning in those shops is set to be comfortable for human habitation, not deliberately cruel. Starbucks A/C is all about cruelty.
Yesterday, a Starbucks employee let slip that Starbucks actually wants you to be uncomfortable. The store she works at, which I occasionally patronize, has a long wooden table in the center of the room, attended by 16 comfortable wooden chairs. For years, regular patrons have sat there and worked on their laptops, lingered over conversation and read newspapers, struck up conversations with strangers and made lasting friendships.
And that pisses off the manager. The policy of freezing out the customers for the purpose of increasing profits does not work, but Starbucks doesn't seem to get that. I've often heard people walk into this store and turn right around and leave. "Oh, it's too cold in here," I've heard them say. I've seen others come in, get a drink, sit for 20 to 30 minutes and then say, "Let's get out of here, it's too cold." Those people (usually women with bare arms, by the way) might have ordered more beverages or some food had the temperature been comfortable. Meanwhile, there are regulars who hang out for many hours despite the cold. The purposefully severe cold imposed by Starbucks, in an attempt to increase profits, just might be backfiring on them.
There are plans to replace that wonderful table in the near future with an island counter table, the kind that's high enough to stand at. High stools will replace the chairs. "That won't be very popular with a lot of your customers," I said. The response I got was revealing. "That's the whole idea," she said, and she was dead serious. I didn't need to ask her to explain.
Her meaning was obvious: Starbucks will make every sneaky, un-obvious attempt to make you uncomfortable that it can. The cold isn't driving away enough customers as is, so maybe a less comfortable seating area will help torture people.
"Starbucks is freezing all the time," wrote Mike Elgan. "Customers hate it. And Starbucks knows their customers hate it. How could they not know? A simple Google search shows that freezing in-store temperatures are an amazingly common complaint, bringing more than a hundred-thousand results."
So, Starbucks doesn't give a damn about you. They don't like you hanging around. So here's a suggestion: Take a sweater with you and linger just to piss them off.