Friday, March 23, 2012

Lady Liberty - Euro Version

The huddled masses?

They are alive and well and waiting for their beverages at Starbucks.

Starbucks is a relatively new phenom here in Dutchie land.  Until about three years ago,  there wasn't a Starbucks to be had over here in the land of windmills.  Starbucks has long had their European Distribution Center here in NL, but were reluctant to put retail stores here.  For many years the whole coffee to go culture was taboo here.  Dutchies like to go out for coffee, not carry it down the street with them.  After it started to catch on here, for a while no one thought Starbucks could compete with the Dutch chains as the Dutch are very loyal to their own brands and resent American Imperialism ala Franchising.  

About 3 years ago Starbucks made it's first foray into the Dutch market to test the waters by opening a couple of outlets at Schiphol Airport.  Schiphol, for many, the gateway airport between east and west (and a way better facility than Heathrow or that sh-thole Charles de Gaulle), was a perfect spot for Starbucks to get a leg into the Dutch market.  Lots of international travelers meant brand recognition and an instant consumer base.  Later on Starbucks made a deal with the Dutch Railway systems an started opening more stores in train stations.  Last year, they started their descent on Amsterdam proper and in the last year they have opened 4 new stores in Amsterdam and are giving their fiercest Dutch competitor, Coffee Company a run for their money

I love Starbucks.  Not because it is the best coffee ever, but because of that brand recognition.  It is a little piece of home.   That white cup with a sleeve makes me feel good.  

I had thought though that when Starbucks finally made it's way in, that I would frequent it a lot and pick up a daily Starbucks habit, but I really haven't.  When I am in the US it is mostly a twice a day habit.  But somehow I just can't seem to make it a daily habit.  

For one Starbucks is pretty expensive here, even more so than in the US, plus you earn less money here so you feel that 4-5 Euros a cup much more.  

Starbucks is just a little out of my way.  The Starbucks most in my direct path is the one at the central train station in Amsterdam.  Although I go through the station twice a day on working days for my commute, I don't actually go inside the station but exit the subway and walk underground and exit the station.  I don't have to go inside, it is a little bit of a detour to go into the station for Starbucks.  I have to walk 5 minutes out of my way and five minutes back and most of the time I am late for work as it is.  

Second, my office has great coffee already.  When I first started working at my office 10 years ago, they had the absolute worst coffee.  I mean absolute swill.  Even American Maxwell House had this crap beat.  Me, who loves and needs coffee to function didn't ever drink coffee at work.  I lamented the lack of Starbucks every single day back then.  I used to go so far as to bring a little thermos (hello 1950's), or sneak down to the client meeting rooms where there was decent coffee and would sneak myself a cup.  

Finally after a while our company figured out that one of the most important keys to people dedicating themselves to their careers meant that the office had to serve great coffee.  So we got fabulous coffee.  Espresso, cappucino's lattes, all at the touch of a button.  Each cup freshly ground per order none of that powdered milk crap, it is fresh foamed milk which is stored in this little refrigerated gray box that is automatically pumped in and automatically steamed and foamed and then plunked onto your espresso.  

So, as much as I love the Starbucks brand and the feel of that white and green cup in my hands, I get just as good coffee for free.  

And third and probably the biggest factor is that Starbucks here is inefficient.  Don't get me wrong The service is very good, new stores are trained by American employees and they really have adopted American standards of service.  It is not the Disneyland Paris version of the Disney experience but the same Starbucks standards.  

What I mean by inefficiency is that Dutch consumers are the most unsophisticated consumers ever.  I love the Dutch but in a Starbucks, they drive me absolutely positively bonkers.  


Because they are not educated Starbucks consumers and they cannot get the hang of Starbucks.  

It's like putting a giraffe in a tuxedo.  Awkward, ill fitting and out of place.  

You walk into Starbucks here and it is usually pretty crowded.  So much so that in most stores, most of the time, someone is taking orders even before you get to the register because the lines are long.  

This brings you to the first hurdle.  Dutchies have no idea what they want to drink.  They stare straight ahead and they wait until someone asks for their order to start looking at the menu.  They stand, they looked puzzled, they start reading the menu and asking what a Frappucino is -  oh, please not Frappucino that you have to build from scratch.  Then they don't understand the choices they have to make - picking your coffee, your flavor and your topping or whatever the crap you have to pick for Frappucino, which I don't drink.  I go to Starbucks for coffee, if I wanted a milkshake I'd hop over to 31 Flavors.  

To be fair though, I can get that if you are not all that familiar with Starbucks or have never been to one, you might not know what they have, but you've heard all about Starbucks and it might take  you a minute or two to figure out what you want.  

So I should just lighten the f up about it.  Right?

But then, but then, they just can't order their drink.  They get all stressed out about the sizes and can't understand that a grande means small.  I've been in Starbucks at least 10 times where some Dutchie in front of me starts telling the Barista that they don't understand how grande can mean small.  Um because Starbucks was invented in the US, where bigger is better, so a small is still a big coffee.  

I shudder to think of all the Dutch people who would have a stroke if they saw a Big Gulp.

You can just see that the sizes stress them out.  They are too big, which is the next thing that falls out of their mouth.  Who needs that big a cup of coffee?  Lady, just order your sh-t and move down the line.  Still after the Barista politely explains all the sizes and shows them the big fat visual display of them which is usually at this point in the line, about 2 inches from their noses (a couple millimeters for those of you who think I don't know the metric system) can't get the hang of the sizes or the size names, they order their cappucino but when asked what size they want, they say, "gewoon" (which is Dutch for normal).  

What the hell size is that?  3 cups with the names clearly printed in clear lettering all there for you to see.  See the size you want and repeat the name on the placard.

I thought Europeans were good at just following orders.  Hmmmm.

If I worked at Starbucks I would automatically charge someone for a Venti every time someone ordered a normal coffee.    

Another of my favorite annoying scenarios is when the world of espresso and cappucino is just too complicated and they go for the simpler option of just regular coffee.  "Just coffee". Um, It's all coffee.  Then they get all flabbergasted when they have to again make a choice because Starbucks always brews at least two flavors of drip coffee and then they need a complete explanation of what each flavor is.  Then, for the really super dumb ones, the whole size thing starts again.

Then, they look completely perplexed when the Barista asks if they want room for milk.  

Even in the UK, the Starbucks customers are way more sophisticated than here.  They can somehow master the whole ordering process and compute the sizes.  

Grande Hazelnut extra hot cappucino
Venti skinny latte
None of this, um-er-coffee-ah-do-you-have-latte?

And don't even get me started with the food choices.  

Seriously, the Dutch make a career out of complaining about how inconvenient everything in this society is.  They lament chapter and verse about how non-customer focused the service industry is here.  

But give 'em efficiency and convenience and what do you get?  An entire nation drops it's jaws and starts stuttering and muttering.

It comes down to this, Dutch consumers have a hard time handling a situation that is geared for maximum convenience, because nothing here is inherently convenient.  So even when presented with convenience, they freeze.

It's the same reason that at Euro Disney how Europeans cannot seem to fill up all the space in the line and not line up single file.  Their societies are not geared for convenience and for pushing through the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time.  It's why European restaurants are built on the one-seating-per-night philosophy and not on turning tables.  That's why European restaurants cost an arm and a leg.  They are only going to fill up once usually so they have to make all their money out of one seating.

The ordering of your coffee, that's not even the worst of the Dutch Starbucks experience.  You know what's the worst?  The waiting for your beverage.  

The Dutch just don't get the concept of moving all the way down to the end of the line to wait for their bevs. They keep huddled around the cash registers spilling into the ordering line totally unaware of what is going on.  The poor Barista's charged with lidding and calling the drinks out to be picked up has the crappiest job.  She shouts out the drink and everyone just stands there with their mouths hanging open.  

Grande mocha latte?  Nothing.  



"Ma'am are you waiting for a grande mocha latte?"

"Er-um, No, I don't think so.  I got a medium latte with mocha syrup.


Dana. Drops. Dead.  

Seriously if Starbucks didn't start that annoying practice of now taking your name and writing it on your cup, those Dutchies would stand there for two weeks waiting for their coffee.  They probably started the practice in order to stop throwing perfectly good hazelnut mocha lattes away because the Dutch cannot handle knowing what they ordered and listening for their order.  

I just don't get what is so difficult about it?  When they go sit at a cafe they know exactly what they want.  They don't stammer and stutter their order.  They don't even need to think about it.  

OK, sure Starbucks has a lot of options, way more than a Dutch cafe (hot or cold, the dessert posing as coffee thing) but still but given that probably 30% of customers are fickle and not creatures of habit when it comes to ordering coffee, most are.  Certainly by your second or third visit you can get the hang of it.    

Seriously, Americans get it.  Can it be that tough?

If  you can build an intricate system of dykes to keep this little country, significant portions of which are below sea level from being constantly flooded, surely you can master ordering at Starbucks, right?   


Sorry Starbucks.  I can't be a regular.  


  1. You just made me laugh.
    And need a coffee.

    FWIW, all but 4 Starbucks closed down in Sydney. Australians love their coffee, but couldn't deal with all the options. They just stopped going.

    To me, though, a Starbucks hot chocolate is heaven on a stick.


  2. Money quotes:

    "I shudder to think of all the Dutch people who would have a stroke if they saw a Big Gulp."

    "Their societies are not geared for convenience and for pushing through the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time." Hmmm, let's not mention trains...

    and of course, "Americans get it. Can it be that tough?"

    Interestingly,or maybe not, take away coffee isn't big in Israel either. People have a cafe culture, and want to sit and chat over their coffee, not run to catch the bus with it.

    1. Lita, it's not lost on me the bit about efficiency and trains. I had a line in there, not about trains but at certain other activities where Europeans have proven they are assembly line efficient, but thought better of it.

    this was too entertaining
    I adore starbucks
    I love america and the way they have done efficiency