2008-03-05 / Opinion

Bucking Up To Reality

by Alex McRae

The figures haven't been released yet, but Wall Street insiders are predicting February productivity figures for U.S. workers will show an unexpected jump. Or at least some unexpected jumpiness.

The increased productivity will be linked to workers actually doing their jobs instead of wandering off every 30 minutes to the nearest Starbucks. That's because, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008, to the horror of caffeine junkies coastto coast, Starbucks took the unprecedented step of closing all 7,000 U.S. company-owned stores for three hours.

According to files recovered from the trash can at the FBI Hostage Unit, Starbucks employees were forced to stay inside while customers milled about outside looking like peasants preparing to storm Frankenstein's castle.

Although no deaths were reported, caffeine withdrawal was cited as the cause of numerous fist fights, cursings and at least one case of Obama-mania.

Starbucks officials said the company had a need for closure. Not to count its profits, but to boost sagging sales that officials suspected were due to poor coffee-making skills by the people Starbucks calls baristas.

In the old days, these people were called waitresses. They were named Mable and Hilda and Maude and wore aprons and had more attitude than a badger on a bad day.

But once Starbucks convinced the world coffee was cool, waitresses were out and baristas were in.

They had gotten so popular that before the recent strike by the writers guild, negotiations were under way to produce a mini-series called "Band of Baristas" about a group of disgruntled espresso steamers who swear off caffeine and develop a top secret plan to blow up a Folgers instant coffee plant in Hoboken, New Jersey.

But recently, Starbucks was accused of hiring bad baristas. In fact, some complaints alleged that a growing number of Starbucks employees didn't know the difference between a skinny latte and a Dairy Queen Blizzard. Plus, the stores were dirty.

So Starbucks owners and employees went back to school for three hours with a single goal in mind.

CEO Howard Schultz said he wanted baristas to get back to basics, "to pull the perfect shot, steam milk to order and customize their favorite beverage."

Not surprisingly, once word of Starbucks' miniclosure went public, competitors jumped in to take advantage. Dunkin' Donuts ran a special to push its upgraded coffee offerings, and it was reported that Ed's Transmission Repair and Coffee House in Opelika, Ala., offered free creamer at its Tuesday night all-youcan eat catfish buffet.

You never know how it will work out, but as long as Starbucks officials are in a listening mood, here's a bit of advice: If you want more customers, try cutting your prices in half.

But I digress.

No one knows how well the re-education program will work, but you have to hand it to Starbucks for recognizing a problem and trying to fixit. Maybe America's auto makers will catch on soon.

On the bright side, despite all the steam generated by oversized espresso machines, Starbucks has never been accused of contributing to global warming. Until that happens, they'll be just fine.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan.com)

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