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Starbucks Wants Baristas to Slow Down, Can Caffeine-Craving Customers Wait?

After standing over them with a stopwatch for decades, Starbucks made headlines around the world last week for telling baristas to slow down. Now they aren't to make more than two drinks at a time, and they're to steam pitchers of milk and grind batches of coffee as needed instead of all at once. This is all meant to improve the quality of drinks, which customers are rating as both "average" and inconsistent, as well as to ratchet up the "romance" and "theater" of the coffee experience.

While Starbucks baristas (aka "partners") are debating whether the new coffeemaking rules will actually improve things, gum up the works, or be adopted at all, I'm curious whether the new rules will give them an opportunity to push another cultural change. I have an upcoming feature story on Starbucks' struggle to meet its goal of placing storefront recycling in all stores they own, plus serving 25% of beverages in reusable cups, by 2015.

When it comes to recycling, I learned, only 5% of stores have it today. With reusables, the figure is even worse—just 1.5% of drinks are served in reusable containers. Currently, 80% of drinks are served "to go," leaving it up to the customer to provide a reusable cup. Starbucks sells tumblers in stores, offers a 10 cent discount for bringing in your own container, and has even offered free drinks on Earth Day for those who bring in a cup. But ultimately, it may take a consciousness shift—or local campaigns like the plastic-bag bans in cities from California to Texas—to meaningfully change consumer behavior.

But what about the one in five Frappucinos sucked down by customers in stores? Perhaps those taking advantage of the new free Wi-Fi? There Starbucks has an interesting opportunity. They say they already have ceramic cups and plates available in nearly every store, yet approximately zero people I know have ever gotten a real cup or plate in a Starbucks. Wouldn't it add to the "romance" and "theater" of the coffee experience to encourage baristas to ask customers if they'd like that pumpkin spice latte to stay, in a mug? IF they can risk longer lines for better espresso, surely they can do it to save the planet.

[Image: Flickr user Adam NFK Smith]

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  • Paul Cray

    You certainly get ceramic cups/mugs in Starbucks in the UK if you drink in.

  • Nancy

    Honestly? I don't give a partridge in a pear tree about "The Experience". I just want my coffee. I have places to go. Things to do. "Slowing down" had me turning around and walking OUT and going to another coffee place last Sunday.

    Sure... sometimes I want to sit and talk with a friend over a cuppa. But 9 times out of 10, I want to get in, get my coffee and get on my way.

    I LOVE it when the barista sees me walk in the door and starts my usual, I hand over my gold card for a quick swipe, pick up my now finished drink and am out the door in a minute flat.

    THAT is an experience I can get used to.

    Starbucks can pretend they are some sort of Haight Ashbury Coffee House.... but they aren't. They haven't been since they put one on every corner. They are no more "coffee house" than McDonald's is "hamburger restaurant". We would all be laughing our fool heads off if McD's said they wanted to slow down so patrons can savor the smell and experience of their hamburgers cooking.

    .....and we aren't even touching on the near 10% increase in price last week.

    Slower service and paying more for the privilege? Seriously? Starbucks needs to get over themselves.

  • Jennifer MacKay

    I think it is too late for Starbucks, maybe when they first started but now their image is that quick business coffee, fast service, not great quality but more reliable than others. Look how well dunkin dounuts does, these crappy fast pace cheap images sell well

    Expensive romance isn't "in style" save that for the small coffee shop on the corner.

  • Michael Ehling

    Yes! The "slow down" and "mugs" initiatives can work. Any organization can change any part of its behavior and its clents' behavior. For any initiative, of course, there are obstacles. And there are many ways to do it. An approach that works is one I see Howard Shultz and all the Starbucks partners using. Since Shultz' return in 2008, they have been re-connecting Starbucks to its core, heart, soul, SweetSpot. And these initiatives can sustain themselves, in part, to the extent that people see them as in-line with the Starbucks SweetSpot and what role they play in relation.