Courtesy of my mother and her friend Julie, I have a whole lot of Starbucks bucks dangling from my keychain (keychain giftcard: best invention ever, props, Starbucks!). So rather than my usual stop at Dunkin' Donuts in the morning, I've been going to Starbucks instead. Some of you may remember that last September I was severly traumatized when my Starbucks (27th & 3rd) closed. Given the ubiquitousness of Starbucks, I would have thought that it would be simple to pick a new location and start going there instead. Not so, my friend. The only two locations that I pass (without going out of my way) on my walk to work are the big one on 29th & Park and a smaller one on 32nd & 2nd. And to be honest, the one on 32nd is a few steps out of my way. Regardless, I spent a few weeks experimenting with both locations.
The one on 29th & Park is ridiculously overcrowded. Right outside of the 6 train, it fills with hoards of people coming off the subway looking for their morning caffeine fix (or second fix for those who walk in carrying cups to be refilled). That location also serves the numerous corporate complexes within the 10 surrounding blocks, as the nearest locations on Park Avenue are at 23rd and 34th Streets. The line is always long, there's not enough people working there, and they only keep one register open (despite the fact that they have 3). I gave that location a D+. The only thing that kept them from failing is their ability to get the drink right on the first try.
The Starbucks on 32nd & 2nd proved to be a quieter option in the morning. Since there's no subway nearby, it doesn't seem to attract the commuters that the other one does. It's usually just the locals in there and frazzled parents feeding their kids a last minute breakfast before depositing them at PS116 down the street. I decided that, given the options, it's the lesser of two evils. The line is generally short, the kids pretty tame (as long as it's winter and they're too bundled up to move) and the whole experience moves pretty quickly. Until you ask for a complicated drink. And then all hell breaks loose. You repeat it three times to the cashier taking the order while she attempts to write it on the cup: "Yes, I'd like a grande iced decaf with sugar free vanilla and half whole milk, half skim milk and three Splendas in a venti cup." She jots down a few notes. "Yes, that's DECAF." She scratches out a few lines. "No, sugar FREE vanilla." She shades a different box. "Right- 1/2 skim, 1/2 whole milk, I could put it in myself if you'd leave the milk cannisters out like you used to." And then she passes the cup, notes and all, over to the barista. Who I have started referring to as the Phi Beta Barista. Even with the whole drink written out for her, ON THE CUP, she still gets it wrong. Every morning, as she hands me my drink, I politely remind her: "That's decaf, right?" And she tosses the whole thing and starts again. Cup and all. As soon as I see her start pumping the syrup in, I have to remind her: "Sugar FREE vanilla, please!" Another cup tossed. As she works on the third cup, I walk her through it: "Venti cup. Sugar FREE vanilla. Ice. DEFAF coffee. Halfway up to the grande line. Three Splendas. Now fill the remaining space with 1/2 whole milk and 1/2 skim milk." And then she finally hands my cup to me looking all proud of herself for getting the drink right.