Starbucks scribbles fiscal cliff hopes on cups

The coffee giant's CEO hopes to prompt politicians with a 'Come Together' message, but the approach is less potent than decaf.

By Jason Notte Dec 26, 2012 1:18PM

A Starbucks Corp., sign is displayed outside a coffee shop in London, U.K. / Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesAt Starbucks, the answer to the fiscal cliff is, apparently, giving all of its Washington D.C. employees carpal tunnel syndrome.

In a letter to employees that leaked Wednesday, Starbucks (SBUX) chief executive Howard Schultz asked baristas to scrawl "Come Together" on cups for drink orders at all of the chain's roughly 120 locations in the D.C. area on Thursday and Friday. Starbucks servers usually restrict their scribbling to a customer's name and order details, but Schultz says he's trying to send a message to lawmakers about how fiscal cliff negotiations are affecting the "consumer psyche and behavior."

"Rather than be bystanders, you and your customers have an opportunity -- and I believe we all have a responsibility -- to send our elected officials a respectful but potent message, urging them to come together to find common ground," Schultz wrote.

So how's this going to affect the wait time on D.C. denizens' coffee, and will anyone know what it means or care? Starbucks already told baristas to slow their pace two years ago to address quality concerns and apparently did some "Come Together" test runs that found the extra words didn't affect production. Schultz is confident that folks in D.C. are well aware of the ongoing fiscal cliff discussions and will clog his company's social media channels with reminders just in case they aren't.

Congress and President Obama left for Christmas break nowhere close to a deal to address tax increases and automatic government spending cuts scheduled to start next week. Both are headed back to work on Thursday, with the Congressional Budget Office warning them that the fiscal cliff could lead to another U.S. recession.

Since Schultz believes that such broad-ranging economic matters ultimately affect whether or not a customer approaches his counter or upgrades from tall to grande, he tends to get vocal when problems arise. During the debt ceiling debates last year, Schultz vowed to cease his political donations if a deal wasn't made and pressed fellow CEOs to do the same.

In his letter to employees, he uses the group Fix The Debt and its stable of CEO supporters as an example of how the country should be pushing for a solution to the fiscal cliff and steadier federal economic policy in the future. The group's detractors tend to use the word "overreaction" when describing its stance on fiscal cliff issues and point out that raising taxes while cutting spending may balance the nation's books in a way that politically sensitive lawmakers in both parties can't or won't.

Still, Schultz points to this year's noticeably weak holiday season and Wal-Mart (WMT) CEO Mike Duke's warning about the fiscal cliff's effect on holiday spending as signs that something needs to be done. He's taking out full-page ads in The Washington Post and The New York Times (NYT) to further hammer those points home, but even his own company admits it's a fairly passive political effort.

Schultz didn't talk about whether increased taxes or decreased spending should be a bigger part of the solution, and employees may be similarly dispassionate when Thursday and Friday roll around. A company spokesperson told CNN that Schultz's "Come Together" request was not mandatory. Baristas don't have to write it if it makes them feel "uncomfortable."

In summary, Starbucks and its CEO want lawmakers to "Come Together," but in no specific fashion and not if it freaks out the baristas or backs up the line. It's a political statement, but one about as controversial as swapping soy milk for 2% or holding the whipped cream.

More from Money Now

Dec 26, 2012 2:21PM

The Cups should read, "DO THE JOB WE VOTED FOR YOU TO DO"




Dec 28, 2012 11:38AM
Republicans refuse to allow taxes to rise. Taxes are the lowest in my lifetime and they are too low. We decided to fight two wars on a credit card. The republican insisted that we go to war. They put the bill on our national credit. The bill is due.

Republicans are dishonest and have nearly ruined this nation. Anything that the President can accomplish hurts the GOP politically. Rather than help fix the problems they created, the GOP is once again obstructing. 

They can't find enough cliffs to drive the nation over.
Dec 27, 2012 2:36PM

Hip hip hu ray.Please keep it up. All corporations and prominent peoples

should join star-buck action.

Dec 26, 2012 4:46PM
Yeah, It needs to have a larger message attached......Or a threat.
Dec 27, 2012 9:14AM
he wasnt doing the job to start with ,why the people voted him back in is a mystery i guess they just dont get it, he hasnt done nothing since he has been in office,he s gonna run this country in the ground . god help us for four more years...
Dec 27, 2012 9:16AM

when our taxes go up and we stop getting income tax refunds ,maybe those that voted will finally get the idea...


Dec 27, 2012 4:28AM
Gee, isn't that a bit of a double-entendre? Not that that's bad, but Schultz seems not to have a clue.
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