Steve Sailer: iSteve.com Blog Archives: Starbucks & IQ

I was reading Steve Sailer on Starbucks & IQ.

He argues that Starbucks employees have a higher IQ than you might expect from an off-hand job description like “service worker” or shop assistant, and that this reflects the ability demands of the job (holding complex coffee names in mind space, and not generating interference between successive items and orders).

The brightness comment jibes with my own observations. And with the smartness of several habits of the store: like asking for your name to go with the coffee. The memory load idea makes sense (often while at lunch at Macquarie we would note that when several guests came, which ever of us took our coffee order up to Marxines (the cleverly named, if misguided student union coffee stand: where’s von Mises coffee?) would often need a piece of paper to keep it all straight (unless they were a bright young post-doc, of course :-)).

However, we are doing this with little practice: surely massive chunking is possible after a week or two of practice: “short skim decaf laté with sugar”-> “scl+s”. My union café observations again suggest that the staff had no difficulty chunking our orders: and much less than we had bringing them along :-).

But my major query is: how can Starbucks pay for all this smartness? Do they pay much better wages? or offer better conditions? My only guess is that the chain is expanding so fast that today’s coffee had can expect to run her own shop in a few months, and this creates the pool of smart people wanting to do the coffee service. That’s a kind of pyramid though, no? Once the chain growth plateaus, then their ability to hire will revert to that of their competitors and then we’ll see if that high IQ was needed (in which case the chain will have to raise already-high coffee prices, and probably go broke) or was just a lucky result of being a stepping stone to management (in which case no doubt Steve will stop going 🙂 My experience in other places where the coffee-language is equally or more complex than Starbucks suggests the latter: they are just the lucky recipients of excess g during a spurt in growth.

Thankfully it is all testable: any takers?

as a funny aside, there’s big a big splash on the web from a slate article on getting better coffee at Starbucks, for less money, just by asking. This is (of course, i say, because it’s what i have been doing for several years) just: ask for a regular size coffee. A real regular size: the little mug they hide away. your server will have to scurry to find one, and it might even be dusty, but there’s your lower cost, smaller, and tastier (less diluted) and lower calorie (smaller) coffee. The fun bit, is that the slate author notes that this is done by Starbucks to exploit differences in price sensitivity. Some people don’t care what things cost (within limits). They grab the dear big object. Some even like to be seen drinking expensive things: they grab something with obvious packaging to advertise this fact. But some of us care about the cost and the quality and we need to be given a “test”, to give us access to that point on the supply curve without sucking all the big-profit purchasers along with us. The test in this case is willingness to suffer the embarrassment of asking for something not on the menu.

To learn more buy this book (if you are in the uk)

Or this one for the rest of the world 🙂


“The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor–and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!” (Tim Harford)

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