Health and safety at Starbucks

Being the coffee-freak that I am, I have a flask that I use when I visit Starbucks. It’s one that was designed by Starbucks, branded with a subtle Starbucks insignia, and means that not only does my coffee last for about an hour and a half, but also that I spend less as it’s a medium (sorry, "grande") size rather than the large (sorry, "venti") size that I would normally buy. Also, as Starbucks tries to actively promote everything that helps the environment, you get 25p off of every cup of coffee you buy when you use the flask. Excellent.

The biggest problem with it to date is that in Starbucks the baristas seem to struggle to fill it properly. Practically every time I end up watching the poor gut behind the counter having to wipe off the overspilt coffee when he is screwing on the lid. In fact, it’s now gotten to the stage that in my local branch at Chelmsford, the regular barista beams with pride as he hands me the flask if he has managed to not spill any. Bless him.

I visited Southend to see Tasha yesterday, deciding to pop into the big Starbucks at the top of the High St. Unlike most other stores I’d been in to, it seemed to be playing some kind of Indian bhangra music. Seeing as Starbucks stores all have the same music in them, I figured that maybe Head Office had sent a new cd out, and this was a random rubbish track on that.

I handed my flask to the girl behind the counter.

"Medium skinny latte in this, please." Yes, I order skinny drinks (when you consume as much milky coffee as me, I guess it makes sense to have the lowest calorie one), and yes I refuse to call it a Grande.

"No problem," she replied with a smile, handing back the flask, "could you just take the top off of it for me?"

"Errrr… Sure." I removed the top and handed the flask back. "Why did you need me to do that?"

It’s normally at times like these that I question someone and they reveal that they have, in fact, got no arms, or something equally ludicrous and blindingly obvious that I had somehow not noticed. As she took the flask, I quickly scanned her and found that she seemed to have the full compliment of limbs, as well as opposable thumbs and the correct number of fingers.

"We’re not allowed to. Health and safety."

I’m not sure when ‘Health and Safety’ became an acceptable response to a question about anything, and though I resisted responding with "It’s Health and Safety gone mad!" in a taboid-based headling kind of way, I did question it quite succinctly.

"You’re having a fucking laugh, aren’t you?"

Smooth, Dan. Real smooth.

It turned out that no, she wasn’t having a fucking laugh. Yes, she was told that she couldn’t remove or replace the lid, and that was that.

I momentarily considered nipping to the loo and shitting in the middle of the floor, to see if the Health and Safety rules extended to clearing up human faeces, but ruled that out primarily because, I am ashamed to say, I didn’t need the toilet, rather than any other reason.

I sat down with my coffee and began to read. A new bhangra track was playing now, and it was just as rubbish as the first one.

Fifteen minutes later and the Indian music was still on. Besides from the fact that it was complete rubbish, it was also making me fancy a curry. I decided to drop an email to Starbucks head office.

"I’ve just bought a coffee in the store above using a Starbucks flask and was told by the barista that they were unable to unscrew the lid of the flask due to "health and safety" regulations. Is that correct? If so, it’s the first time I’ve heard of that in your stores and seems like a ridiculous notion.

Also, as I write this (3.23pm), the store is playing some kind of bhangra music which really isn’t in the keeping with the rest of your stores. I thought that perhaps it was a one-off track, but the same kind of music has been playing for at least ten minutes now.

Is your Southend store somehow different to your others, as, although your staff are polite and doing their jobs well, the above two points aren’t making me want to come back here any time soon.

I’d like your thoughts on this please.

Kind regards"

Having emailed Starbucks before, I know that they generally take at least a couple of days to respond.  At least, that was the case when I asked them the taxing question of how much liquid each of their cup sizes held (12oz, 16oz and 20oz, in case you care, with the two "new" sizes of 2oz and 128oz that were announced on 1st April being, unsurprisingly, an April Fool).

Thirty minutes later and the crap music stopped and was replaced by something recognisable, at last.  I glanced over from my seat by the store entrance, where I was sat with my laptop open.  The store only had a few customers in it, and they were all talking in groups.  Certainly, I was the only one in there alone and also the only one with a laptop.  On the far side of the store were three Starbucks workers, all looking my way and talking furtively.  I shrugged it off, putting it dpwn to paranoia, drank what was left of my coffee and exited the store.

Twenty minutes later I was at Tashas, checking my email.  Top of the page was a response from Starbucks:

"Thank you for taking the time to contact Starbucks Coffee Company.

I am sorry to learn about your disappointing experience in our Southend 188-190 High Street store earlier today.

I’ve called the store and spoken with the Supervisor on shift. Apparently the girl who served you was told by a previous manager that it was against Health and Safety regulations to open customer’s tumbler lids. This is definitely not the case, and I apologise for any inconvenience this misunderstanding caused you this afternoon.

In regards to the music, all of our stores play the same music, which is changed every few months. We do listen to customer feedback on the issue, and I will pass your comments onto the Store and District Managers for their attention.

We value your feedback and, as a gesture of goodwill, I would like to send you some beverage coupons for you to use on your next visit to our stores. So that we may welcome you back into our stores with complimentary drinks, please send me a postal address.

Once again, please accept my apologies. "

So perhaps I wasn’t being paranoid after all!  I shot an email back saying that the music was definitely not the same music as other stores, and also reiterating that the staff were actually quite polite about everything.  Obviously I also included my home address for the vouchers.  

I can’t see me going back in to the Southend store any time soon though.

Still, free coffee!  Woo!

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