Dear Starbucks: please change your oatmeal

Well, not the oatmeal itself, which is not too bad. But please change the cups you serve it in so that they actually fit and stack atop your coffee cup lids.

It’s very difficult to carry a “cuppa and oatmeal”, since the bottom of the oatmeal cup is exactly not-the-right-size to fit over your coffee lid. It sits right on the top: not quite small enough (like the bottom of a coffee cup is) to fit inside the plastic lid; not quite large enough to comfortably wrap around the outside of the plastic lid.

Now I know you spent thousands of dollars carefully engineering your current oatmeal cups to have the perfect colors, cool touch to the hands, exactly-spaced steam vents on the top, and so on, but it’s been two years (as evidenced by the copyright date on the lids), so maybe it’s time for a practical change. Pretty is great, but practical and fitting in with your beverage sizes is even better.

I’d vote for the over-the-lid size, just slightly larger: this serves all customers, since you could securely stick an oatmeal cup atop a cup of coffee and walk out of the store carrying both in one hand. I know some people might suggest the just slightly smaller, so the bottom of the oatmeal is the same as the bottom of a coffee cup, but that doesn’t seem to be as pleasing a proportion for eating out of, even if it would fit into a pressboard 4-cup holder.

Heck, if you tried just a tiny bit of engineering, I’m sure you could put a little lip on a 4-cup holder so that the larger oatmeal cups would also fit in, just slightly higher than cups do.

Yes, Dear Starbucks, I will submit this as an idea for you to steal. Just be sure to keep your wifi throughput up for all of us regulars now that you’ve let the masses in to use it at all your stores.

My afternoon, via Starbucks Via

Have you tried Starbucks Via (TM) yet? It’s interesting – certainly far better than the average coffee, but still unlikely to be confused with a good brewed coffee from Peets or Starbucks.

Via, in case you haven’t seen, is tiny tiny packages of finely ground coffee and instant coffee; just add hot water and stir. Voila, instant… instant coffee that’s better than Maxwell House. You do end up with a tiny bit of smutz in the bottom of your cup; it seems that besides the marketing schtick their real innovation is combining instant dried coffee powder with microground fresh beans.

The outer packaging is very pretty, although sadly over-large for what it needs to do. The individual pouches are tiny! Very cute little pencil-thin packets for each individual cup.

Note that the Cambridgeside Galleria is selling the Via boxes for $1 off today, so if you are interested it’s a good time to stock up.

FTC DISCLAIMER:

Today I was given two free packets of Starbucks Via (TM) Colombian when purchasing a box of Italian Roast (at a discount). The counter staff asked if I’d tried the Columbian, and offered me a couple of extras with my box. No other agreement was made; the packets were freely given, not requested, and there was no expectation express or implied of any value in return. I have never before sought not received free or discounted Starbucks Via (TM) products in the past. This post is solely my own idea, and is not compensated by Starbucks, it’s affiliates, marketing companies, stockholders, or any other entity. This blog post was also physically posted while using a free Starbucks AT&T wifi connection. No Starbucks staff were consulted about this post, nor did anyone suggest this post to me. A preview of this post was not supplied to Starbucks legal, marketing, or other teams, nor indeed to anyone at all. No Google AdWords nor other internet advertising services were used nor will be used to profit me, my family, my employer, nor any other organization I am affiliated with in conjunction with this post. Astute readers should note that this disclaimer is neither complete, nor terribly useful.

In fact, the main reason I wrote this post is to have an excuse to write a DISCLAIMER to address the new FTC guidelines on bloggers and compensation. Feh. Yes, people should be responsible about affilations, but hey – the devil’s in the details, and heavy handed government rules about technology are difficult to get right.

Anyway, I like Peets better.

Is anyone else worried about Starbucks?

They seem to be in trouble, and I’m not sure what to do. Poor Starbuck!

On one hand, they are closing stores left and right – and even though MA was to be spared, they later announced we are not, losing 7 or more stores locally. On the other hand, I see even more “Help Wanted” signs in their front doors that ever before. Plus they’re pushing more and more benefits to cardholders: free refills, free shots, other giveaways that you never would have seen before.

They come up with a huge marketing thing for their new drink, hoping it can revivify their business. What is this vivivying magic they’ve come up with? A banana smoothie. Not what I expect from such an experienced vendor. You think a smoothie’s going to turn your business around? Think again.

Their desperation is showing in many other ways: when using my card to get my free in-store drip coffee refills, I got not one but three receipts, even though I never normally take them. One for the first cuppa, of course; then two for the refill. Not only did the staff patiently explain about their $2 for any cold grande after 2pm offer, but they also eagerly pressed their customer survey – CustomerVoice! – into my hand. This is about the third time I’ve gotten a survey in the past month, and it’s not like I’m in there daily to account for their sudden interest in my opinion.

Plus, they’re canceling their muffin contract, and ditching their breakfast sandwiches. I know there are a lot of mixed opinions about them – myself included: have you ever gotten a breakfast sandwich at the old ‘Buck that was actually assembled straight? I haven’t. But I still like them, and they’re actually reasonably priced for the ingredients, considering their corporate price levels. That’ll be a sad goodbye to the toasties in the morning some days.

What can we do to help them out? Poor little Starbuck, she’s tough but vulnerable these days.

Hmmm.

Oh, wait.

They are an evil corporate giant. Never mind. Let loose the dogs of capitalism, and if you enjoy it, update your schedule to use your card to take your break there: free wifi, free syrup, and the free refills mean it’s a great way to spend an hour in the morning, for those of you who like the coffee there. I mean, it’s good, although Starbucks is not as good as Peet’s.

The first step is admitting the problem

Hi, I’m Shane, and this is the third coffee shop I’ve visited today.

Admittedly, today is a rather unusual day, and the post title and lead-in is a cheap bit of hyperbole. Today is a day of inconveniently scheduled meetings, long drives, and a bunch of getting out of the way of a FOAF that I’m delivering the moving truck for. So this is not a normal day at all, and I rarely ever visit two coffee shops in one day – honest!

The day started with exactly not quite enough time to get anywhere between the morning dropoff and my first meeting. Hence, I decided to skip rush hour traffic, and drive just a couple of blocks to my coffee home, Peet’s in Lexington. The staff is great (Hi Janice!), there are plenty of tables, and for all the fact that they don’t offer free wifi, I really do find it a good place to focus on work without distractions. It’s also quiet enough in the back to be able to call into my meeting with good cell coverage. Since it was still early in the day, I opted for hot coffee here.

Meeting over, I then had enough time to drive home to do a couple of hours of work, which of course took longer than expected, and left me late to pickup the rental truck. Being hungry, hot, late, and in possession of one of the free sandwich coupons, I stopped at a convenient DD for my large iced, milk, half a sugar, hazelnut, and a flatbread sandwich to finish while waiting for rental truck paperwork. I must admit that I did not actually sit down at that coffee shop.

Truck delivered to the friend who’s moving, I now have a few hours to try to finish some work while they decide what to load up and what to leave behind. Of course, I have them drop me off at the closest Starbucks for another large iced, half-sweet, since now I really do need the free wifi to read my email. This time, I am sitting down.

I promise – I won’t do this again. This week I’ll pull my thermos out of the cupboard and start making iced coffee to bring with me. But today was just a little bit too much happening for that.

I hear you ask: so, how do they compare, these three highly branded corporate behemoths of the caffeine addiction trade? I’m not sure it’s completely fair to do a head-to-head, given the differing styles, but I will share this:

  • I love Peet’s. Better coffee, better bar drinks, and a good variety of pastries that I happen to like. Always my favorite, but not always immediately convenient.
  • DD is such a background to the fabric of life that it will always be important. I would never call it gourmet, but sometimes you just need a predictable cuppa, and I know I can always find a DD. Sadly, today’s iced was a tad down; I think they actually gave me too little sugar, which rarely happens (I often have to explain “just a HALF sugar, please”).
  • The primary value to Starbucks is that when you really need a bar drink, you can always find a passable one. And in today’s case, the free wifi (with air conditioning and comfortable chairs!) was the important part.

And now, back to tracking the latest round of software defects…