Jonathan’s Card: A Social Experiment Gone Awry?

By now, I’m sure that many of you have heard about “Jonathan’s Card”. For those that haven’t, here are the basics: Jonathan Stark, a mobile application consultant and author, purchased a Starbucks card and put $100 on it. On July 14th, he put it out to the world. He took a screenshot of his card and posted it online for people to download as a .jpg to their smartphones. The barcode would scan at Starbucks just as if you were using the Starbucks mobile payment app.

The idea Jonathan had was a social experiment. In the spirit of “Take a penny, leave a penny,” his thought was to see if people would “Take a coffee, leave a coffee”. I actually like to think about it in terms of paying for the person behind you, which has garnered some attention to Starbucks for people doing this at the drive-thru. Jonathan’s hope is that people would use the card and then reload it for others to use. He set up a barebones website that explains what to do. He also set up a Twitter account, @jonathanscard, that tracks the use of the card and gives an update every time there is activity. I’ve been following the card’s activity, and usually there is between $5 and $10 on it. There have been may times where it has reached zero. But it is constantly recharged. To date, there has been almost $9,000 added to the card by over 500 people.

However… It also leaves open the possibility of abuse. Instead of purchasing a coffee or a latte, there have been some stories of people using it to purchase more expensive merchandise. And then comes this…

Sam Odio, an Internet entrepreneur, has intentionally transferred $625 from Jonathan’s Card to his personal Starbucks card. In addition, he coded a computer script that he posted online (no, I will not provide a link for this) which alerts the user when the card reaches a certain limit. You could download this script, set up your laptop at your local Starbucks, and when you get the alert, go to the counter and transfer the balance. Odio adds insult and justifies his actions by stating that Starks’ experiment is just “Yuppies buying yuppies coffee”.

Odio says that he is going to put his personal card on eBay, and then donate the money to Save The Children.

Here’s the thing… While his actions aren’t ethical, they aren’t technically illegal. Or are they? If I rob a bank, but then donate the money to charity, is that ok? If I add money to Jonathan’s Card, I’m doing it with a certain expectation. My hope is that it is going to buy somebody else a cup of coffee. Not to be added to some idiot’s personal card and used for something I didn’t intend. I know that there are bad people out there who abuse the system. I like to think that there are more good. My personal opinion is that Sam Odio is stealing, and should therefore be arrested and prosecuted.

Jonathan Stark has decided not to intervene or shut down the card, which I applaud. I guess in it’s way, it becomes part of the experiment.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Starbucks partner as a part-time Barista.

UPDATE: The experiment is over.  Starbucks has pulled the plug and is shutting off the card. Here’s the notice from Jonathan.


Things to Never Do In Starbucks (or anywhere else)

starbucks cup

I have to say that in my almost two years of working at Starbucks, I’ve come across some customer practices that never cease to amaze.  I know that I have probably done a number of these when I was on the opposite side of the counter in the past… but I will NEVER do them again.  Here are some examples of things to NOT do while you are in Starbucks, or any place:

1.  When you are at the counter ordering, please, please, PLEASE get off your phone.  This has become my biggest pet peeve.  I am a person, and I deserve your attention.  I know that you are the customer, but it’s not fair that you keep me (and the line) waiting because whatever you are doing is too “important” to pay attention.  If you have to make or finish a call… please do it BEFORE you get in line.


2. Please don’t argue with me about what constitutes a drink.  Starbucks put a lot of attention into training me and the thousands of baristas all over the world.  I’m pretty sure I know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino.  A Latte is espresso with steamed milk topped with a little bit of foam… a cappuccino is espresso with foam and a little bit of milk.  I had a lady come into the store a couple of months ago and order “A cappuccino, but instead of foam, make it with all milk.”  When I tried to explain to this person that she was, in fact, ordering a latte, she just about lost her mind.

3. If you don’t know the difference between an Americano and Espresso… please ask.  As baristas, we love to talk about coffee and will be more than happy to explain what all of the different drinks are.  For example, a gentleman came into the store and ordered an iced venti americano, but hold the water.  Now the difference between an espresso and an americano IS water.  I politely treid to explain this, and he started yelling at me about how he knows what his coffee drinks are, and how dare I question him, etc… Sir… obviously you have NO IDEA what the drinks are.

4. Please don’t stick gum under the tables… enough said.

5. Don’t put your feet on the tables.  This actually happens more than I care to mention.

6.Seriously, your dogs are not allowed in the store.  Aside from the fact customers or staff may be allergic, it is against health codes, and we could get shut down.  This is not my decision, so please don’t yell at me when I ask you take him/her outside.  Believe me… I love dogs, but there are laws.  Obviously, service dogs are the exception.  But no, I don’t believe that the Jack Russell Terrier in your handbag is helping you to navigate.


7. Don’t assume that because we are working in a coffee shop that we are not smart or have no ambition.  I have a college degree, spent over 15 years in various marketing and public relations careers, and am an accomplished musician.  I, like many others, have fallen on hard times and am doing what I need to do to survive.

8. If you don’t want to leave a tip in the tip jar, that’s perfectly fine.  It won’t affect the quality of your service.  But please don’t advocate that we should get rid of them.  I count on that extra income.

9. Please don’t blame me if we run out of coffee.  It happens.  There is a finite amount of coffee in the brewer.  We constantly have to make more.

10.  Don’t  let your children run around the store.  It bothers other customers and is dangerous for the child.  You decided to have a child,  He/She is YOUR responsibility.

11. We can’t help it if the line is long.  There a lot of other people besides you that would like a drink.  We can only make them as fast as the machines pull shots and steam milk.


12. When you order 13 drinks, please don’t tell me after I have rung them up that the 4th one needs to be paid for separately.  This actually happened to me yesterday.

13. We can’t help it if the power goes out.  This happened a couple of weeks ago in my store.  A transformer blew up the street plunging the entire area into darkness.  No… the coffee brewers don’t work without electricity.  And yes… we have to ask you to leave the store.

14. Don’t take the wrong drink off the bar and then come back to tell us we made you the wrong drink.

15. I’m sorry that you have to pay for WiFi in our stores.  I had nothing to do with this decision.  It’s the way it is.  If you don’t want to pay for it, the library up the street has free service.

16.  Don’t snap your fingers at me.  I am not your slave.

17. We really do our best to keep the lobby clean and try to keep the garbage cans from overflowing.  We are busy, and unfortunately, short-staffed.

18. When you place your order, please speak in a loud enough voice so that I can hear you.  With blenders, espresso machines, and coffee grinders all going at the same time, not to mention the music playing and people talking, I am dealing with a lot of extraneous sound.  If I ask you to repeat your order, it’s only because I want to make sure that it’s right.

19.  We close at 9:30… so if you come at 9:45, the doors will be locked.  I can’t tell you how many people show up, pull on the locked door, look at the sign in the window that shows our hours, look at me, then back at the sign, and pull on the door again.  And please don’t plead with me that you only want a cup of coffee… We’ve already dumped it, cleaned the brewers, and shut down the registers.

20. It never hurts to say hello and smile at your baristas.  A little acknowledgement can go a long way.

I realize that you are the customer and that the customer is always right.  I bring up these points because it’s just good etiquette. We would like and deserve to be treated with a some respect.  We work hard… we’re are on our feet for 6 to 8 hours in a row… and really do want to keep you, our customers, happy.