Ice cream, not coffee: the fight against inflation rages on in your to-go cup


War, COVID-19, city traffic, too many (or not enough) stories about her poor majesty, the great and late queen: of all things to complain about these days, customers are lining up at Starbucks and sit on patios and, of course, online on condition of anonymity, seem to be getting excited on the ice.

Yes, that’s right, ice – specifically, how much ice should or shouldn’t restaurants and cafes serve in their drinks and cocktails, and whether or not it’s a racket that they run to earn more by giving less.

“Fill my fucking cup. Soda is cheap,” wrote a user named thekosmicfool in a recent Reddit thread titled “Ice in drinks is terrible and ruins most drinks.”

“I hate buying drinks where the ratio of ice to drink is about 90/10,” Mastercomposer 1 wrote earlier this week.

“This is obviously a scam to sell you less drinks,” said another.

Call it ice rage.

Admittedly, clinging to the ice is nothing new. “It’s a recurring anxiety that pops up whenever there’s an economic downturn,” said Laurence Booth, professor of finance at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. As inflation soars and prices go crazy, it’s only natural, Booth said, that consumers want to make sure they’re not harmed.

When the cost of special “off-the-menu” margaritas in Little Italy reached over $22 apiece in early summer, customers began to think they were getting what they paid for and took to the internet to talk about what one commentator called “predatory pricing”.

Their concerns are not entirely unwarranted. The companies, Booth said, have been known to try to “raise a little more money from consumers when times get tough.” We’ve all heard of “shrinkflation,” and Booth said that’s nothing new either. During recessions, food companies downsize chocolate bars, put less cereal in boxes, and add more air to bags of chips.

It follows that diners might wonder if restaurants apply the same type of withdrawal to their drink. And in the face of higher costs — plus the suggested 10-25% tip options that appear on almost every debit machine at the checkout these days — shoppers may just push back by asking for little or no ice cream.

Some companies react in their own way. Another recent Reddit thread started with a photograph of a sign in an American cafe indicating extras for less ice cream or no ice cream. Then there is the more subtle approach. A server at an east Toronto cafe, a quaint nightclub that also serves food, advises customers who ask for less ice that they’ll drink less at the same time.

It’s easy to see why a restaurant industry struggling to recover from COVID may be looking for ways to save a dollar or two, suggested Cyrus Cooper, professor and program coordinator at Centennial College School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts. Restaurants still close on Mondays and even Tuesdays. Some menus are shorter and the chefs use more local ingredients which aren’t as expensive to find because they don’t have to travel as far.

Filling glasses with ice — so they use less milk or soda syrup or alcohol — is indeed another way restaurants can save 25 or 50 cents per drink, Cooper said, and it can be ‘add. But, he said, he doubts companies actually do that. “It’s just a bad strategy,” he said. “In 2022, having someone’s share of the wallet is paramount and you don’t want to give a guest an excuse to go compete.”

In the past, when the issue of ice rage arose, the industry tried to ease tensions in various ways, Cooper said, with waiters asking diners if — and how much — ice cream they wanted and casual restaurants offering customers the can of soda with their sundae. Many lower-end chains offer free top-ups as a sign of goodwill and to make customers feel like they’re getting value for money. Fast food chains have machines calibrated to dispense just the right amount of ice cream.

To that end, what customers really need to know about ice cream, Cooper said, is that it’s not about the amount per se, but about finding the right mix of frozen water with the other ingredients. . “Believe it or not,” he said, “it’s all about balance.”

In high-end restaurants, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, he said, bartenders are taught to fill the glass with ice because that’s what keeps drinks at the right temperature and keeps them from freezing. dilute too quickly. Put too few ice cubes in a cocktail or mixed drink, Cooper said, and it will runny.

Although there is no alcohol in Starbucks beverages, the drinks they serve are protected from a similar fate by being “built to a standard recipe,” communications manager Leanna Rizzi wrote to the Star. in an email. This means that there is always a set amount of ice for each drink size. The chain’s baristas actually use standardized ice cream scoops that vary “depending on the size of the drink”, she writes, adding that customers are asked to choose the level of ice in their drinks – whether it’s “no ice “, “light ice” or “extra ice”. .” And, if for some reason they remain dissatisfied with their drink, Rizzi wrote, the barista will be happy to do it again.

Mitch, server at the Haifa Room, a trendy new restaurant at the corner of Ossington and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto, is no stranger to eating ice cream. Or ice rage. Throughout her five years in the industry, she said, she certainly fell victim to the vitriol of frozen water and said it was not pleasant. But she never got her ear around a drink with too much ice, she said. “They usually complain that they don’t have enough.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based Star reporter who writes about health and education. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

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