Wednesday August 30, 2006
‘Perfect,’ I thought while sitting at a table for two in an out of the way corner, waiting for Graham to collect our coffee and croissants. ‘Just the right light and position to take a snap of him.’
So I pulled my camera out of my bag and snapped happily away, zooming in to isolate him in the crush. He caught me at it, flipped his phone open and snapped me back. We laughed. It’s a family joke—the snapper snapped. A happy moment. A Starbucks moment, you could call it.
You could have knocked me down with a demitasse, then, when a young female barrista came bustling up to me, grim of visage and full of controlling intent.
“May I ask you to stop using your camera, sir,” she said.
“It’s against Company policy.”
“I don’t work for the Company.”
“It’s against Company policy for customers to take photographs inside Starbucks.”
“Because it’s Company policy.”
It was clear that I’d get no sense out of the poor young thing, so I sighed, turned my camera off, put it down on the table, and said: “Please send for the Manager.”
She disappeared through a side door and I could hear her clumping up the stairs. By this time Graham had joined me, bearing our tray.
“What’s wrong, chooky-boots?” he asked.
“I’ve just been told I’m not allowed to use my camera here.”
He put his phone down, still in camera mode, and looked around the packed interior of the café, where several phones were visible, at least two of them being used as cameras to snap photos of a social nature at tables of cheerful customers.
“That’s ridiculous. Everyone uses their camera. Everywhere.”
“I know. Even Starbucks. Look up there,” I said, pointing at the CCTV camera on the ceiling, ceaselessly snapping the throng beneath.
Just then the Manager appeared, a young man of greasy complexion, with strange tufts of facial hair.
“I’m told you have a problem,” he said.
“Yes. I’ve been instructed to stop using my camera in your café and I’d like to know why.”
“It’s Company policy. We don’t allow customers to take photographs inside Starbucks.”
“Because it’s Company policy.”
“To what end?”
“It’s a matter of security.”
“Ah,” I said, “security. How exactly do I present the Company with a security issue?”
I looked nervously at the door, expecting a posse of Homeland Security agents, heavily armed and fresh from the Land of the Free, to burst in and arrest me. Didn’t happen. I looked around the customers, expecting to see a Coffee Shop Marshal to leap to his feet and lay me low. Didn’t happen. Nor was there any explanation of my being a threat to security.
The exchange waffled on for a little while but it was clear that, while Company Policy had instructed him to stop customers from using cameras, it had not gone on to inform him of the whys and wherefores of the Policy. I slipped my camera back into its case, dropped the whole into my bag, and dismissed him.
“I can give you the number of the Appropriate Department to pursue your complaint,” he offered in parting.
“Thanks, but don’t bother. I’ll blog it tonight and they may comment if they wish.”
It was good to get out of there and back into the sunshine.
“That does it,” Graham said. “They’ve just lost our custom. In future we’ll take our cash and our cameras to Caffe Nero or Costa Coffee.”
“Good thinking, bat-person,” I said. “The coffee’s better there, anyway.”
And that really does do it for us and Starbucks. The ‘third place’ is no place for us any more.
Who the h*ll do these people think they are? It’s only a café. It’s far removed from any issue of security which would make the use of a camera problematic. People have been gathering in coffee shops since Dr. Johnson’s time, for the purpose not only of sampling the noble beverage but also to engage in conversation, some of it intellectual. Artists have joined in the fun, too, sketching merrily away. Would Starbucks stop Toulouse-Lautrec from making pictures in their grotty, over-priced cafés? Or Manet, Renoir and Degas? Or Cartier-Bresson?
Pshaw! I shall confine my coffee-drinking to good, well-established European establishments from now on, and Starbucks can stick their Company Policy and their concern over Security Issues where the sun don’t shine.
Just about everybody and his auntie carries a mobile phone these days, and almost all of them are equipped with a camera. Everyone, everywhere, snaps away, recording their world for fun and, sometimes, for artistry. The concept of ‘citizen journalism’ is universally accepted and encouraged. Except, it seems, by Starbucks.
Forgive me, Starbucks, for I have sinned