The Starbucks Skinny: An Open Letter

While indulging in my afternoon holiday beverage today, I had a rather unpleasant encounter.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Here's a letter I sent to Starbucks after my experience.  Dear Starbucks,

I’m writing to you from your location on 78th and Lexington on New York City’s Upper East Side, a store I frequent almost daily for your addicting holiday drinks.

Today, after ordering my venti soy Gingerbread Latte I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a barista.

He asked if I wanted whipped cream on my beverage (I still don’t understand why this is offered to soy-opting customers, but that’s another story), I politely declined.  He then informed me that the whipped cream was “free” but I didn’t need the calories.  His words scalded me more than a 500 degree vat of Pike Place Blend.

Firstly, I ordered a venti latte packed with sugar and your new molasses syrup. I have an Ivy League education and pretty decent reading skills; I’m aware that I could have had a lower-calorie lunch, but these holiday drinks are my winter indulgence. If I didn’t need the calories I would have ordered an iced coffee with sugar-free syrup.  Telling a customer to “save” her calories is just bad business.

But that aside, I do not think it’s the place of any Starbucks employee, or any Starbucks customer, to tell me how many calories I do or do not need.   The mainstream media, women’s magazines, and plenty of uncouth New Yorkers already do more than enough to inform me how a woman “should look.”

Further, I don’t believe that the inappropriate comment would have been relayed to a man, or perhaps even a heavier woman (I came in wearing a size 2 Betsey Johnson dress, and I’ll fit into this outfit as long as I desire to, sipping my lattes along the way).  But just because I look a certain way does not mean that I don’t struggle with the body image insecurities of any other woman in the western world.

I’ve watched plenty of friends struggle with eating disorders, temporarily destroying their lives over something as trivial as weight, and had this comment been relayed to one of these women (maybe it has been?), I would be even more irate.

Maybe it was just an offensive joke, a one-off line to try and bond with a customer or make me laugh, but I’m sitting here completely offended.  If it weren’t for the deliciousness of your gingerbread latte (which I was tempted to throw in this particular barista’s face, I kid you not), I would not return to this location.  In fact, I will now return to this location armed with a variety of responses to the potential chauvinistic, offensive, or hurtful comments I may receive based on my order.  Should I be entering Starbucks ready to protect and defend myself?  As a young woman living independently in New York, I work hard, and I come to Starbucks to relax and enjoy a beverage, not worry about my waistline or other people’s opinions of me.

The Starbucks mission statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”  I did not receive my gingerbread latte feeling inspired and certainly not nurtured, and I believe that every one of your employees should strive to fulfill the mission of your company on a constant basis.

Thank you for your time.


Melissa, Proud Consumer of 400 Calorie Lattes

I recently married a peppermint mocha, come on, Starbucks...


Où le Starbucks?

Paris is all about "café culture."  You order a tiny espresso, chain smoke, and read a book or chat with friends for hours in the café.  Getting coffee is an activity, not an errand.  Carrying a plastic cup of the hot beverage (forget iced coffee, that doesn’t exist outside of Starbucks here) down the street is practically barbaric.  Coffee in France is a verb, not a noun, it’s something you do, not merely something you drink. While I adore the café culture, and it may be one of my favorite things about Paris, I cannot, and will not, give up my green plastic straw.

Therefore, on a street dotted with adorable cafés and boulangeries and patisseries, I shamefully write this from a Starbucks.

French baristas call out “bonjour” in a sing-songy voice each time a new patron walks in the door.  You place your order and chat a bit while they make one of the three overpriced menu items. I don’t know how to order iced coffee in French, and I’m far too embarrassed to ask for a mocha “not hot” so I’ve had to stick to Frappuccinos, as there is no translation. Being an American in Paris is rough.

I spent Saturday morning much like any Saturday in the city: slept in, walked down to the farmers’ market, did some light shopping, and made myself cozy in Starbucks to write and catch up on work.  It’s actually amazing how thousands of miles away from home I can still lead the same daily routine! It’s also incredibly sad.  #Americanization.


But daily routines have not been my Parisian experience.

So far, nothing has gone as planned, and I’ve loved every moment of it.

I guess this is similar to a summer in New York City, but in Paris, I never know where my day will take me and where my night will take me and who I’ll meet and what we’ll talk about.  On a quiet night on which I planned to watch a movie in bed I ended up on the roof of the Maison, drinking wine and being convinced to eat “tofu” sausage by a bunch of vegetarian-hating Parisian students. You think you’re headed one place with friends, and suddenly you stumble upon an even better destination.  The impulsive unpredictability makes every night so unique and fun!

Americans think of Europeans as being very chic.  At least, I do.  This, it turns out, is not the case in many situations.

Last night, after dinner at a delicious Italian restaurant in the Marais and a quick visit to a bar playing The L Word  and Robyn simultaneously (seriously?), I ended up at an American bar/club with a group of Spanish students. The bar was covered in ads for PBR and Alabama Slammers and other things Americans presumably like.  “Who Let the Dogs Out” was blasting on the speakers.  Everyone was attempting to speak very poor English.  The dance cave in the basement really topped it off.  I could mention that I was proposed to, and if it weren’t for my excellent moral judgment, I could very well be engaged right now, but that’s not part relevant to American culture…

Walking home past the Sorbonne at dawn, laughing about our cultural exchange, I was glad for another unpredictable night in Pareee.