Mar 23 2009

The Grande Illogic

I’m embarrassed to admit that even though I live in the city that gave birth to café society and there are three-dozen more charismatic cafés within five-minutes walking distance of my home, sometimes I go to Starbucks. This is because of the comfortable armchairs.

I meet several times a week with a friend to do what we call free-writing, an exercise that involves selecting a random sentence – from a pool we’ve dreamed up or borrowed from books – and using this phrase as a prompt to write stream-of-consciousness for ten minutes. Then we read whatever we’ve written to each other, because it’s a curious experience to hear yourself say your own words out loud, even if it is just a shitty first draft.

It’s basically calisthenics for cobwebbed writing muscles, and much easier to do if you’re sitting in a roomy, crushed-velvet armchair with big fat cushions. That Starbucks was non-smoking before French law required also contributed to the origin of this embarrassing habit.

But what is it with Starbucks and their insistence on illogical cup sizes?

I know I’m not the first person to complain about this; a Google Search on “ordering at Starbucks” produces about 542,000 results, and surely it’s been a frequent topic of ire on blogs long before I started writing one. But now it’s my turn: I can never order correctly, and the whole ordeal taxes my brain and illuminates the severity of my maternal dementia. Why does it have to be so hard?

What I want to say is simply this: “I’d like a medium café-latte, please.” But when I do, the Starbuck’s employee inevitably asks, “Tall, Grande or Venti?”

I’m sorry, but I think all these words mean the same thing: big. I don’t want big, I want medium. But there is no such thing at Starbucks as a medium. In their world of white and green cups, it’s all grande.
three_cups
Waiting in line I’ll repeat to myself, “grande, grande, grande,” but when the server-person turns to me with that expectant look, I can’t help it. I fumble around, and I blurt it out every time, “Medium.”

I think this is because I’m a very visual thinker, so I see the three size options on the display stand by the cash register, and there’s that one I want right in the middle, it connotes (to me) medium. I don’t think it’s a language thing. Grande, or grand – however you want to write it – is not the word for medium in French or English, or Italian for that matter.

Starbucks, I suppose, given its origins can’t help but respond to the ‘Merican need for all things over-sized and over-the-top, and they’ve named their drink-sizes accordingly. Honestly, isn’t it all a bit ridiculous?
starbucks_cover
But wait. Now, at the Starbucks on rue des Archives (and elsewhere I suppose), a little pamphlet is handed to you along with your change. I say little because it’s palm-sized, however, it contains twelve pages (count ‘em) of explanation about how to personalize your order.

If it takes twelve pages to explain to your customers how to order your product, is it possible that you’re making things a bit more complicated than they need to be?

ordre_et_exemples

Short-pants is reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears with her English class. She says the teacher doesn’t mean for them to perform it as a play; they’re just reading out loud together. (The teacher gets points from me on that one.) Yesterday I was listening to her recite her lines – she’s actually volunteered to read the lead role and has already memorized the damn thing – and when she got to the part about the chairs, it all made sense.

While interloping in the bears’ house, Goldilocks tries the big chair (too big), the medium chair (too hard) and the little chair (just right). It’s easy to figure out when you just say it like it is.
la_taille
Why can’t Starbucks just use good old fashioned plain language to describe its beverage sizes? Although I suppose ordering a medium (moyen or moyenne?) could still be too hard. But not the chairs. They’re just right.