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Candace Neal column: You put the ‘star’ in Starbucks!

By Candace Neal
For The Salisbury Post
When I was a kid, coffee was nothing more than some funny-smelling, black stuff packed neatly in an oversized, metallic red bucket labeled “Folgers.” It was for adults only. And the cheery couple sipping it in the commercials really believed that the best part of waking up was Folgers in their cup.
Today, however, coffee is not coffee. Starbucks is coffee. Where we once guzzled our morning Joe with a splash of half-and-half and a spoonful of sugar, we now inhale icy, blended drinks with glistening domes of whipped cream and caramel drizzle ó you might know them better as frappuccinos.
I am enthralled by my own summer drink of choice: An Iced Grande Nonfat Sugar-Free Vanilla Chai.
You see, I am a Starbucks employee. And while I am compelled to compose pages on these innovative spins of coffees and teas and pumpkin loaves and blueberry scones, I would like to, for now, focus solely on what Starbucks claims is their most important asset, the customer.
The Starbucks customer demographic is shockingly wide. A single morning (which begins at 4:45 a.m., mind you) brings in everybody from your grumpy old man shaking his fist at the current political climate to your bubbly, spandex-sporting soccer mom, who has already been to the gym and is now ready to take the kids to school.
The Starbucks-goers we see each day seem to fall into some predictable categories: The Regular
This customer comes every day, sometimes upwards of three times in a single 24-hour period. He or she is on a first name basis with all of the baristas and always brings his/her own coffee mug. This customer blurs the line between loyalty and obsession (and we love them for it).
This customer would probably order: A venti black coffee without room for cream.
The High Maintenance Customer
This customer almost always begins their order with a loaded, “OK, I would like” which translates to, “Are you ready for this?”
The order takes at least 45 seconds to articulate. It typically involves at least five customizations, making the drink ultimately unrecognizable from its original form. He or she is almost always a Starbucks Card carrier. This customer expects the barista to fail.
This customer would probably order: A Decaf Quad Venti Sugar Free Hazelnut Whole Milk 2 Splenda No Foam, Extra Hot Latte, Double Cupped with no sleeve.
The Anti-Starbucks Customer
This customer has usually been sent on a Starbucks run by a family member or co-worker. He/she often scopes the menu frantically at great lengths before admitting defeat and inching with hesitance to the register. This customer refuses to use Starbucks size lingo (Short, Tall, Grande, Venti) or fails in an attempt to do so.
This customer would probably order: “A Medium ó How do you say medium, here? Oh, OK ó a Grande ó Mocha … what are the cold drinks called? Smoothies? Oh. OK, a frappu-whatever you call it. One of those.”
The Body Conscious Customer
This customer is often in gym attire. More often than not, this customer is female. She does not even glance at the pastry case. She often grabs an Ethos bottled water, perhaps a fruit cup, and will follow with at least three inquiries regarding calorie counts in specific beverages.
This customer would probably order: A Short Skinny Hazelnut 1 Splenda Latte.
The Underage Customer
This customer is between the ages of 4 and 9 and has vocabulary confined to, “Um”, “I want,” “Please” and “Thank you.”
This customer would probably order: A Tall Hot Chocolate or A Tall Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino paid for with mom’s wad of cash.
The Too-Busy Customer
This customer is simultaneously on the phone and autopilot. Sometimes, there is a child on his or her hip. He or she places the order while cupping a hand over the mouthpiece of the cellular device. This is the extent of the conversation that will be held between the cashier and the customer. The exchange of money will take place to the tune of the customer’s eavesdrop-worthy phone colloquy and, at best, employees will receive a partial wave goodbye.
This customer would probably order: “A Grande ó well, I know, Betty, but I have to pick up Charlie from work because his car is in the shop until 12 ó oh sorry ó can I get a Grande Caramel Macchiato?”

And that, my friends, is just the beginning.
Now go. Run to the nearest Starbucks and order a finely tailored beverage just for you. And while you’re at it, ponder on your own customer type.
And while you’re at it, if you want to add a quarter or five to the tip jar, that would be OK, too.
Candace Neal, a recent theatre arts graduate of Catawba College, lives in Charlotte. When she’s not slinging coffee, she’s rehearsing for “Slut: The Musical,” opening Aug. 7 at The Actor’s Theatre in Charlotte.


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