On an ordinary day, there’s a line at Dutch Bros., the local drive-through coffee kiosk on Broadway staffed by uncommonly peppy baristas. And there’s generally a lane of groggy, under-caffeinated Sonomans idling in the queue that wraps around the storefront, awaiting delivery of their Annihilators and White Zombies.
But on Sunday that line furrowed well beyond its usual contours because Dutch Bros. had announced it was serving free solar eclipse glasses along with its coffee. One Molten Lava, with a side of celestial event.
It was a generous gesture proffered in goodwill by a community-minded business, and it went terribly and entirely wrong.
“Valued customers,” read the company notice posted late Sunday on Facebook, “Today Dutch Bros. Coffee handed out eclipse glasses at many of our stands. We are now issuing a full voluntary recall of these glasses. We purchased these glasses after receiving certification of ISO compliance from the manufacturer. Further investigation has led us to question this certification. Your safety is of the utmost importance to us, so we are issuing this voluntary recall. If you received a pair of these glasses, DO NOT USE THEM TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE. Please return these glasses to the Dutch Bros. Coffee location where you received them for a free drink of your choice – any drink, any size. We apologize for your inconvenience.”
It was a solid mea culpa, refreshingly free of legalese or spin, and it might have been enough in a different historical moment. But the zeitgeist of this particular moment is driven by social media, and it was on those varied platforms that people began chiming in.
On Facebook alone there were 4,157 comments, running the gamut from gratitude to despair. Dave Peters, for whom the announcement came too late, posted, “OK, now what? I used them to view it? And I didn’t get this until after the eclipse!”
Others were reflexively litigious in their indignation. “Shame on them!!” wrote Joni Gay Underwood. “Free drink or not, I bet they get some lawsuits.” Her comment was followed with a smiling emoji wearing dark sunglasses, presumably equipped with the correct ISO rating for solar viewing.
Many Facebook posters felt that Dutch Bros. had done all it could on the heels of a situation beyond its control. “Why is everyone so upset about FREE glasses??” posted Stephanie Bradshaw. “DB got ripped off and is trying to make it right! Maybe you shouldn’t (have) waited ‘til 24 hours before the eclipse to be looking for glasses?? Just a thought.”
Art Pond went a bit further with his defense of Dutch Bros, aptly illustrating the double-edged blessing of social media, with its democratizing facilitation of unbridled exchange. “You whiny entitled tree hugging (fools)! If you were responsible adults you would have bought glasses from reputable sources. And not counted on FREE ones! Dutch Bros. accepted responsibility and offered free drinks. Quit your whining!”
And, of course, there were cynics, appraising the debacle gimlet-eyed. “Publicity stunt much?” wrote Joseph Tominus. “Got tons of people to wait in line to order a drink so they could get a free pair of glasses. Now they return it and get a free coffee for themselves. Increasing their chances of ordering a drink for their significant others or friends. I see you Dutch Bros. I see you.”