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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Use Starbucks As Your Business Office?

I recently invited 25 strangers to come into my office and set up an expresso machine so that I can try to think over the din of the bean grinder and the steam frother.

OK, no I didn’t actually do that. But it makes about as much sense to me as a fellow writer’s recent suggestion that I should go down to my local coffee house to write my blog.

“Good morning, Charlie. How are you today?” This is the guy sitting next to me at the Starbucks where I am scheduled to meet with a client. This guy has his laptop open on the table, his Bluetooth in his ear and a notebook covered in scribbles. By the look of the stale coffee, he obviously set up shop hours ago using this as his permanent office.  Right now, he's on the phone.

“Not too bad. Not too bad at all. I played 18 holes on Sunday while the wife and kids were at church. I told her I wasn’t feeling well. You know how it is.” I think we all know how that is. “Did you get a chance to look at those numbers I sent you?”

I am assuming that this obnoxious non-church-going liar has an acute hearing problem. That’s the only thing I can think of that would account for his shouting every word. Or maybe it’s a design flaw – his mouth should be located next to his ear.

I try to read the newspaper while I wait for my client but I can’t think over the, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” going on beside me. There is a brief break in his sales pitch and it gives me an opportunity to notice the music blaring away. I realize that they are trying to sell the CDs at the counter but does it have to be so loud? Maybe that’s why the idiot next to me is shouting. Nah, he’s just a jerk. I know this because he launches into a sexist joke. The punchline is, “My name is Tonto. Tonto Goldstein.” I’ve heard this joke twenty times.

I look desperately for another table. No dice. I now understand why this was the only table open. I close my eyes and go into my yoga mantra: “Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup…….”

It’s not working. He’s still there. The crowd is getting bigger. Three people holding their hot Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Lattes and double-shot Caffé Macchiatos are coveting his table and giving him stink eye but this is clearly not his first rodeo and he easily turns his head away from them without ever skipping a beat.

The noise levels are growing. The hard floors, bare walls and plate glass windows bounce sound like a Lakers game.

In mid-2011, Starbucks quietly began a process of systematically reducing the seating and available electrical outlets in their stores just to avoid freeloaders such as the jerk sitting next to me. And in many stores you now “buy” WiFi access in two-hour increments through your loyalty card (which is like a frequent flyer card that gives you credit for coffee and food purchases). I can’t say that I blame them but it’s interesting to note that it is 180° from Starbucks original branding, which was to recreate an Italian bistro that encouraged people to meet their friends and stay as long as they liked (thus the comfy sofas and conversation corners).

By the time my client arrives, the speakers are pumping Elvis ballads, the jerk next to us is getting desperate about closing a deal, and unseated customers are developing that mass-murder glaze. We ended up fleeing like rats from a burning restaurant with “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” echoing in our ears. We took refuge in my client’s car, balancing our coffee on the dashboard while trying to plan grant strategy. It was nuts.

Yes, I know that J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh coffee shop with baby Jessica dozing in a pram, because her unheated flat was too cold. (They neglect to mention that the coffee shop was owned by her brother-in-law and she wrote in the back room, not out front surrounded by customers.) I’m no J.K. Rowling but I suspect that Joanne (that’s her name) couldn’t do it in a Starbucks today.

Are we having fun yet?


  1. Kay, you absolutely must write a book! You are such a naturally funny writer and have a way of capturing the idiocy of modern life with just the right amount of bite versus humor.

    However, now, I absolutely must take my laptop out to my local Starbucks and see if I can come up with a post anywhere near as witty as yours.

    The competition (LOL) is on!!!

    1. why don't you just stay the f*** home or actually go to an office? Do NOT conduct a business deal at starbucks for once. Anybody who is anybody wouldn't for one second consider, of all things, a second rate class b retail space that holds a starbucks.

      A) It's tacky
      B) It's desperate
      C) It can't possibly be a worth while deal because all of the sales and deals that move the world are done at country club restaurants and five star dinners.....Real Estate, Banking, etc, etc......Get your coffee and move the fuck on......

    2. Did you actually "chuckle" after you wrote the word "competition?" tee hee..

  2. I have a fully functional adult office with a 15 year old Mr. Coffee 10-cup unit which gets very little use. I have very few client and supplier visitors because downtown parking and travel-time are issues.

    So I have used Starbucks for years as a mid-way place for face-time meetings. Because they have proliferated so much over the years (not any more; they're actually shuttering stores), there's hardly a suburban or neighborhood location I can think of that doesn't have a Starbucks half-way between me and my clients and colleagues.

    Convenient. We always buy over-priced drinks. Lots of times we schedule meetings for breakfast or lunch and run up the tab. We never loiter. We always clean up after ourselves (Ray Kroc was a great teacher of my generation). And we helped Howard Schultz, et al, become billionaires.

    Now I can't find a seat to conduct business because Starbucks wants to rid its stores of professional malingerers. I feel dispossessed.

    Thank you Kay for starting this conversation. If enough of us gripe loudly enough, we might effect some change.

    Years ago, probably in the mid-to-late 70s, McDonald's sought to increase capacity in a wildly popular Chicago high-rise shopping mall location by installing "stand-up seating." These were round, dinner-plate sized tables that were accessible only to fully realized adults. You basically had to stand to use them. But, "for your comfort and convenience," two bar stools were bolted to the floor at each table. The seats, however, were slanted in such a way that you couldn't sit. The best you could do was lean.

    The concept didn't support leisure dining.

    People were so pissed off at the discomfort and the audacity of the scheme that the stand-up tables didn't last long enough for ornery teenagers and other malcontents to even carve their initials in the table tops. Mickey D's caved to pressure

    And I may move my mid-way meetings to McDonalds.

    1. Now that you mention it, I think I vaguely remember stand-up seating in McDonald's. And you're right, it didn't last long. I wonder if there will be that kind of backlash to these latest Starbucks policies or will customers just suck it up and keep giving coming (but not staying)?

      Biz Bitch

    2. McDonald's to conduct business??? AHAHAHAAA!!!!! That's even worse than starbucks. Are you on the lower end of the economical spectrum and about one inch away from welfare?

  3. Kay if I had enough elbow space, I could write while at a rock concert. I zone out so well that I have written entire novels at children's parties. I am kidding, I only write at home and I completely ignore everybody.

  4. I do like to sit at a coffee shop and have my coffee while reading the paper or a magazine and writing some ideas down in a notebook for later expansion at home, but Starbucks is the last place I would go to find a quiet atmosphere or good coffee for that matter.

    There are so many better places to drink coffee with a nice relaxed atmosphere where no one bothers you here in downtown Toronto. And the coffee is so much better in a smaller independent espresso bar.

  5. No, writing in a coffee shops is way to distracting and I can't throw on some ear buds and listen to music cause that can be distracting also. JK was very lucky in that respect. Hell, she's lucky in many. I use coffee shops for introductory meetings only.

  6. Kay,

    I work with most of my clients by phone, but some prefer to meet in person. I work out of my home so do not want to meet them there. When I ask where they would like to meet they almost always suggest a coffee shop...but not the utlra-busy chain shops which tend to be more noisy and confidentiality can be a problem. I've found a few "tucked away" places that allow us to interact in a quiet and confidential manner which we both can enjoy. (Maybe it's the pastries.) I totally agree with JP...stay away from the chains.

    1. One of the problems, of course, is that Starbucks has managed to squeeze out virtually all of the small, local coffee houses. At least that's the case here in Hawaii.

      My husband still meets a lot of clients at a stand-alone Starbucks at a mall. Mostly it's the lure of the free parking. Parking in Honolulu is very expensive. There are people serving hard time in prison for lesser crimes than the usurious fees being charged at Honolulu parking lots.


  7. I love your humorous twist on an all too common experience! After I discovered today that Starbuck's uses ground insects to color their Strawberries & Cream Frappicinos (what's wrong with strawberries??), I swore off Starbucks for good. The last time I was there working, they got my order wrong then started glaring at me after I'd been there an hour.

    I now frequent a local, one location only, coffee shop in Asbury and try very hard when I'm in the City or away from my home base to find a similar establishment. They are much more accommodating and deserve our patronage in this economy!

    Thanks again for a great post Kay.

  8. I should class myself as being incredibly lucky with mine, the music is set at "background" level.

    There are usually about 10 people with laptops plugged in and everyone basically leaves well alone, until very occasionally one pipes up loudly and says "Okay need help here!" ear buds come out, everyone perks up, happy for the distraction, chimes in with their advice and then go back back to whatever it is they are working on.

    It's an artsy, boutique place with a community feel and everyone knows each other. When you walk in everyone gets a polite nod of the head, a smile and a quiet hello.
    I don't go every day, I use it as a treat, in fact the whole coffee shop chimed when I was messing around with the book cover I posted, it's not the final cover but they all said they felt good having been a part of it and when I left everyone wished me luck.
    Sorry Kay for the long post but I think small community coffee shops are much better than Starbucks... and so is the coffee! ;)

    1. You're lucky to have such a place available. I suspect that the next place to start trying to squeeze people out is McDonald's. I don't know about the rest of the country, but around here you can't get seating in a McDonald's from 8:00 a.m. to about noon. It's filled with retired Asians who use McDonald's as a Senior Community Center.

      It would be hilarious if I didn't occasionally need to sit down to eat.

  9. Being in Seattle, the land of Stabucks and coffee in general, you paint a very familiar picture. I avoid having meetings there if I can and find a nice, quiet, neighborhood shop if possible. Now Starbucks is trying out a juice bar concept-all white and pristine and of course-overpriced.

  10. I feel very fortunate that I can use my dining room as a nice place to meet clients, the few times I actually do meet in person.

    I once met a client over coffee (actually, I had tea, it was the afternoon), and I spilled the cup as I gestured. Oops. Liquid and my talking do not get along.

  11. In my world, I meet my clients via computer or phone. Now that we have Live Meeting or Go To Meeting it's easy and my clients enjoy what to them is a house call.

    I live in SC and my clients range all over the map. It's easy for both of us, and yes I can wear my underwear two days in a row.

    1. We've been meaning to speak to you about your underwear, Stan.

  12. Kay, the reason your "“Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup…….” mantra didn't work is because you didn't sit on the floor or table with your legs crossed. Give Starbucks one more chance. You won't have any problems recreating the scenario...trust me on this one. You can find at least 10 loud mouth jerks (male or female) in Starbucks on any given day.

    Just a heads up, the libraries aren't any better. Remember the days of librarians shushing people. I tried getting some work done at the library. Between the cell phone rings, the loud conversations and yes, in some cases, coffee aroma from the little cafe at the library entrance...Starbucks, library...almost the same experience.

  13. Kay, I cannot imagine trying to conduct business in a Starbucks let alone write. Just last week, I was distracted by the gobbling of a wild turkey somewhere in the woods across the street from my house. Even that was enough to send me on a wild goose (umm... I mean "turkey") chase with camera in hand. (To no avail. The creature seemed elusive. He was probably hiding in a bush peering out at me.

    Congrats on turning a frustrating experience into such a great post. Just look at the comments you're getting!

  14. Haha, I've only just discovered you but already have a hard time believing you weren't one of the ones giving him the stink eye, or worse! LOL

    Great writing and you're a true story teller! Off to find some more!

  15. I was also wondering how J.K Rowling wrote the novel in a coffee shop. I knew that the shop owner was her brother in law. But I didn't know she wrote it in the backroom.
    Love your style. Nice story. Hope, you write more often. Thanks Kay.

  16. I used to love to go to Starbucks and write! (Old school pen and paper though. Back then, I didn't have a laptop to lug around.) But like you, I found that it got too loud to concentrate! I do like going to Atlanta Bread Company, Barnes & Noble, and my favorite old school haunt, the library! I can let my kids run around the stacks of books while I scratch away on paper. By the time they come back carrying a load of books taller than they are, I've got a good draft going of my latest chapter in progress.

    I knew J.K. wrote the book in a coffee shop, but I didn't know the rest of it. You learn something new every day!

  17. Kay, I love your style of writing. I'm with everyone else, I'm waiting on that New York Best seller of yours. Your wit and insight into human behavior makes for great reading. Another good job! http://mylmnopreadstokids.blgospot.com

  18. I was forced to use Starbucks for Internet access after moving and all I can say is that I ended up with a computer virus. Never could figure out why people like to do work there, especially teachers I know who go to coffee houses to grade papers. Oh well.

  19. My local sbux, in the mall is a great office for me. Especially since I have no home internet and the electric is spotty and being shut off every other month for non-payment.

  20. Starbucks is an ok backup location to have meetings with clients. I find however that virtual offices work much better. They usually provide secure Wi-Fi and À la carte office space and services.

  21. I laughed out loud when I read this post. In my past life I was an outside sales rep so we had mini-meetings all the time in whatever coffee shop was handy- usually Starbucks. You brought back to life the usual cast of characters- the loudmouth, the skinny blondes with skinny lattes, no chairs and loud music. (are you sure you weren't in Starbucks collecting data when you wrote this??!)

  22. Very entertaining but also very precise post. I used to hang out at Starbucks back in the days thinking it was the coolest thing since sliced bread to be seen with the famous green and white mug. Mind you that was during my times as a student. Apparently studying for my law exams. Did I look cool or what?
    Nowadays I only occasionally use my local Starbucks as it's conveniently located to the office. But who's annoying me the most? The loudmouthed students from the law school close by. Guess that's karma biting me back now.
    Interesting observation I made the other day though - the exact type of guy with laptop and Bluetooth headset you described so nicely sitting in a McDonalds now. Maybe that's going to become the more blue collar Starbucks?! Oh dear, karma.....

  23. Well, yes I use the starbucks when I have purchased the virtual office on rent last month to run my business.
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