Coffee Shop Hypnosis

by on December 20th, 2010
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I gave my daughter $4 the other day for lunch money – the current balance shows at the register when she goes to the lunchroom each day and she only had about a dollar left – and then replenished her school account online. Right before we left the house the next morning she pulled the now unneeded cash out of her backpack and handed it to me, “You should get yourself a Starbucks, Mommy.” What a generous, wonderful kid.

After we walked to school and I started back, I thought, “Why not?” and headed over to our local Starbucks. When I walk with the kid to school I usually only carry my keys and my iPhone, never money, so with her four bucks in my pocket I felt flush. What was I thinking?

As I waited to get up to the counter I looked at the board. A chai tea was $3 and change. I think they charge an extra 50 cents for soy milk, so I thought I should be good. Somehow, after the cashier called out my order for a grande soy chai the total was $5.15. I know this is Palm Beach, but that’s ridiculous (I thought). I told her, “Oh. I only brought $4 with me, you better make that a tall instead.” The cashier grimaced and yelled the order – to her barista coworker who was less than three feet away. Now the total was 4.60 something. This must be the new math.

I held up the four dollar bills again, reminding her, “You’re killing me with the soy. What if I had a plain grande tea?” The barista gritted her teeth and re-totaled, “$4.14. Does that work for you?” Amazed, I answered, “I still just have the four dollars. What about a plain tall tea?” Clearly I was in danger of breaching some sort of Starbucks etiquette with all of this haggling. Finally a total around the price that I had originally seen up on the board for a grande chai was achieved and I handed her my four dollars and she handed me my change. In the meantime, the quiet girl who was making the tea said to me, “I already steamed the milk,” and handed me a tall soy chai, with the cashier fuming as I left.

Since when can $4 dollars not be enough to buy a cup of tea? Since we have allowed ourselves to become hypnotized by coffee shop culture. I admit, I love Starbucks and similar places. The convenience, the ambience. I realize that chai tea or coffee or whatever specialty drink floats your boat is not really what we’re paying for. We’re paying for the vibe, the convenience, the “free” wifi. I used to love my regular Starbucks coffee dates with friends and coworkers when I was living in Washington, D.C. I miss them and that whole culture. ButI’m pretty sure I wasn’t paying $5.15 every day for my tea.

Here in Florida, I either walk to this particular outpost or more frequently, hit the drive-thru Starbucks on the way home from running errands or picking up the kid. I have cut down the frequency of my consumption of the tasty beverage, mostly for the sugar content. But I know that the drive-thru prices, like Washington D.C.’s, are a heck of a lot cheaper than what I was confronted with on Worth Avenue. Apparently Starbucks pricing is as fluid as its wares.

Regional pricing is not new, but it still stinks. The grande soy chai is just the same wherever I buy it. I shouldn’t have to pay a premium for it because it’s in a tony shopping district or located inside a Target. Will I go back to the Palm Beach Starbucks? Probably not for a while. Or at least not with a card or a wallet in my pocket next time.

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