Will baristas crack under Starbucks’ mobile ordering pressure?
Starbucks has a pretty solid reputation as an employer in the retail and foodservice industry space, but some of its current and former baristas are saying management doesn’t understand the pressures of the job and is actually contributing to making things harder for workers.
Nat El-Hai, who worked as a barista at the chain, told Insider that Starbucks’ mobile app allows customers to place orders in such quantities that they can overwhelm a store’s ability to fulfill them on time.
Mobile orders typically start coming in as soon as stores open and build from there during the morning rush. An unidentified barista from another store said that it’s common for seven orders a minute to come in during the busiest times and that mobile orders make up the majority of those placed.
High order volume, understaffed locations and customers ordering off-the-menu versions of Starbucks drinks all contribute to the pressure of doing the job.
Customers often place orders via the mobile app and arrive before the scheduled time, upset that they have to wait for their drinks and food. Some take their frustrations out on workers behind the counter.
Other customers that show up well past their scheduled pickups get very angry if staff eventually throws their drinks out thinking that they are not going to be picked up.
Making drink modifications, often inspired by TikTok videos, also poses a challenge for baristas that some say is compounded by the fact that the mobile app doesn’t restrict the number of ingredients that may be entered.
Buzzfeed News reported earlier this year on the “appucinos” phenomenon where customers place complicated orders with up to 13 separate ingredients. Some of these drinks have become so popular that they have become a large part of the regular orders placed at some locations. Not all baristas find making appucinos a nuisance — some even post social media videos of their own creations.
Starbucks maintains that the system is working as designed.
“We continue to leverage the advantages of our mobile app to elevate the personalization of the customer experience and deepen customer engagement,” Kevin Johson, Starbucks CEO, said on the company’s second quarter earnings call. “As a result, mobile orders represented 26 percent of U.S. company-operated transactions in Q2, up from 18 percent a year ago. As we have seen each quarter, our digital channels convenience has proven successful in driving demand.”
- Former Starbucks workers say the chain’s mobile ordering is out of control – leading to in-store delays, rude customers, and the pressure to make TikTok-inspired drinks – Insider
- The Rise Of The Appuccino: How TikTok Is Changing Starbucks – Buzzfeed News
- Will TikTok-driven customer traffic break Starbucks’ baristas? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do the complaints by current and former baristas about Starbucks’ mobile ordering system have merit and does the company appear to be responding appropriately? What do you see as the internal and external challenges and opportunities facing Starbucks as it goes forward?