When a Starbucks barista accidentally dumped scalding hot coffee all over Matt’s father, he got to see Starbuck’s crack PR response in action.
Early last month my father, a retired Methodist pastor in Red Bluff, three hours north of San Francisco, ordered a cup of coffee for himself at Starbucks. Before Dad picked up the coffee, the barista bumped it off the counter. It spilled on the front of Dad’s pants, burning his crotch, then running down his legs and settling into his shoes.
Instead of running to get some ice, the barista grabbed a questionnaire.
“I don’t remember all the questions, because I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do with this burn?’” Dad recalls. “There was a man in the shop who was a male nurse. He came from where he was sitting and said, ‘I’ve been watching this, and I’m a nurse, and I must say to you, you must not fill out this form. You must take yourself to the bathroom and make sure you get some water on your foot.’”
The nervous employee persisted. “He said, ‘I’m almost done.’ I said I had to go to the bathroom and cool my foot,” Dad recalled.
The resulting burn was so bad that Dad had to go to the emergency room, get the welts on his foot treated, and take pain medication so strong he wasn’t supposed to drive for three weeks. His hospital visit and medicine cost around $500.
“I thought they’d call and say, ‘We heard you were injured, and we want to know what we can do in response to that, and these are our protocols, and we want to do what we can,’” Dad said.
Such a humane approach would apparently fall outside the guidelines of a secret corporate “program” Starbucks has in place to deal with scalding incidents.
Matt tried (unsuccessfully) to learn what procedures Starbucks has in place in case their bartista drops boiling water on your head. Turns out they do have them, but they’re a secret.
“Do we have a policy in place for responding? Yes, we do. We have a policy in place. I can’t really give you details,” Darrow said.
She said that scalding incidents do happen at Starbucks stores, but that it’s a secret how often.
Can’t you explain how you care for people who are scalded in your stores? I asked.
“No, because, first of all, we don’t give specifics on the program,” she said.
Did you just say “program?” I asked.
“Our scalding incident program,” Darrow said. “They have guidelines for how to respond. I’m not sharing those, because they are part of an internal practice.”
Matt’s dad got a $50 gift card for his troubles. Is that fair compensation for a serious burn? We don’t know, but we do find it a little strange that Starbucks is so hesitant to speak about their “scalding incident program.”
Accidents happen, Starbucks. What’s the big mystery? In any case, if a Starbucks barista accidentally throws a pot of coffee at you, don’t wait around for the questionnaire. It’s important to get cool running water or cold moist cloths on your burn as soon as possible. Don’t use ice or ice water, and don’t rely on Starbucks for first aid.