Can we talk for a moment about service in America circa 2023? This seems necessary because one of two things is afoot in this land of ours.

Either we are seeing the result of businesses being distracted from the real reason they operate – to serve their customers or clients. Or there’s a less pleasant possibility Americans are getting dumber with each passing year.

Whatever the explanation, I think we all can agree that the old days – when the customer was always right and spending money at a business meant they strived to fulfill your needs – is deader than a doornail, though we’ve yet to bury the corpse.

I say this having recently returned home from Starbucks with what was allegedly a black coffee. In theory, this should be the easiest beverage to manufacture in this $26 billion global brand’s arsenal. 

Drinking said beverage revealed it to be the approximate sweetness of a cinnamon roll, My pancreas spasmed like Kari Lake on Election Day. Reading the cup revealed I had received something called a caramel brulee latte, a drink I can neither pronounce nor stomach.

Typically, I wouldn’t complain about such trivia. But it seems nowadays that everywhere I go – that any of us goes – we end up with the wrong order. 

Last week, I got not a few wrong groceries delivered, but every single item wrong. I feel bad for the poor lady who ordered tampons, skim milk, salad fixings and Purina cat food, but ended up with my ground beef, spinach and popsicles. 

One place I favor that rarely screws up is In-n-Out. Maybe they do a superior job training their people, but more likely their very limited menu makes screwing up difficult. 

They serve burgers, fries, and drinks. There’s no Sponge Bob kiddie meals, no tuna sliders on special this month. And they don’t seem anxious to shove their politics down your throat.

At Starbucks, the menu is in constant flux. So are the pronouns on employees’ name tags and the associated politics of the workplace. 

In the last quarter of 2022, the company announced a new loyalty partnership with Delta Airlines, the opening of their 6,000th location – in China – and an international “leadership excellence” retreat to help managers “lead their stores and store partner (employees) through the company’s reinvention.”

“We must all think of ourselves as brand new – for the next few days we’ve got to get into a growth mindset,” North American Vice President Sarah Trilling told her colleagues. “What worked yesterday may not work today. We have to think differently.”

Actually, what Starbucks has to do is make coffee. That’s why people go to Starbucks – for the coffee. Not for the growth mindset. 

Or for what company founder Howard Schultz described in a letter to employees late last year as his “business philosophy” based on “the compounding momentum” of love.

I’m not sure what that means. And it may be a felony in Arizona.

The other possibility for this poor service is human error. Last week, the White House announced that a record number of Americans – nearly 160 million – are now employed.

 Part of that is population growth. It also may be that people are so poor these days, they can’t afford to retire or skip work to attend college. Given how often we hear about businesses struggling to find workers, one thing seems certain: We appear to have scraped the bottom of the talent barrel. 

The basic qualification for work today isn’t the willingness to exude perspiration. It’s the ability to exhibit respiration.

Employees who show up get to work. Customers who show up? Don’t expect much and maybe you won’t be disappointed.