The summer temperature in Taiwan this year is almost as high as normal human body temperature. Everywhere you look in this country there is a 24/7 convenience store, so it is natural for people to walk into the nearest one to buy a cold drink to quench their thirst. Other than bottled drinks, fresh iced coffees and iced lattes remain hot-selling items that keep cash registers ringing. According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics’s (DGBAS) latest monthly report published on Monday, the consumer price index (CPI) has increased 2.46 percent last month from a year ago, and the price of milk from January to July has soared by 8.70 percent compared with the same period last year. In order to cut costs, one of the four major convenience store chains has come up with an “unbelievable” idea — demanding that employees add water to iced coffees or iced lattes if customers request less ice.
And it is all true. We ordered a large iced latte with less ice at a convenience store in Jhubei City, Hsinchu County on Monday evening, and found the store clerk adding hot water with a few ice cubes, all without the customer’s consent. This kind of thing makes for a very weak cup of coffee, but you would not be any the wiser that the clerk had added water unless you watched their every move. Asked by the Taipei Times if she added water to the cup of coffee, the clerk admitted she had, and told us that she was told by the company to do so if any customer requests less ice, as if it did not amount to the same thing.
In order to confirm this, we interviewed different employees in different branches of the store chain, and they said that they were actually told to do this during training. The manager of a branch in Taipei said yesterday that the “water-adding” instructions have been in the chain’s employees’ training manual for quite some time. Both regular chain stores and franchise stores follow the same guidelines, although the latter have more flexibility. If a franchise store decides not to add water, then it would have to swallow the extra cost itself.
With the CPI up, the weather hot, and the economy hurting, companies are doing whatever they can to cut costs, but consumers are not to be underestimated since they can be very money-conscious, too. Nevertheless, some chains, not content with taking an inch, have decided to go for the mile: Last October they increased the price of a cup of coffee by NT$5, and now they have a new trick. No longer, though, as forewarned is forearmed. Customers who want less ice in their coffee now know to tell the clerk not to add water. Then they might even get to enjoy a cup of real coffee.
Follow-up on the news:
Following the publication of the original report, the convenience store chain sent an e-mail to the Taipei Times on Aug. 9 explaining that the policy of ‘water-adding’ instructions for a coffee with less ice is in place in order to maintain the product’s flavor, and not about considerations of cost. The e-mail said that “Given that the company is a chain store retailer, it has to maintain the stability of its product’s flavor to avoid discrepancies in customers’ expectations. Therefore, if customers request no ice or less ice, the request would result in altering the amount of the product’s normal ingredients due to inadequate amounts of ice (water).” (Lin Ya-ti, Taipei Times)