Dear Starbucks: Please Stop “Butchering” My Name!

Starbucks “butchered” the spelling of my name again this afternoon! I am sure this, per se, is not any news to most people who have been to Starbucks. And it did not surprise me — since this happens every time I visit. What it did to me, however, was give me a revelation. Perhaps, it is time for some “consumer activism” on my side. Perhaps, it is time to give Starbucks a long-due piece of advice.

The revelation for me was that asking for my name when ordering a drink does not add any value to me as a customer. It is not that this gesture of fake intimacy and familiarity makes me feel like Starbucks or the barista are my friends. It is not that it makes me get my drink faster and with less hassle. To the contrary, it makes me feel pretty bad. It singles me out as the “guy with the weird foreign-sounding name” that is too hard to fathom, write down and pronounce. It makes me uncomfortable ordering.

Many a time have I vowed to myself to fake a name when ordering at Starbucks. Many of the usual suspects of easy, household names have passed through my mind. Bob, John, Joe, Dave, Peter… But, then again, I asked myself why I should bother changing my identity (even for a second) due to Starbuck’s half-baked customer experience process? Besides, it is not like Starbucks baristas spell easy, household names correctly. Just take a look at one of the many photo blogs dedicated to people who took pictures of their names, misspelled on Starbucks cups. I can’t help noticing that even the quite usual and easy-sounding Wendy has been butchered to Whendee. Obviously, Starbucks employees are taught so stringently to stay away from the competition that they have never ever bought a burger meal at Wendy’s. 🙂

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me today was the fact that I spelled my name slowly and clearly to the guy at the cash register: E-M-I-L. He duly repeated the spelled letters in the correct order, then turned around to the barista and shouted “A-M-I-O! Or something like that!” Yes — I thought to myself — I guess a customer is worth just as much as “something like that” to those guys… The even more frustrating fact is that I have been going to that particular Starbucks store for a number of years and they have consistently been misspelling my name the same way: A-M-I-O. I wonder how they did not make the “mistake” of spelling my name correctly at least once during that time!

So… back to my revelation. Today, I started wondering why we — the customers — need to endure the pain of spelling our names in front of a whole group of strangers, only to see them “butchered” in misspellings on the coffee cups, and occasionally hear them “butchered” even more badly by the barista when she shouts out loud her own version of what was written on the cup! Why are we not just assigned a number to our order, like in so many other places? I don’t think being assigned the number 25, for example, is any less personal than hearing a bad rendition of my name. In fact, it is at least less offensive to my ears! Which is why I feel much better every time I go to the competition next door to this Starbucks store — a place owned by the Cosi chain where I am promptly issued an order number and given a small cardboard sign with that number. No need to worry about spelling my name, no need to fret about how the cashier will write it down, no need to hypothesize quietly how the server will shout out my name when my order is ready. Simply sit back, relax, and wait to hear Number 25!

Update #1: “Pas de Nom, Pas de Café!”
Having read my post, a friend told me over the weekend of a cool scene from a new French movie, called Et Soudain Tout Le Monde Me Manque. One of the protagonists goes to a Starbucks and orders a coffee. When she refuses to give out her name, the barista tells her with a typical Parisian nonchalance “Pas de nom, pas de café!” (i.e., “No name, no coffee!”) What a great quote! Perhaps they can print it on the styrofoam cups so we — the customers — never forget… Thanks for the referral to a great quote, Doron!

Update #2: The Naming Convention with a Southern Twist!
A few days ago, I went to a local bakery/coffee store, called Bayou, to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. The place specializes in New Orleans cuisine and offers a nice Southern atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised (although a bit perplexed in the beginning) that Bayou had put its own twist on the coffee-ordering naming convention. Instead of asking for my name only to misspell and mispronounce it, the barista handed me a cardboard sign that already had an assigned name. Thus, for the few minutes I was waiting for my hot beverage, I was called “St. Charles.” To simplify things, the cardboard sign also contained phonetic transcription of the name so I knew without any doubt how it would be called out from the counter, when my coffee got ready. How ingenious! 🙂

Update #3: Starbucks is Listening!

I’ve recently noticed a changed behavior in my local Starbucks. The baristas seem to pay more attention when they ask for my name. And some times they actually get it right. I am not sure if that has anything to do at all with my post here (I doubt it since my post is one of the many out there on the same topic), but I somehow see a strange sparkle in some of the barista’s eyes when they hear me say my name is Emil… 🙂 Anyway, I got my name properly spelled today! Hooray!

What do you think? Shall Starbucks change its policy and start issuing numbered orders, instead of asking for customer names? I have created a quick poll on this topic (see below). Please vote for the answer that best represents your opinion.

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13 Responses to Dear Starbucks: Please Stop “Butchering” My Name!

  1. Boyan says:

    The Starbucks spelling problem is part of a bigger issue – the majority of the people in this country cannot spell! I’ve had many issues with my five letter name even when filling out a form where I have written my name carefully with capital letters. This is a nation of diversity and there are all kinds of names, but even if we exclude the foreign names, the spelling problem persists. Living on Massachusetts avenue, I have been asked to spell out the name of the street only to find out later they missed one “s” or “t”… In addition, I guess I need to learn the military alpha, delta, etc codes so I can hope to be understood…

    To answer your question, they should go with numbers!

    • Emil_M says:

      I think computers and smartphones are partially responsible for the spelling challenge we are facing. I used to be a perfect speller a few years ago. Now, I catch myself checking the spelling of simple words. It is ironic how “smart” technology “dumbs” us down but that should be the topic of a standalone post. Regarding the alpha, bravo, etc. convention – that may indeed help, but to a limit. I think the person who has a hard time repeating the spelling of E-M-I-L a mere second after he had heard it from me needs to treat himself/herself for attention disorder before learning a whole new convention of naming letters. Thanks for voting in my impromptu poll.

  2. Bobbie says:

    Emo, next time you go, just say your name is Amio- you will be happy they wrote what you told them to, and they will be happy they are (finally) starting to remember customers’ names.;) And speaking of names, I currently go by Boris Marhueva in the local Safeway store and employees never fail to tell me, “You saved X today, Ms. Marhueva.”. ;-))

  3. Mariya says:

    Very interesting point. I guess Starbucks is consistently inconsistent with claiming that they care about their customers, yet misspelling their names! I do agree that numbers would work way better. However, if Starbucks actually cares about “personalizing” customer coffee cups, then they would need to invest in targeted employee training around friendly customer service (including active listening and proper spelling:).

    Another example of consistent inconsistency is presented by the pretentious terms around coffee sizes – Tall, Grande and Venti. If I am trying to learn Italian (notice, not even all three words stick to one language), I am way better off taking language classes vs. buying coffee – “Grande” means “large” in Italian. At Starbucks however, it represents the “medium” size!

    So at Starbucks I stick to basics – I use the American language when I order a small, medium or large-sized coffee. Maybe you can just simply call yourself “Person” next time and they will hopefully, spell that right 🙂

  4. Doron Hallis says:

    Reminds me of a scene in a recent French film (Et soudain tout le monde me manque) which happens at a Parisian Starbucks. The heroine is reluctant to give her name to the barrista. So, in classic French customer service, he blurts out: “pas de nom, pas de cafe!!!”

    • Emil_M says:

      Great movie reference, Doron! Thanks for highlighting it! 🙂 This tempts me to get a custom-printed t-shirt that has a starbucks cup and the tagline “Pas de nom, pas de cafe!!!” underneath. 🙂

  5. Test123 says:

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  6. broadyesl says:

    Reblogged this on BroadyESL and commented:
    To whom of you has this happened before? And have you done this to your students’ names?

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