Those of us who’ve read Naomi Klein’s compelling account in No Logo of how Starbucks mark out, invade and conquer new territory will not be sad to hear that the caffeine empire may have outstretched its effective reach. Read more about this here, from today’s Guardian.
What always strikes me when the need for coffee hits me in England (apart from the price: an espresso in Rome costs, typically, around 50p; in the UK, three times as much) is just how totally incapable the workers in these places tend to be. It’s not just Starbucks, it’s everywhere. Caffe Nero, Costa, they’re all the same. The longer the queue, the worse the service, as though some perverse mechanism were in place to punish the customers for being legion. Half a dozen teenagers in branded tee-shirts faff around from till to coffee-machine to counter with as much sequential logic as decapitated fowl. They squabble over (dirty) trays, put coffee into the filter thingumybob then stand and think about the nature of cups, or life, or something. They wait for the coffee to fill the cup before heating the milk for cappuccino. They put plates of doughnuts on top of other plates of doughnuts. They do everything, all of them, and all of it badly, as though Adam Smith had never lived nor wrote. And the managers are no better than the trainees.
I’m now going to be an Italy bore for a sentence or two, but as I spend so much time criticising the country, it’s only fair that you bear with me for a moment. In any ordinary bar in Italy, you’ll find a person at the till who takes your money and gives you your receipt (in a bar that doesn’t know you, obviously; otherwise, you pay as you leave). You take your receipt to the bar where a barman (rarely a woman) glances at the receipt and puts the appropriate saucer and spoon on the counter. This tells him at a glance how many espressos and cappuccinos he needs to make. He puts the coffee into the filter, slams it home, takes advantage of the time it takes for the coffee to descend to straighten the spoons in the sugar bowl or load the dishwasher or chat about football. When the cup’s full (as in half-full; no espresso fills the cup), he puts it instantly on its saucer. You drink it, smile, say Grazie, buon giorno, and off you go. It’s taken five minutes at the most. Of course, if you want to, you can dawdle, read the newspaper that’s lying around on one of the tables. But what you came in for is a coffee, piping hot, fragrant, and fast. From a clean cup. It isn’t difficult. If a country that’s famous for not being able to organise can do it, it can’t be that hard.