Here’s the promised follow-up on one of those stories we promised to keep an eye on for you… The lawsuit brought against Starbuck’s over ‘excess’ Ice in their cold drinks has been thrown out. Maybe not such a great thing for consumers, but a relief for the whole fountain beverage sector…
A California judge earlier this week, dismissed a suit that alleged Starbucks was cheating customers by putting excessive amounts office in their cold drinks. The leading example of the ‘cheat’ was Starbuck’s 24 oz. drinks, which the plaintiff said were actually composed of 10 oz. of ice and only 14 oz. of beverage. Sounds sinister in those terms. And It definitely sounds like a cheat. But the Judge in the case ruled that Starbucks didn’t cheat. In his ruling, he explained:
“… the Court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup, some portion of the drink will be ice rather than whatever liquid beverage the consumer ordered. […] The cups Starbucks uses for its cold drinks […] are clear, and therefore make it easy to see that the drink consists of a combination of liquid and ice.”
What neither the plaintiff in the suit nor the Judge pointed out – but what any consumer of Fountain Drinks knows – is that literally every purveyor of the fizzy stuff has been dispensing it over some amount of ice since Fountain Beverages took off in popularity in the 1950s. There have been protests in the past over over-iced drinks, especially at ‘captive audience events such as movie theatres and sports facilities, where they forbid outside food and bev and scalp patrons egregiously for their own often-uninteresting fare. But that’s another story. None of those complaints ever got anywhere near the courts.
Implications for the entire restaurant industry
Had the suit gone forward and the claim against Starbuck’s upheld, it would have had serious implications for the entire restaurant industry. At the extreme, every eatery that serves Fountain Drinks would have had to adhere to the orders of the judge about how to serve Fountain Drinks or risk a potentially ruinous rain of copy-cat lawsuits. The smart ones have already sidestepped the issue entirely. Many late-model fountain dispensers have ice dispensers of their own and, increasingly, Fast Food joints are giving diners their own empty cups and letting them fill them however they want. The ice is now your responsibility.
How can they afford this?
As I’ve said before, Fountain Beverages are the single cheapest item on a restaurant’s menu for the establishment. Coffee and Tea come a close second. Together, they’ve long been considered a big profit centre in the industry. A cup of coffee in a plastic or paper cup may cost as much as $0.12 to serve. A $2.00 fountain Soda similarly served may cost the restaurant less than $0.10. Free refills and second cups, with or without ice, are really a non issue. Forward-looking restaurateurs have realized the situation actually represents a golden opportunity to suck up to customers in an overcrowded sector where all the players are desperate to build market share.
But, for the die-hard anti-Starbuck’s folks…
A similar suit, filed by another plaintiff, has still to be heard in Illinois. We’ll keep you posted.
~ Maggie J.