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Things To Do At Starbucks
A Scalding Look At America's Latest Obsession
Tom Donoghue
Have latte, or be latte!
coffee map

Try to guess which person in your Starbucks is busy writing the next great American novel.
See me, in the corner? Try to guess which groups of people are busy writing the next, not so great, dot bomb business plan. I've actually done this, and yes, at a Starbucks, in Deerfield, Illinois.
The really scary part of remembering those crazy, go for broke moments is that I wasn't the only guy banging away on what would turn out to be a very non-profit BP, and using Starbucks for office space. On more than one occasion, I was the position to eavesdrop, and man, was I depressed afterward! After listening to my fellow entrepreneurs explain their business plans to prospective angel investors over a grande mocha, I realized I had no better shot at being the next Jeff Bezos than they did. We were delusional, flush with the excitement of a future where the Internet would make us all prettier, smarter, faster, brighter, and wealthier. We had also consumed half dozen mochas by 9:00 AM everyday, and we later all realized that if we'd listened to our mothers and taken the postal exam, we'd still be employed today.

If you see that table of dreamers tomorrow morning, smile sympathetically, and silently thank heaven you kept your day job.
"The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny."
Start your own chapter of the Caffeine Addiction Club. Meet daily at the table in the corner!
Have you ever noticed that the same people congregate at the same Starbucks everyday? Maybe you are one of just such a group.
If this is comfort food, should it have such an overpowering grip on people? Shouldn't it soothe, not enslave? More on this enslavement thing later...Go ahead; give some of that Venti latte to your hyper four year old. Have fun! (My all time favorite, because I've done it with my son! Man, he's like a Redstone rocket after a nip o' latte and a $3.50 sugar donut!)

Calculate the total register sales at your local Starbucks for one morning hour. Contemplate starting your own franchise! Actually, you can't start your own franchise, because there are no corners in America left without a Starbucks on it! Amazingly, they're all thriving!
Ponder this:
When did coffee become a status symbol in the US?
Or, is it the cup?
Be honest, if you were a Starbucks loyalist, you wouldn't be caught dead with a Dunkin Donuts cup at your next corporate strategy meeting, would you? Think about the perception issue you'd have to overcome just to be heard at that meeting, let alone taken seriously!
Now, admit there's a problem with labels here. I'm not asking you to change; I just want you to acknowledge the stupidity of it all.

Tomorrow, give at least some of the change from your grande mocha to the homeless guy sitting outside. Heck, give him your mocha, too. We both know he needs it more than you do.
Dateline Northbrook, Illinois - This is the state of wealthy America when, from out of the blue, the disenfranchised suddenly show up begging at your tony localled suburban Starbucks, and you actually overhear people giving the manager a hard time about it! Here's some poor slob who lives in a "managed care" facility nearby, someplace none of us would even consider using the toilet in, and he's looking for a smoke or a few coins, and he gets teed up by some lawyer for standing too close to the fender of her Jaguar!
I saw it happen, folks. I swear on my mocha, she lit this guy up! The great part was, he had no idea what planet he was even on, let alone the potential damage she was claiming his presence might do to the triple clear coat paint job. Strange world.

Casually flip through Cosmopolitan while your five-year-old tosses bits of half eaten donut at the businessmen behind you. Anyone ever had the kid at the next table situation? It's cute for about 14 seconds, then you are reminded of that flight from Chicago to LA last year when the kid in front of you repeatedly played with his seat recliner, FOR THREE HOURS! Mom, seated next to her little pride and joy, was skilled in the art of ambivalence, a trait no doubt learned at Junior League meetings throughout the North Shore of Chicagoland.
Note to parents:
Kids, Frappuccino, and air travel DO NOT mix.

Establish squatter's rights in the big comfy chair by the window. Lock in for a morning of caffeine accelerated introspection.
Have you ever done this? It is the greatest thing in the world to lock up the most comfortable chair in Starbucks for hours on end. Need to hit the head? Put all of your belongings on the seat; backpack, laptop, CD player, maybe some old tissue if you think that guy watching you might make his move while your gone.

Go ahead; turn your cell phone ring on the highest, most annoying volume. Wait for calls.
Really, you should do this anyway, no matter if it's Starbucks, church, the opera, or a funeral. Your important, you need to be accessible!
Turn your cell phone off. Revel momentarily in your self imposed unavailability.
OK, turn your cell phone back on now. We were just kidding.
" Did anyone call?"
You're so important.

Don't get me started on the cell phone thing. Sure, I've got one. But I'm married, for crying out loud! How else would my wife be able to keep a permatab on my absolutely up to no good whereabouts?

Actually, the first book I wanted to write was going to be called "My Cell Hell", and would feature stories of cell phone usage so perplexing and outrageous as to make one wonder if the world itself had gone off its axis!
Then I realized that the title implied that I'd spent a little time in the slammer and, you know, that kind of killed that book pretty fast. Any author will tell you that people buy the title, not the story. I didn't have a snappy backup title, so I shelved the concept. I don't need prison rumors flying around my neighborhood Starbucks you know...
Feel free to poach the idea, dear reader.

Read someone else's left behind paper. Save .50 and apply to your next tall coffee of the day.
Try to guess whom around you does what for a living (if anything).
By the way, this is always an interesting game. It's usually unverifiable, and can be downright funny if played in, say, an airport bar directly across from Starbucks. You and your buddies get good and lubed up, and started making up porn names for people as they leave Starbucks! Do it loud enough (which you inevitably will), and you are guaranteed to get punched at some point.
Multiply the number of people doing nothing in your Starbucks by the 61 other Starbucks in your small town. Start working on an employment agency business plan immediately!

Recognize the irony of the huge "Now Hiring" signs hanging in many of the crowded Starbucks' windows.
"Would you like a job application with your mocha?"
Practice the subtle art of ennui while twelve Grande espressos course through your veins.
Corporate Flunky Tip -
Remember the corporate strategy meeting last week? Remember all the bullying you took, and who was doing it? They're picking on you because you are not hopped up! You simply must match them latte for latte if you expect to thrive in today's fast paced, caffeine charged corporate environments!
Have latte, or be latte!

Ask your server very specific questions about mocha preparation while the line piles up behind you.
Go ahead, it's your $4.75!
This is always a crowd pleaser: be a condiment station space hog during morning rush hour.
Come to think of it, be a condiment station space hog whenever you want. I mean, no one else seems to care a damn about your needs at Starbucks! The condiment bar is like an African watering hole at dawn.
Animals, jockeying for position.
Empty all of the Sweet N Low's into your pocket, then go and ask for more. I like this one! Get a little back, you know?

On live music nights, drink lots of coffee then, empowered and hopped up on caffeine, mercilessly heckle the performer.
"Hey, are they paying you with coffee, dude? Hahahaha!"
If you are sitting alone, be obvious about eavesdropping on nearby conversations. Take notes, and correct any of the participants if you believe they misinterpreted a fact.

Mention loudly how much you missed you daily Starbucks latte on your recent trip to Tuscany.
"Sure the pasta was good. But the coffee? Ughhhh!"
Stroke your goatee thoughtfully while stirring your cappuccino. I mean, really, why else would you have a goatee?

Deconstruct the evolution of your white chocolate mocha. What impoverished Columbian coffee bean picker wouldn't feel proud to know he was such a big part of your day?
It's 97 degrees out.
"Hmmmm, grande or just a tall today."

Proudly sport your cup sleeve as a bracelet.
You go, girl!
Go into a Starbucks, sit down, and order nothing. The place is so self absorbed, not a single soul will notice. Repeatedly ask the barista, "You are making me a decaf, right?" They love that, I swear. Pour your fresh latte into a big Dunkin Donuts cup. Watch everyone around you shift uneasily, stop in mid keystroke, and glare at your impertinence.

Hey, here's one. If the café is closing, how about going home?

Ponder this: is it healthy for a 16 year old to drink a grande mocha everyday?
Now ponder this: is it any healthier for a middle aged, overweight lawyer to drink two-grande mochas everyday?
Now ask yourself: why did I become a lawyer, and how did I get so fat?

This is always a good game with your friends. Think up new names for Starbucks drinks.
"Hey, I've got one. How about "Crackuccino"? Or "White Lightning Latte"?
"Make a big production of opening up and turning on your big, fancy laptop.
Insert a Polka music CD into your big fancy laptop. Turn up the volume, then get up and go to the bathroom.
If that last one happens to you while you are lounging around, reading last week's Fast Company, take your tall coffee of the day and pour it all over that guy's Polka playing big fancy laptop.
Leave. Go next door to another, quieter Starbucks.
No matter what the guy in front of you orders, mumble "Wuss" under your breath.
* Author's note - be careful with this one. If that guy is caffeine starved, he'll take it out on your ass. Trust me on this one.

If you are heading out to the golf course, stop in at your local Starbucks, and buy the others in your foursome grande double espressos before the round.
Talk about getting the yips!
Count how many of the travel mugs on display you already own. Do the math. Ouch.

Fill out employment applications for your friends.Bring a world Atlas with you on your next trip to Starbucks. After several grande whatevers, jump up and loudly demand to be shown exactly where Sumatra really is?
Reconsider the insanity of your property taxes when the guy in line behind you at Starbucks is your garbage man. Speaking of inline, how incredibly stupid do you have to be to attempt to drink scalding hot coffee while skating?
Give up?
Very stupid.

Stuff the suggestion box with requests for a pool table in your local Starbucks. Hey, tell the manager that if you are going to spend that much time there everyday...
Speaking of the manager, didn't you used to baby-sit him?
Who's in charge now, huh?
"Oh man, I should've just let him stay up. Now I'll never get the second shot free."
Sit near the barista. Whenever someone turns down the free second shot, jump up and shout, "I'll take it!"
Here's a game for you and all of your "used to pub crawl together" friends. Do a Starbucks café crawl, one drink per location, running from one café to the next. Watch your split time improve as the day goes on!

Ponder this: who owns more real estate, the Roman Catholic Church, McDonalds, or the country's largest coffee house chain?

If Marcus, a Starbucks employee, gets fired, does he get one pound of coffee as severance for every week he endured the living Hell that is factory custom coffee production for the benefit of smarmy, self important, "I'm in a hurry so hurry up" customers?
No wonder he snapped, throwing a supposedly stale brioche at that guy!

Sit in the window and make gagging, grossed out faces at passersby while holding a mocha away from your mouth.Think about why it is that you tip the staff at Starbucks for the difficult task of making you a cup of coffee, but you've never once thought of tipping the guy who bags your family's $150 worth of groceries every week?

Line up your empty cups on the table.
Nothing screams "You want a piece of me?" more than eight empty grandes.After blowing through your first cup of the day, lean over and ask the woman next to you if you can borrow her $6.95 copy of Vogue while you "hit the head".

While you're in the bathroom, mention the "uptight skirt" that wouldn't lend you her Vogue to the stranger in the next stall. Get your ass kicked outside by Vogue woman's boyfriend. He's the guy from the next stall. Limp back inside, order a Mochaccino, and quietly curse me for writing this book.

Ask the Starbucks manager if you can email your 36-page business plan to a California venture capitalist.
Give him options if necessary.

Ponder this: the very act of waiting for custom-made coffee is in direct conflict with the virtue of patience. Want proof? Observe the fidgety, desperate behavior of everyone standing around, waiting impatiently for the thing they've come to crave.
American madness at its absolute best! No wonder the rest of the world thinks we're overgrown children!
If you are about to order your grande skim latte from a supermarket Starbucks, do some bathroom reconnaissance prior to sitting down. It could be a painful 75-yard dash in a race against time otherwise.
(Overhead speaker) "Jerry, clean up, Aisle 5."

While sitting around in your local Starbucks, call a Jaguar dealer from your cell phone. Ask about various options and packages, repeatedly and loudly saying things like "Don't worry, price is not an issue."
If unattended children are bugging you, or even if they're not, catch Mom's eye and say to the kid, "Pssst, want to share my donut?"

Here's one in favor of the employees of Starbucks. Next time you (customer) are about to be snotty to a server, remember that the grande skim decaf mocha and chocolate croissant you just ordered cost more than they'll make in an hour.
One for the employees. Host a "Make Your Own Damn coffee" day.
Watch the complaints dry up.

Figure out a rock solid, guaranteed to get you a free latte every time, complaint. Use it at all 114,216 Starbucks nationwide. Impress your friends, but don't let the secret out!

OK, fine, there are some goods things about the emergence of Starbucks.
Did you ever think in your life you'd see little kids with names like Gunner (or Gunnar, if you're from the mid Atlantic), Meadow (yes, The Sopranos imitate life), or Wynston?
"Hi, I'm Brandlee-Chason, would you like a grande or venti?"
OK, here's one thing I really do like about Starbucks.
I like the bathrooms.
At least they're free.

I do sometimes feel smugly aloof knowing that I was able to scrounge enough money together for my weekly grande skim latte treat.
Rubbing elbows...
When the aloof feeling fades, I realize I'm left with an overpriced cup of status, and 9 new grams of fat to work off. But I still have half of last month's Sweet N Low production in my pocket, and somebody's copy of Vogue!

As a cynic and wannabe capitalist, I bottom line love Starbucks for its evil genius.
And we thought the tobacco industry was out to get us!
Now, get me another latte!

© Tom Donoghue 2002
Author's Note -
I hope you enjoyed this extract from my book. If you did please visit
There is a fuller version, a complete book on Starbucks with pictures and everything available from the author email him at to find out more email:
500 Ridge Road
Highland Park, IL

More Coffee articles:
Kezia Richmond - No More Coffee
(Featured in the UK Guardian April 27th 2002)

Sam North

No one you know has ever managed to quit without help, but help is hard to find.

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