Back in the early 1980s, when I was but three or four years old, my hair just as an upturned bowl, golden of sheen, and my young and uncomplicated mind knowing scarcely a care in the world, I was living in Arlington, Virginia, a quiet and leafy suburb of Washington, DC, with my mother, father, and older brother. What an idyllic life we shared. Among many fond memories, I remember that there was a family that our family was friends with, and our two families had developed a tradition of going to dinner together - on special occasions, by the way - to a restaurant known, then as now, as Pizza Hut.
I remember Pizza Hut being a pretty classy place. There was a waitress, menus at the table, atmospheric lighting - and above all, exquisite pizza, served in some sort of cast-iron pan that I was always warned was very, very hot. In other words, Pizza Hut was the sort of place that a self-respecting young professional, recently entered into government service, could propose taking his family to dinner without risking being laughed out of the room or called a chump. Could the contrast with the Pizza Hut of 2007 be any starker, when, in truth, to describe Pizza Hut today as an utter dump would be to put the point kindly? (And, as an aside, the name of its parent company has always had a terrific ability to piss me off: "Yum! Brands." Could anything be less appetizing?)
Few would argue that something - God shudders to think exactly what - but something happened at Pizza Hut between 1984 and 2007, precipitating a transformation from pleasant family restaurant to what is today an unspeakable cesspool, where the pizza is rivaled in mediocrity only by the abominable service that delivers it. And of course, the company's efforts to seduce customers with the promise of increasingly monstrous quantities of cheese are alluring only to the least savory among us, whisking the restaurant even further away from anything that could unblushingly be called a "yum!" brand.
And this phenomenon is by no means restricted to Pizza Hut. Did anyone's parents ever take them to get ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins? And wasn't that a magical, meaningful experience? In the 1980s, Baskin-Robbins was THE place to go for ice cream. Fast forward about 20 years, and the place fucking sucks. Somewhere down the line, the company's Chief Operating Officer decided to hang a "Gone Fishin'" sign on his office door and the son of a gun ain't been seen or heard from since.
Now, I have lately found myself increasingly perturbed by my experience as a frequent customer of Starbucks. I do not contend that Starbucks has lost all of the merits that first brought it to national prominence in the 1990s. But lately it has felt to me that Starbucks is edging toward collapsing under its own mammoth weight. One indicator of impending doom is that the Starbucks brand has become synonymous - at least here in New York - with "a place to take a piss," and that is never a good thing in the food and beverage industry.
More to the point, though, a customer experience is made up of a hundred sensations and perceptions, and Starbucks is becoming a place that I associate chiefly with screaming; commotion and all manner of mayhem; the proliferation of menu options to a truly grotesque degree; stuff frankly not being as clean as it used to be; and increasingly self-satisfied employees who are quite comfortable and at ease with the idea of destroying a customer's right eardrum by thundering at point blank range his drink order across the store to the barrista. With the menu's increasing reliance on gimmickry and appeal to sheer gluttony, it's hard not to see the company embarking on the same downward trend that spelled the end of Pizza Hut as a respectable business.
Starbucks is, in short, coming apart at the seams, of that I'm certain. Oh, by the way, I've noticed that they're now serving hot sandwiches of the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese variety (yum!). While I'm no expert in these matters, a five-year-old child can tell you that no coffee shop whose capacity to serve its main product is already strained to its limits will see its operations improve from wading into the murky, malarial waters that serving hot food represents. Nay, to the contrary, whatever short-term profit they may bring... the sandwiches are trouble.
Hence, posthaste, full tilt, and without even a second's further delay, I declare, as upon the mountain, for all the world to hear, and may none fail to take heed as I say it:
Starbucks needs to tighten up.