Space, just another one of life’s little luxuries. One that we probably all took for granted prior to living in Manhattan. While living in a shoebox is certainly no fun, I like to think it’s a fair trade for having the greatest city in the world as your backyard. There is, however, the added inconvenience of group sessions. Ever tried cramming three or four people into a tiny apartment to do work? Doesn’t usually go too well.
Enter Starbucks, boardroom to the masses.
Is it just me or is anyone else surprised by the equation of crowd + noise + coffee shop = conducive work environment? I mean let’s be honest here, as busy and intellectual as people try to look in there, the guys sitting next to you are probably not writing the next “Moby Dick” (which ironically enough is where the character after which Starbucks was named came from.)
No, those guys are probably locked away in an isolated bungalow somewhere in mountains, or better yet the library. Whatever happened to the library?!? That’s where people should go to do work, not Starbucks. Starbucks is where people go to look like they’re working while they people-watch and Europeans go to make video calls on Skype. Go figure…
Anyway, as usual, some friends and I agreed to meet up at Starbucks to “work.” I would have gone to the library, but I really didn’t want to come across as pretentious. I don’t drink coffee, but still felt obliged to buy something if I was going to be sitting there, so I got in line. Whenever I’m in line at Starbucks, I always amuse myself with the CDs on sale at the register. Firstly, I say to myself or anyone who will listen, “Who still buys CDs? Didn’t they get the memo that those had gone the way of the dinosaur?”
After I pat myself on the back for that quip, I continue to amuse myself by thinking, or again sharing with whoever would care to listen, about how funny it would be if it came to my turn and I didn’t buy anything else but was just like, “I’ll take the new Esperanza Spalding…to go please.” This ritual always brings a smile to my face and lightens the mood as I prepare to spend money on something I don’t want, just so I can justify taking up one of their seats for the next six hours.
So it comes to my turn and I decide that today’s waste of money will be a bottle of water and a fruit plate. The guy behind the counter, sorry the “barista,” asks me, “Is that it?” To which I reply, “Yes.” He goes on to say – in a condescending tone I might add – “What, no coffee?” I politely explain to him that I don’t drink coffee. The quizzical, yet judgmental, look on his face was priceless. Well not exactly priceless, because I did just spend close to $8 on water, a few apple slices, and some crappy cheese, but you get the point. I am fully aware that coffee is the drug of choice at Starbucks, but shouldn’t the fact that I at least bought something buy me a few hours free of judgment?
It’s funny how, when you think of it, coming to “work” in Starbucks and buying that cup of coffee is basically paying rent for a few hours of real estate. Unlike your apartment though, the electricity and wi-fi come included. The real question then becomes how much, or how little, is one expected to spend in order to justify taking up a seat for the next six hours? Do I have to fork out for a Grande in a Venti cup, with toffee nut caramel, white mocha frappucino double-blended, no whipped cream, and light cinnamon dusted on, or will just a cake pop suffice? Does the guy who just shelled out a couple bucks on a cake pop have the same privileges as the guy who spent $8 on a cup of coffee?
I mean it doesn’t work like that in any other environment. If I move into an apartment building and I only have cake pop money, odds are I’m probably gonna get the crappy first floor apartment that gets no natural light 360 days out of the year. However, if I come in throwing around Grande in a Venti cup, with toffee nut caramel, white mocha frappuccino double-blended, no whipped cream, and light cinnamon dusted on type money, chances are I’m going to end up with a top floor apartment, private elevator, and 360-degree views. Starbucks might want to consider this school of thought.
We can’t have the haves and the have-nots rubbing elbows (literally) – it’s just not done. As if that’s not bad enough, throw into the mix the guy who walks in, doesn’t buy a thing, and then to add insult to injury he brings in outside food! This guy is the Starbucks equivalent of the squatter. His presence is
clearly frowned upon by the establishment, but there’s probably all kinds of legal ramifications if you try to kick him out.
I don’t know about you, but to me, this whole situation has socialism written all over it. If I’m shelling out the equivalent of a third-world worker’s weekly wages on a latte and the guy next to me has spent the equivalent of what he made sitting on the couch in his mother’s basement, i.e. nothing, he better not have the seat next to the outlet.
With that being said, I have yet to see anyone being given a hard time for just sitting there and not buying anything. I’ve seen the staff give disapproving looks to people, but they never ask them to leave. I guess it’s because at the end of the day, Starbucks is like a casino, where the odds are always stacked in their favor.
They’ll take the hit on the one out of ten that’s a squatter because the other nine people are probably going to spend mucho dinero on a macchiato. It’s in their best interest not to rock the boat because at the end of the day, in some weird way, everyone seems to benefit from the dynamic. The squatter gets something for nothing, the person who is indifferent to paying exorbitant amounts of money for not-so-great coffee gets what they deserve, and Starbucks simply gets richer. Heck, even the cake pop guy is happy, everybody’s a winner!
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