Starbucks Slows Down for the Better

Discussion
Oct 18, 2010

By Tom Ryan

After hearing complaints from customers about their coffees, Starbucks
is telling its baristas to stop making more than two drinks at a time and to
take other steps that may very likely prolong waiting times for customers.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, baristas are also
being told to steam the milk for drinks one drink at a time, instead of steaming
an entire pitcher for several drinks, and to rinse pitchers
right after using them. Other instructions include staying at the espresso
bar instead of moving around, and using only one espresso machine instead of
two.

Starbucks told the Journal that the new procedures, which will be
rolled out nationwide by November, will lead to fresher, hotter drinks with
fewer mistakes and more consistency chain-wide. They also insist it will eventually
quicken the way drinks are made once its baristas adapt to the new system.

Erik
Forman, a Starbucks barista in Bloomington, MN, said the new measures have “doubled
the amount of time it takes to make drinks in some cases,” and longer
lines have resulted. His store began implementing the new guidelines in early
October.

Tyler Swain, a barista in Omaha, NE, was also wondering how he will
meet his store’s traffic demands. “While I’m blending a frappuccino, it
doesn’t make sense to stand there and wait for the blender to finish running
because I could be making an iced tea at the same time,” he says. His
store has yet to adopt the changes.

The Journal noted that both baristas
interviewed are members of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union.

Starbucks’ documents
acknowledge that customers ordering no-foam lattes may have to wait longer
for their drinks and instructs employees to “let
the customer know their beverage will take a little longer and may be out of
order due to the time it takes the milk to settle and the foam to rise to the
top (approximately 60 seconds).”

The documents also state that customers
have indicated that the quality of espresso drinks at Starbucks is “average” and
that the beverages are inconsistently prepared from barista to barista and
from store to store.

The New York Post found a few Starbucks customers
annoyed by the new procedures.

“It’s taking at least twice as long,” said Jared McKay, 27, ordering
an iced coffee on an Upper East Side location in Manhattan. “If it’s going
to be that much longer, I’ll go to Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Discussion Questions: How important is speedy service versus ensuring a
quality product for Starbucks compared to other foodservice operators? What’s
the likelihood that Starbucks’ customers will be willing to wait a little longer
for a more consistent, higher-quality product?

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22 Comments on "Starbucks Slows Down for the Better"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

For an inexperienced barrista this is fine. For an experienced one, it hobbles their abilities. To people unfamiliar with how coffee houses work, this sounds customer-centric, as a former COO of one, it punishes your best employees which is never good.

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
10 years 6 months ago

Seems to me this dilemma captures what Starbucks has been struggling with for a while–are they an artisanal coffee shop or are they a QSR? Since McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts both got into the high-end coffee game, it seems pretty clear they’re competing in the later category but their brand image, positioning and pricing sets the consistency and quality bar higher, in my opinion, than the other two.

Honestly, I predicted the breakfast sandwiches would be a bust when they introduced them both because of the wait time and the smell–I was wrong. However, I’m going to double down and say this is going to make things too slow, stores too crowded, and frustrate the heck out of customers.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 6 months ago

To justify the premium price they charge, Starbucks cannot afford to have their beverages rated “average” or “inconsistent.” While longer waits may drive away some of their less loyal customers, they need to balance that risk against alienating core customers who truly appreciate a quality cup of coffee. In some respects, Starbucks is competing against local cafes and coffeehouses for these customers’ business rather than against Dunkin’ Donuts.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

My number one complaint about Starbucks is not the cost, it is the wait (closely followed by the annoying code of magic words). If they make the line any longer people will simply walk away, as I sometimes now do.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
10 years 6 months ago

Why not have quality and service? More machines possibly? The consumer will wait a little but if the wait is long and the quality is poor, they may lose customers who will not return.

Starbucks needs to refocus on service and quality. Consumers will not continue purchases of coffee that is burnt and tastes bad at that price. The pendulum is swinging as other companies build on their model but continues to focus on service and quality.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 6 months ago

Today there are only two viable positions you can occupy as a brand–high convenience or high fidelity. Starbucks was never built on the model of delivering convenience. In fact, every time they’ve tried to achieve convenience, it’s failed.

The Starbucks customer is paying more to get a superior product, carefully made to their needs and enjoyed in a great environment. It all needs to add up to a high-fidelity experience. If that means one drink at a time, so be it.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 6 months ago

This is going to be interesting to watch. Starbucks has a significant portion of their customer base (like me) that just wants a cup of coffee. They have another set of customers that are looking for the latest frappa-zappa-wappa with a double shot and foam. Starbucks is making moves that are clearly aimed at the latter group, creating a penalty for the former. They might want to think of parsing the operation (particularly during the go-to-work hours) into plain and exotic. If not, this will end up being a great plus for Dunkin’.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 6 months ago

Ah, Starbucks, black as hell, strong as death, precious as an emerald, sweet as love, but don’t make me wait any longer or you will be dunkin’ your donuts with me.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Starbucks is likely to monitor times and speed of service, dependency upon drive-through service, and mix of beverages/espresso, as they make this step to improved quality. The Starbucks “experience” has created a loyal following on a worldwide basis.

If the times and lines slow the experience, those respective locations are going to have to consider added associates, or altering the serpentine–i.e.–take a lesson from Disney, as to how they move people through the “experience.”

Starbucks’ frequent visitors believe their “cup of joe” is extraordinary. If they keep those consumers as a part of the transaction, they’ll win on all counts–quality and customer loyalty.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 6 months ago

The factors that impact retail success include: quality/consistency, attitude (friendly service), efficiency (speed of service) and price. Each retailer needs to take all of these factors into consideration, but priorities vary depending on your target market and overall focus. For example, Walmart focuses on price and efficiency first. Dunkin’ Donuts focuses on efficiency and price first. Starbucks is clearly looking to find their balance. Quality/consistency is what Starbucks wants’ to focus on, but that will impact either efficiency, price (add more Baristas) or both.

One thought is to add an express line at Starbucks for people who just want drop coffee and something to eat. I do find it difficult to simply walk into a Starbucks and grab a coffee. The lines can be long. For those waiting for something special, I think the extra 60 seconds will be worth it to them.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

Starbucks is making a number of fundamental changes, including rolling out new POS, which will also help baristas manage the order load more effectively. Initial misgivings on the part of store staff seem to be fading as the new procedures take hold. We should give this three months to settle in, then revisit!

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

At a Sunday morning crowded Starbucks I ordered a tall, decaf, skim latte for my wife and a grande, drip for myself. I got my grande, drip immediately and my wife waited patiently for her latte. However, this store has apparently not gotten the message regarding quality. Her latte was not acceptable. She would have gladly waited another minute or two for the quality cup she desired.

Net conclusion…Starbucks is on the right track. Quality is key. If one wants to trade off quality for time, go to DD or McD.

By the way, the new Clover machine at Starbucks makes an exceptional cup of straight premium coffee, but you will have to wait for it. And, people do.

Phil Rubin
Guest
10 years 6 months ago
Starbucks taking more time to ensure quality of its beverages will be at the expense of speed-of-service though it’s not that simple, even between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays. Starbucks’ growth and evolution to be more of a QSR–as Lisa Bradner aptly suggests–has come with a decline in quality, especially of crafted beverages (i.e., lattes). The time that will be reclaimed is partly due to the increasing shift to plastic as form of payment, which greatly enhances speed-of-service, though this impacts gratuities, which is also a sore point of the baristas and other personnel behind the counter. Starbucks is pretty far ahead, partly because of its loyalty program, in shifting tender away from cash, which takes more time to transact. Adding hot breakfast food is also increasing average order size, which also helps deal with what ultimately will be lower transaction counts. If there is a win for Starbucks, and it’s an increasingly big “if,” it will be if they can dial up personalization and connections between baristas and customers. Along with caffeine… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

What has become the rush all of a sudden to Starbucks customers/ Where I am located there are no Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts competing in the same general walking area. Starbucks is usually in walking centers with plenty of seating and viewing of the foot traffic passing plus internet connectivity. No one ever seems to be in a hurry to leave. Dunkin’ Donuts are located in more of a driving traffic pattern and in and out sites.

Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts? I don’t see that as a valid issue, at least right now. The changes Starbucks is making in their procedures will be an on going work in progress until both Starbucks, their baristas and the customer (not necessarily in this order) are satisfied. The bottom line is the customer satisfaction first, speed and efficiency second.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

How many of us have already passed a Starbucks without buying because the line was too long? I have, at least twice a month. Hopefully, they can streamline other operations so that the line doesn’t grow. But if the line grows, it will undoubtedly cost them sales.

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

This is a great drive to define better quality products at the expense of service rather than increasing the equipment that needs to be available to implement this policy. Starbucks will quickly realize that time is an important component of service and will search for solutions to this.

Hopefully, they will realize that this new service policy requires more equipment and will make the corrections to their store’s equipment needs, rather than sacrificing their service needs. The issue here may also require that more baristas are on hand to meet their customer’s time requirements.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

This issue is much too serious to simply be restricted to a discussion on RW: Congress needs to hold hearings before the nation’s cappuccino making abilities are even further eroded.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 6 months ago
Even as a Starbucks fan, even as a loyal customer, when they continuously fail to earn it, I ask myself why? Why do I continue to go in when I know the result of the experience isn’t close to what it once was? I keep going even as it continues to worsen. Why? Why do I do it? I keep thinking it’s Starbucks, for goodness sakes! They can’t really be floundering as they are and I keep going in the falsely based hope that it will once again return. Alas, it hasn’t. It hasn’t even made any progress in the right direction. In my last 5 visits, they have been out of the only thing they sell (or should I say the only thing I think they sell) COFFEE! Forget the fact that you can’t get a dark roast after noon–they’ve been out of even Pike’s Place. Each time I think to myself–come on! You can’t run out of the only blend you have after noon? Can you? Worse even, the baristas response is “Oh,… Read more »
Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 6 months ago

I realize that I am in the minority but one of the reasons I don’t go to Starbucks is because it already took too long to get a cup of coffee. I acknowledge that “plain old coffee” is not likely to be the drink of choice for most of their customers.

I am hopeful that those who truly appreciate crafted drinks will be willing to wait even longer. For me I will continue to go to another venue for my coffee. Unfortunately, I expect these locations to get busier when Starbucks’ new policies go into effect.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
10 years 6 months ago

Wouldn’t it make sense if Starbucks treated their customers the same way that a convenience store might treat its lottery ticket customers? For people who want regular coffee, with no more than one additional ingredient in the coffee, they go to the Express line. For people who want to dictate the temperature of the coffee, or the height of the foam, or other silly nonsense, they go to the “slow” line, and they have to wait.

It seems to me that this will streamline operations significantly.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 6 months ago

Speedy service is not good service. Hence the term “slinging hash,” which has long been used for cooking quantity rather than quality. It has been proved time and time again that the consumer demands quality. Now the retailer often defines quality and when this is established in the mind of the consumer, nothing less will do.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 6 months ago
Starbucks is indeed an organization that had engendered a high level of customer loyalty. Those customers are dedicated to the organization, both for the customer experience and the quality of the coffee that is served. In order for loyalty to be maintained, both the customer experience and the coffee quality must be improved simultaneously. Any decay in customer experience in order to improve the quality of the coffee is unlikely to be successful. Starbucks has moved on a risky course. Their consumers are fanatically loyal but are also used to a specific speed of service which helps them plan how to fit Starbucks into their day. If that service speed decays significantly, those customers will find themselves scrambling to their next appointment, and unlikely to maintain their prior frequency of purchase with the company. Yet at the same time, the quality of the coffee clearly needs to be improved. I’m not sure that an overall mandate will prove to be the most successful approach to improving coffee quality. Rather than doing things to the sales… Read more »
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