Will TikTok-driven customer traffic break Starbucks’ baristas?
Many retailers are hungry for social media notoriety and the traffic it brings but, for Starbucks and its employees, becoming the object of a TikTok trend is turning into a giant headache.
TikTok users have been flooding Starbucks’ mobile app with orders for “appucinos” — complicated, multi-ingredient drinks the customers proudly showcase on TikTok — sometimes to the frustration of baristas, Buzzfeed News reports.
Starbucks’ app makes customized orders easy. That combined with the clout that sharers receive on TikTok has inspired the creation of, in at least one high-profile instance, drinks containing up to 13 ingredients. Some of the custom drinks have grown so popular that they have begun to account for a significant number of the drinks purchased in a given location. The phenomenon has irritated baristas, especially when customers order the drinks during rushes or request them at the counter using unofficial names.
Not all baristas, however, view “appucinos” with contempt. Some have even begun TikToking their own custom creations.
Starbucks’ TikTok trendiness is not the first brush the coffee giant has had with an online viral phenomenon.
In the early 2010s, increased use of social media led to the popularization of “secret menus” or “menu hacks”. Online sources listed off-menu items that customers could purportedly order at major chains.
Websites like hackthemenu.com, which still exists, feature items that are unacknowledged by restaurant chains. Sites like these also offer ingredients so workers can create these hacks, if permitted to do so.
Some restaurants like Panera and In-N-Out Burger went legit with the concept, creating a line of off-menu items that in-the-know customers could discover online or through word-of-mouth, NPR reported in 2013.
Recently, some retailers have found TikTok’s reach to be a lifesaver. Early in the novel coronavirus pandemic, for example, mom-and-pop candy retailer Candy Me Up was able to keep its doors open through a quick pivot to e-commerce based around promotions tied to a then viral candy-related TikTok challenge.
- The Rise Of The Appuccino: How TikTok Is Changing Starbucks – Buzzfeed News
- Secret Menus Give Restaurants A Not-So-Secret Boost – NPR
- Complete List of Secret Menus – Hackthemenu.com
- Retailer saves itself at the buzzer with TikTok – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should Starbucks and other retailers place limits on social trend-driven purchases like “appucinos” or should they encourage them? How can retailers benefit from these social trends while avoiding business disruptions?