Iced Cappucino, Scourge of Starbucks

If you order an iced cappucino at Starbucks, the cashier will tell you “we’re not supposed to make iced cappucino, but we’ll make one for you.” I guess you’re supposed to feel like they’re cutting you a break but, shh, don’t tell everyone.

Perhaps inspired by the current book I’m reading, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” I had an overly literal reaction to this disclosure. I pointed to the menu on the wall above the barrista’s station. It listed all the coffee drinks including cappucino. Each one could be purchased “hot or iced.”

“You got us on a technicality,” one of the employees said, laughing like the jig was up.

A technicality? “It’s on your menu. It’s been there for years.”

Finally, they let me in on the real secret. Apparently, the Starbucks corporation is worried about the possibility of bacteria forming growing when the heated foam hits the ice cubes. So employees are instructed to say what the cashier said to me. I assume the company’s lawyers came up with this.  Perhaps they have gotten a ruling that the company would not be liable if I come down with food poisoning after such a dialogue.

If I keel over in the next few hours, Starbucks will be able to say, “We warned him, but he ignored us, the poor chap.”

It’s a weird way to manage a liability problem, to orchestrate a conversation between employees and customers that’s supposed to seem friendly, spontaneous and intimate.

Corporate practices like this tend to replicate themselves.  I’m already used to being asked at Pavillion’s whether I want help carrying my groceries to my car, even if I’m only buying a tube of toothpaste.  You’d think the clerks would have figured out by now that I’m perfectly capable of pushing a cartful of groceries.  I’ve been shopping there for years, and I don’t recall ever passing out from exhaustion in their presence. But, of course, “we’re required to ask,” so this charade of a friendly offer will continue, and I will continue to be forced to say, “No, but thank you.”

But the Starbucks variation — “We’re not supposed to make it for you” — is a new one.  Anyone else run into something like this?

9 thoughts on “Iced Cappucino, Scourge of Starbucks

  1. That phrase doesn’t seem like it should be able to shield you from liability, if they’re violating health codes. Try making a few substitutions:

    Merchant: We’re not supposed to sell black market ivory. But we’ll do it for you.
    State government official: We’re not supposed to allow businesses to dump waste in the river. But we’ll do it for you.

    Too much of a stretch? Perhaps it’s not a health code yet. But the fact is, the barista did not warn you about the possibility of bacteria forming until you grilled her about it. I’m no lawyer, but withholding that kind of information sounds like grounds for a lawsuit, if someone got sick — especially when compared to that McDonald’s lawsuit. Everyone knows coffee is hot and can burn you. Not everyone knows ice in capuccino foam forms bacteria.

  2. Well, fortunately, I survived. And the drink was delicious. In fact, maybe I’ll go have another one.

    I’ve been looking around on the web for confirmation of this foam-on-ice = poison phenomenon, and haven’t found anything.

    Believe me, the last thing I’m trying to do with this light-hearted post is to inspire more lawsuits! If I thought anyone was going to sue Starbucks based on this post, I might have to shut down the blog.

  3. I would not make it for you because it is a silly drink. You are rediculous for even requesting it. You should have asked for an iced cafe latte; and the barista should have told you this is what you actually wanted. Sir, bacteria doesn’t form, it grows.

  4. A universal pox on all of you. I have to stand in line for my macchiato or cappuccino behind every thong-wearing teenager who wouldn’t know a real coffee drink if it came with a picture of a Ethiopian farm worker.

  5. as a 14 yr. partner with Starbucks, I can ASSURE you this is NOT an official part of their training, rather an “urban legend” that just won’t die.
    Yes, baristas are still trained this way, but not because Starbucks teaches it….
    crazy… every new store I take over I have to eradicate this myth!

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