The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, November 21, 2005


What distinguishes The Starbucks Ins from the Starbucks Outs? how do we partners know that the customer in front of us is not only a regular but practically one of us? is it frequency of purchases? complexity of beverage choice? no and no. it's the lingo. the true sbux customer speaks the sbux language; she orders her drink correctly and quickly, without thinking about it, like second nature. why do sbux partners like these people? because when you the customer order your drink perfectly we don't have to stand there and mentally reformat it before calling it to the barista. so listen up. this is how you should call your drink:

Every sbux cup has a number of boxes down the side that we use to mark the cup, and we call the drink in the same order that we mark the cup. first comes the caffeine box. we mark it with an X or a slash for decaf and a 1/2 for half-calf. if you want either of these things this is the first thing you say, "decaf" or "half-caf." then we have a box for the number of espresso shots, so if you want more or less shots than your drink comes with, you would indicate that next. shorts and talls come with 1 shot, so if you want 2 you order a "double." grandes and ventis come with 2 shots, so if you want only 1 you order a "solo" and if you want three or four you order a "triple" or "quad" respectively. after that we run out of fancy words and you have to use numbers, as in "five shots." the next thing you order is what size you want. normally this comes first, but the number of shots and the amount of caffeine is so important that we put it first for emphasis. the crucial thing to remember at this stage however, is that "iced" should be inseparable from size, as in "iced grande," because iced drinks come in different cups. when you order your size you are really indicating which cup you want. next you order your flavor syrup, as in vanilla, sugar free vanilla, etc. then you specify what kind of milk you want. most people mess this up and indicate milk first, including plenty of sbux partners. but we are all supposed to say the syrup first because, guess what? when the barista makes the drink she puts in the syrup first, then the milk (after the espresso of course). so, once you have told us what kind of milk you want, you can customize your drink indefinitely. this is where we come to the "custom" box on the cups, and it's where we specify things like extra hot, no foam, light whip, etc. after all of that you can finally tell us which drink we are about to make. it's kind of like how in german the verb comes at the v. end of the sentence, leaving the reader in a literal state of suspense about what's actually going on.

so, let's review. you order drinks by specifying your preferences in this order:
1. decaf or half-caf
2. number of shots
3. cup size (hee hee)
4. syrup
5. milk
6. custom, and by the way, please keep this to a minimum. the more you ask for at this point the less likely it is that you'll get what you order.
7. drink type

so Karin should correctly order her summer drink as an "iced grande vanilla skim latte" or if it's winter and she's really thirsty, as a "triple venti vanilla skim latte." a jerk ass might order a "half-calf triple grande sugar-free vanilla 2% extra hot no foam latte." this would elicit much eye rolling but it would be technically correct.

if you are ordering a regular drip coffee than of course things are much simpler, all you need to know is what size and what type of coffee, and you only have three choices. there's bold, which is our most popular and therefore our default type; if you don't specify than this is what we'll give you. then there is the decaf, and if it's before high noon we also brew a mild or medium-bodied coffee. why we only brew this in the morning is a little mysterious but i suppose it's because we have more customers in general in the morning. so you would order regular coffee as a "grande drip" or "grande bold" (which means the same thing), or as a "venti mild." some people actually look at the menu and order the actual coffee blend, as in a "tall yukon," but i would advise against this. chances are, especially at the beginning of the week, that the sign on the menu board does not match what we are actually brewing, because we are still using up the coffee from last week or haven't changed the sign yet, and then we just feel bad that we are serving you the wrong thing, but we won't make the situation awkward by actually telling you that we are brewing something else, so just ignore the name of the coffee and order by type: bold, mild, etc. and don't ask for a house coffee! the sbux house blend is a specific mild coffee that we sell as bags of beans, one of our twenty different or however many kinds. we don't brew it in the store all the time, and if we did it would be our mild coffee rather than our regular bold.

i could get into the iced coffees and teas and frappucinos but no one should be ordering those anymore anyways, especially not frappucinos (they are horribly messy)! and if after all this you think, why on earth should i bust my ass learning pigme italian just to please sbux, i sympathize. i used to be like you, resisting the tide of change, shutting my eyes to the future of self-identity formation. and maybe ten years ago that resistance was credible. but give it up. buy the cell phone, get an email account, and figure out what you want to drink. it's a brave new world . . .


At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Danielle said...

This post is vying, in my opinion, for the "Best Post Ever" slot... but then again, you keep outdoing yourself. I am now petrified, of course, of speaking an incorrectly-ordered order, stumbling over my words, hesitating, stuttering, changing my mind, being indecisive, sneezing-while-ordering, coughing-while-ordering, blinking-while-ordering, and just generally doing any number of things wrong and ending up with a sub-par coffee beverage. You have struck terror in my heart, and in the immortal words of one Mr. Riethmuller: "Eeekles!"

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous annie said...

ive been misordering all along!! i had my second shift today and, had i not been up since 4 am bc i had to take jessie to the airport and then work stock at gap body from 6-10 am, and gotten 2 parking tix, i wouldve had a great time. i like my coworkers and learning/tasting all the drinks. its fun :) have a great thanksgiving! dont forget to call cat cause shes home now

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I ought to repay you with a comment. It is good to know that someone reads what you put out there. As to the subject content in your post. I could not agree more. What makes it even more agravating is when a customer seems to think the order of a person's order isn't that important. Obviously they have never had to rearrange a semi-idiotic statement in their head. Much like the customers who order Mocha Lattes. Anyways, to all those customers out there who think the order of your drink isn't important. YOU come behind this counter and take the orders of thousands of customers and tell me that asking you to order correctly isn't important. As for Barista's who are not capable of getting an order called to the Espresso person correctly, you really ought to question yourself since it pretty much follows the order of stuff on the cup that we, as baristas, stare at every day of our existence at starbucks. Thank you Katharine for informing the general public about the Starbucks subtleties. -- Daniel


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