Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Star(buck)s in Her Eyes

Yesterday, I was exhausted in class, having just come back from break and not yet adjusted to so few hours of sleep. We got out a little early, and I went to Starbucks.

Starbucks, in recent years, has come to represent almost as many things as WalMart or Barack Obama. It's everything from a daily ritual to a tragic story of a small coffeeshop that sold out to corporate dreams. It's everything from an example of foolish fiscal decisions to a source of weight gain. It's everything from a meeting place to a cultural revolution that made coffee an event in itself. For me yesterday, Starbucks was the setting of an adventure in business casual.

See, what I really wanted was Pumpkin Spice flavored coffee from Guy & Gallard. Knowing that I didn't have quite enough time to get there (and there being no guarantee they'd have that flavor), I went to the Starbucks in my building. Once there, I was tragically lured by the delicious call of their "holiday beverages." These are drinks that feature milk and flavored syrup in various shades of caloric detriment. Oh! And they have coffee in them somewhere, too. Living in NYC, all chain restaurants are required to post calorie information, so I could see exactly what an Egg Nog Latte or Peppermint Mocha would do to my waistline. Whee.

I wanted something really caffeinated, so my usual trick of getting a misto with added syrup — (it's half drip coffee, half steamed milk, instead of a latte, which is an espresso shot with a cup full of steamed milk) wasn't going to cut it. I wanted espresso. I also wanted sugar. I didn't want calories. I had a giftcard, so money wasn't a huge issue, but I still wanted to keep it within the stratosphere.

My roommate was getting a Green Tea Frappuchino, so my eyes wandered over to the previously-taboo Frappuchino board, which now featured things like choosing your own milk (instead of being stuck with whole), and — what was this? — EXTRA COFFEE. Not only that, but because Frappuchinos are blended with ice, they actually had fewer calories than their regular-froofroo-coffee counterparts! Glory hallelujah! One grande, non-fat, extra coffee, I'm-sorry-this-is-such-a-complicated-obnoxious-order peppermint mocha frappuchino later, I was out $5.08 on my giftcard, and much more awake. There were so many economic principles at work here, it boggles the mind.

First, there was the decision tree of tradeoffs. Initially, I had the convenience and giftcard vs. Guy & Gallard deliciousness tradeoff. Convenience and the giftcard won. Next, I had the caffeine and yumminess vs. calories tradeoff. Caffeine and yumminess won, but calories were still a mild concern. Then I had the guilt vs. getting the coffee I want tradeoff. The coffee won. As Lisa Lee, a reporter for the Dow Jones Newswires says, "You can't separate the psychology and the sociology from economics. At its root, economics is about the decisions of individual people." All my psychological tradeoffs eventually led me to my coffee choice.

Second, there was the outrageous price. $5.08 for 16 oz. of blended beverage works out to be $0.3175 per oz. That makes it $40.64 per gallon (128 fluid oz)! Granted, in NYC the cost of living is much higher, and granted, that includes tax. Still. Whatever else can be said about Starbucks, they absolutely know how to make a buck.

Third, even though it offends our sensibilities that what's basically a cup of coffee that's been stuck in a blender with a load of sugar is so ridiculously expensive, there's absolutely a market for it. In the world of supply and demand, if no one wants to pay $5.08 for 12 oz of really yummy stuff, they won't, and the supply will dwindle too. A Starbucks on every corner though, indicates that wrong though it may be, people are willing to pay a large sum of money to get their coffee just the way they want it.

Fourth, Starbucks has found its market niche. It's the people who value their coffee, just the way they want it, and appreciate the convenience of not having to make it themselves, having it available via drivethru window or office building, and will sometimes come and enjoy the atmosphere. Oh, and the girls who can't stay awake through philosophy and don't want to walk all the way to Guy & Gallard.

I decided to order really expensive coffee in:
Grayish pencil skirt, black ruffled top, olive green fitted jacket with eyelet detail, purple and gold beaded dangle earrings, faux antique charm bracelet, black patterned tights, and black and gray wingtip-inspired stilettos.