Jeremy Sarber

Why I may quit drinking Starbucks

While I neither agree with Howard Schultz’s politics, nor do I especially enjoy spending nearly $3 on a single cup of coffee, I’ve been a happy patron of Starbucks for a long time. I—cover your ears, coffee snobs—like Starbucks. Give me a grande of the day’s dark roast, a good book, and a comfortable chair, and I will relish the next few hours.

Years ago, I read How Starbucks Saved My Life and began to appreciate more than its hot beverages. I respect its treatment of employees. I admire how it trains baristas to befriend regular customers. I even appreciate its willingness to sacrifice speed for ambiance. After all, it’s a coffee house, not McDonald’s. By all means, grind the beans. I’ll wait.

For me, however, Starbucks is losing its appeal. Do I want to pay $2.62 for an overfilled cup of coffee that’ll leak all over my hand, car, and shirt before I even leave the parking lot? Should I support a business wherein every staff member ignores me while I wait at the counter for twenty minutes, though every one of them made eye contact with me? Am I paying a premium to order regular coffee—I don’t even add cream or sugar—twenty minutes before I arrive only to have a barista say, We don’t have any dark roast brewed. Is Pike okay?”

I order ahead, so you’ll have plenty of time to do a pour-over,” I often reply as politely as possible before adding, Pike is fine.”

If these experiences were rare, well, we’re all human. Unfortunately, they have become the rule, not the exception.

I don’t mean to sound like a spoiled child who’s not getting his way. Who cares. Right? It’s Starbucks. It’s only coffee. This issue is nonexistent in the grand scheme, yet I think it matters.

It matters because, first of all, quality customer service is essential to me. Second, I have a choice in the matter, which is why I’m writing this. Starbucks may have a store on every corner, but I can get my coffee elsewhere. In fact, I often choose the less convenient path for principle’s sake.

For example, I use DuckDuckGo rather than Google for Web searches, though it’s an inferior search engine because I value privacy and like to support competition. I begin most of my writing with pen and paper, though it’s much slower than typing because I don’t want to lose the benefits of penmanship. I’m not afraid to inconvenience myself if something of greater worth is at stake.

I need more reason than decent coffee to continue patronizing Starbucks. At the very least, I’d like to get a sense the company appreciates my business, but to be candid, I don’t expect it, nor am I demanding it.

If I were to quit Starbucks altogether for the reasons I’ve cited, most people would consider my decision drastic, melodramatic even. But why? If I don’t like how a company treats me, taking my business elsewhere is perfectly reasonable. A principle is worth only what we’re willing to sacrifice for it, and we’re not typically inclined to surrender much of anything if it costs us convenience or pleasure.

Consider Facebook. We complain it spies on us for profit, stifles free speech, and undermines the democratic process, yet we keep using it. We seem to have forgotten how we communicated with friends and family before Mark Zuckerberg came along. Do we really need more memes in our life? I don’t mind that you have an account, but you are free to leave if you despise Facebook’s business model.

If you believe in something, by all means, live accordingly. Don’t wait for everyone else to agree with you before you act. Don’t expect them to follow you either. Don’t be bothered when they don’t. Furthermore, it may not be easy, but the right thing rarely is.

To be clear, I’m talking about much more than Starbucks.