Starbucks had their baristas stop writing “Race Together” on customer coffee cups after only one week of their controversial campaign. Starbucks wanted their baristas to start a conversation about race inequality through the “Race Together” initiative, but customers were not so enthused. Though Starbucks had good intentions, a conversation about race in a long line of people who are probably in a hurry to get to work is not the time or place.
Starbucks didn’t think about who this campaign would impact on a day to day basis. Aside from creating an annoyance for customers, Starbucks set baristas up for failure by not training them properly for the initiative and adding an impossible task to their already heavy workload. I used to be a barista at a small, understaffed café. Cafés are commonly thought of as quaint places to grab a cup of coffee and relax, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, even the smallest cafés generate a lot of traffic, coffee is high in demand. Many of the articles surrounding the “Race Together” initiative speak of the discomfort felt by the customers, but the baristas were the ones who were the most inconvenienced by it.
A good barista is quick, friendly and efficient. The amount of work that goes into running a high traffic café is tremendous. The baristas must keep the work place clean, (at Starbucks) they must serve their coffee in under three minutes, they have to bake when the food case is understocked, and most importantly keep the customers happy. If you factor in being forced by your employer to begin a deep conversation with a customer, about anything for that matter, the barista’s work environment becomes stressful at best and unmanageable at worst. This does not make a good experience for customers from a customer service standpoint. Starbucks executives know that the extended wait time created by the “Race Together” initiative could negatively impact their company’s efficiency; however, they had placed their priority in the campaign, according to Business Insider.
The “Race Together” campaign, while not placed in the correct setting, does bring up a good point. Perhaps Starbucks wanted to demonstrate with their controversial campaign that when people are asked to discuss race, anger is the popular response. The company claims that it was always their intention to end the “Race Together” cups Sunday, March 22 stating: “The cups were ‘just the catalyst’ for a larger conversation, and Starbucks will still hold forum discussions, co-produce special sections in USA TODAY and put more stores in minority communities as part of the Race Together initiative,” reported by the Associated Press. Whether there is any truth to the campaign’s ‘planned’ trajectory or not, Starbucks will have to be careful with their next move toward the initiative. They have succeeded in pointing out that people don’t want to talk about race while in line for coffee, but that’s not really a success. Consumers may be too annoyed now to take Starbucks’ good intentioned initiative seriously. The conversation that has been sparked is not really about race right now, it’s about Starbucks.
Starbucks’ “Race Together” has been accused of being “opportunistic and inappropriate at a time of national protests over police killings of unarmed black men,” reports komonews.com. Since an actual discussion about race doesn’t seem to be the subject of conversation surrounding their initiative, these accusations do have some merit. Starbucks has done less of what they have said they were hoping to do in their company memo, and did more for themselves by having the Starbucks brand be the name on everyone’s tongue, even if the feedback was negative. In addition, their promotional images for the initiative have shown a distinct lack of diversity. The main marketing photo for “Race Together” only features a white barista, according to BBC News.
The “Race Together” campaign has been stressful on everyone involved. Stressful on baristas, customers and members of minority groups who were supposed to be gaining support from this campaign. A constructive conversation about race does need to happen. We can’t stop inequality if we don’t talk about race, but this campaign generated more conversation about the corporation and almost none about race inequality. I’d call that a failure.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.