Starbucks: dead-eyed but homely.

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

A couple of days ago I mentioned that Starbucks had changed their coffee cups, and that this felt like such an important event I would need a little time to process it.

I have processed it.

It has led me to consider the relevance of the different styles of cup used in the three coffee shops I regularly visit: Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero.

In fact, in has taken me beyond just their crockery to an overall appraisal of their different styles.


Starbucks cups now look like this:


which is not too dissimilar from what they have always looked like. Their chunky, utilitarian style seems to suggest a kind of homely, honest, no-nonsense approach. They want you to feel like you could be in your own kitchen, or just popping round to a good friend’s or a beloved aunt’s. No one’s going to try and give you any fancy coffee or make you drink out of dainty cups or otherwise fuck with the enjoyment of your Joe.

The décor is a kind of airy California beach house crossed with painted clap-board New England; stylish but unchallenging. “Come and have a coffee, put your feet up, don’t worry if you drop muffin crumbs on the floor, we don’t got no carpet anyway“, they seem to be saying.

The staff usually appear the most professional of the three chains, but also the least human. They clearly have a well thought out corporate structure, and you can tell that many of them feel part of the Starbucks family. But they also seem rather dead-eyed and soulless. Maybe that’s just the one in Crouch End.

Costa Coffee


Unfortunately, to my mind, Costa have the best coffee but the worst everything else. The food is barely edible (except the caramel square of which I am especially fond and of which I have to restrict my intake to avoid what would be dramatic reductions in the gains made from running thirty miles a week; one day though, I’m going to eat six at once), the interiors design in dingy and depressing, and the staff are rude and incompetent.

It’s not like I expect anything special from the staff; they’re doing what is basically a menial job for low pay. Why would you be happy with that? But there’s no need to be a miserable shitbite either.

I used to work in a cafe (back in the days before Starbucks and the other chains hit these shores), and although I was never a particularly good waiter, I tried to smile and pass on a little joy and I took  pride in turning out a good foam. Kids today, well, sheesh! They’ll ask if you want a muffin, or want chocolate on top of your cap; beyond that you’re just blocking the view.

They also have some rather unsettling photos on the walls. These are mostly scenes of  generic Mediterranean streets, squares, cafes etc. designed obviously to make grumpy Londoners struggling through the rain and misery of a British winter ( or summer for that matter), feel a little more cosmopolitan and sophisticated. But there’s a sinister undertone, which may or may not be intentional. Take this one as an example:

a young couple taking a pleasant stroll though a Tuscan market? Look again: firstly, he is clearly way older than her. Nothing wrong with that per se, but add to that the manner in which he is leading her, virtually shoving her along in a choke hold; the tension you can see in her shoulders, recoiling at his touch, and note also his concealed right hand? What’s he holding? A knife? A gun? His penis? The whole things looks a little rapey.

Cafe Nero

The coffee is on a par with Starbucks, i.e. OK but nothing more. The cups:

give the more European feel that ties in with the stained wood and moody decor; I guess they’re going for a Left Bank, Sartre, polo necks and berets kind of thing. Which I think they pull off ok.

I love that they leave jugs of water out for you to help yourself, they also have a very fine caramel shortbread ( although recently changed the base from biscuit to pastry!! Why?), but mostly I like the staff. Whatever they tell them at Nero training camp, the have created an ethos amongst the staff  which makes them appear genuinely cheerful and genuinely happy to serve.

There’s just one thing though. And its only in one branch, but it’s enough to creep me out more than a little.

At my local branch I have noticed that the name signed against the sheet for cleaning the toilets, to show they’re maintaining good hygiene standards (or at least that someone’s coming in and signing the sheet every couple of hours) is always the same name. This means one of two things: there is some pretty intense corporate bullying going on, and behind the smiles, the staff are forcing one of their co-workers to clean the toilets every two hours day in day out. Or, one member of staff (who is otherwise making your coffee and fixing your panini), is volunteering to clean the toilets, about which the less speculation the better as far as I’m concerned!

  1. Ziiplight says:

    Hi…Agaen ^-^
    I have one idea for a bookcover, but how long can you wait?

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