A tall tale

After waiting in line for a few minutes, I step up to the counter to place my order.

"BUENOS DÍAZ! What can I get for you?" she said, beaming an overly-exuberant smile. If she was older than 18, it couldn't have been more than a few days.

"Er, hi. I'll have a something-something-something capuccino please. To go."

Orders in hand, she starts to literally skip away to prepare my drink, but catches herself, realizing she has forgotten to acquire a critical piece of information.

"What size would you like?" she inquires, a gleam in her eye.

"Oh. Small, please."

"Oh yeah. We don't have that size. We have these." She helpfully points to the three demonstration containers. They are clearly labelled: Tall, El Capitán and El Presidente.

Slightly annoyed by this, I respond, "You see this small one? That's the one I want."

"But that's not 'Small', sir. That's 'Tall'."

"Tall? Tall as compared to what? There isn't anything less tall than the 'Tall' one, so I don't understand what makes that one 'Tall'."

I could sense at this point that the other patrons behind me were less than interested in this conversation and would simply rather be in front of the counter instead of me.

The gleam in her eye has vanished and has been replaced by a dull, fiery glow. "I'm not sure. They just call it that. Is that what you want?"

"Yes."

"That'll be $3.50. Can I get you anything else?"

...

In retrospect, I suppose they don't offer "Small", because none of the prices for their portions could be considered "Small" by any reasonable person.

The people and places depicted in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to real people or places is entirely coincidental. In other words: Starbucks, please don't sue.

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» The Case of the missing "Small" cup from The Covert Website
Story from Brad Choate's website I've had this discussion many, many times at my local starbucks: A tall tale After waiting in line for a few minutes, I step up to the counter to place my order. “BUENOS DÍAZ! What... [Read More]

» The Case of the missing "Small" cup from The Covert Website
Story from Brad Choate's website I've had this discussion many, many times myself at my local starbucks: [...] A tall tale After waiting in line for a few minutes, I step up to the counter to place my order. “BUENOS... [Read More]

» It's not the size of the name - it's the name of the size that matters! from Me and My Weblog
Just found this post on bradchoate.com - discussing the same thought that occurs to me when buying coffee. The size that holds the fewest fluid ounces is called a "Tall", the same size other types of establishments call "Small". And... [Read More]

» It's not the size of the name - it's the name of the size that matters! from Me and My Weblog
Just found this post on bradchoate.com - discussing the same thought that occurs to me when buying coffee. The size that holds the fewest fluid ounces is called a "Tall", the same size other types of establishments call "Small". And... [Read More]

10 Comments

Perhaps, like all condom manufacturers, your coffee shop flatters clients by avoiding that emotive term 'small'.

I usually ask for short black. Coffee, I mean.

kwc said:

(as we're busy cross linking to each other...)
I heard a presentation that claimed this was due to how people form price expectations, and that people aren't very good at estimating the price of something, and they don't actually do this estimation rationally.

When figuring out the value of a particular item, instead of trying to figure out it's actual value to us, we try to compare with some other known item. This sounds perfectly rational, but...

...People were asked to write down their the last four digits of their social security number or telephone numbers, and then estimate the price of several items. The people who had higher social security/telephone numbers, (on average) estimated the prices of the products to be higher.

When Starbucks came along, they recognized that people had a pretty good notion of how much small, medium, and large cups of coffee cost, and they knew that they wanted to charge a lot more. In order to break the comparison with their coffee, then invented the tall, grande, venti system so that consumers would have a more difficult time mapping the prices, and they also imbued the terms with "premium" connotations. Thus, a tall is not a small, and costs three times as much, and the consumer feels no pain as they are being ripped off.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that your intuition is correct.

Mark said:

I generally eschew any proprietary sizing or naming system. While their "tall" coffee may not be "small" in any absolute sense of the word, it is certainly the "smallest," so that's what I call it.

Mark said:

Seen at Dean's World:

Star-Schmucks Cartoon

Warning: Definitely not work safe... gratuitous use of foul language used to illustrate their point.

Mark said:

Seen at Dean's World:

Star-Schmucks Cartoon

Warning: Definitely not work safe... gratuitous use of foul language used to illustrate their point.

Fan of Biber said:

I rather enjoyed this; I too have had fancy of thought with all the sizes. At the e-bar (Nordstrom's), their large is not Venti, as with Starbucks, but Enorme. I rather like saying that, Enorme.

Actually, Starbucks does have a small. They don't advertise it, but they do have a small cup size. So, there is something smaller than Tall, but I'm guessing your latino-themed coffee bar wasn't in the loop.

vanderwal said:

This sounds like a couple of my favorite Chinese restaurants in San Francisco that had soup in medium and large sizes only.

Anonymous said:

This sounds like a couple of my favorite Chinese restaurants in San Francisco that had soup in medium and large sizes only.

Rengirl said:

This is why I go to Coffee Bean instead.

Anonymous said:

This sounds like a couple of my favorite Chinese restaurants in San Francisco that had soup in medium and large sizes only.

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This article was published on March 27, 2004 6:24 PM.

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