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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]