Slowing Down to Increase Profits?

In the face of economic pressures and customer complaints about coffee quality, Starbucks has revised its drink-making guidelines for baristas: “Starbucks baristas are being told to stop making multiple drinks at the same time and focus instead on no more than two drinks at a time-starting a second one while finishing the first,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Other changes: baristas are to steam milk for each drink (rather than for several drinks at a time), rinse pitchers after each use, stay at the espresso bar and use only one espresso machine at a time. Starbucks says the changes will improve quality and efficiency, but baristas are skeptical. “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,” says Tyler Swain, a barista in Omaha. Readers, do you think the changes will be good for business? [%comments]

Thanks for lifting the lid on this.

Customers could save time by ordering extra-super-grande sized drinks and sharing them with others in line.


I was pleased to see this news item, because I believe that Starbucks is an influential organization and I agree strongly with the underlying concept: focussing on fewer tasks at one time improves quality and, as a result, customer service.

Multitasking--to me--encourages automatonic behavior. This story should be contrasted against the quality issues for which bank foreclosure departments have recently received criticism. If they had slowed down and taken one thing at a time, I believe that they could have worked through the backlog of foreclosures more efficiently--not to mention equitably.

Ian Kemmish

Doubtless the placebo effect has a part to play. Which is of course why there's been a press release so that all their customers know about the changes.


I don't see how slowing down is supposed to improve the quality of the drinks, there just isn't much impact that the server has on what's in the cup. In the same way that sitting there while a frappacino blends doesn't help quality, there's nothing they can do about the espresso either, they just hit a button and wait while the machine does all the work.

Better steamed milk might actually be an improvement though since most Starbucks drinks are basically just big cups of steamed milk with some coffee and/or syrup in them. But didn't all Starbucks shut down for 4 hours a year or two ago to do "retraining" where they showe everyone how to steam milk properly? It seems to me that if that didn't work then they should invest in some sort of milk steaming machine, it probably wouldn't be as good as a trained barista, but it would at least be consistent, and that seems like a good goal for SB at this point.



I think Starbucks is gross, regardless. Maybe if they added "clean machines" to that list so their drinks didn't taste like burnt, dirty socks. (And I am from Washington, willing to spend $5 on a decent drink).

From a business perspective, I don't think it is a great move. Starbucks will never be a quaint coffee shop where you feel like a drink is hand-crafted. It is a place of efficiency, like a McDonald's drive-through, and if people have to start waiting for over-priced, mediocre coffee they will take their business to a place with the same wait time, same prices and great coffee.


A big problem we have today is considering quality service as the great exception, rather than the required rule for receiving our business.

I'm not a fan of chain restaurants/coffee shops because of their focus on quantity as opposed to quality, but I might considering checking in at the local Starbucks again.

VB in NV

The move to alcohol will help Starbucks more.


Yeah, right. Customers are waiting for coffee, nervously chewing off their nails at the prospect of showing up late for work. I'm sure they'll be thrilled that the baristas now stand their twittling their thumbs at the frapp machine.

I make my coffee at home but I like Starbucks travel mugs. The baristas know how to fill a travel mug properly (leave room at the top so the lid can screw on properly and my work outfit won't be soaking wet with coffee, thanks very much).


I think that this has both positive and negative sides for Starbucks business. Let start with the good side. Focusing so much on one order, than on 10 at the time will make the drinks have a higher quality. It will taste better and it will satisfy consumers more since a lot of time was put into it, and it was made a lot more carefully. Doing this satisfies consumers, probably making them want to come back again. = good business.
However, it does have negative side. Putting in SO much time into one single drink is going to cost them a lot of money. Starbucks is known for its super long lines, and that is when the baristas are focusing on 5 drinks at a time. Imagine what will happen to the lines when they go one by one in preparing the drinks.

Personally, I think that Starbucks have been loosing costumers since reccently their beverages have gone down in quality. Doing this WILL help satisfy consumers. However, they have to look for a solution for the time problem. Long lines can make people go somewhere because it makes it look 'good'. however, long lines can also push many of them away. How about getting more baristas or more machines?...



The reason I choose Starbucks is because of its efficiency. I thought the drive-thru stores were bad for business because you can't get a drink as fast inside. This new move will no doubt slow them down even more, and customers like me will go elsewhere. Of course, I never order anything but regular coffee, so maybe the company is trying to weed out the low-dollar customers and target the big spenders.


Is Starbucks a volume-driven business?
Won't this hurt their ability to increase volumetric sales?


Oh and btw Starbucks is one of the only places that sells shade grown (their Mexican brand) but they're greenwashing by changing their name to sound like a local coffeehouse. They can improve their image by deciding if they're an evil empire or if they're a responsible company. You can't be both, Starbucks.


This is probably a step in the right direction. As a former starbucks barista myself, I can tell you some horror stories about working the bar with a manager cracking the whip behind me. The expectation was that a single barista should be able to manage two drinks on every machine (4 in total at my store) at our peak hours, when the line was out the door. The emphasis was definitely more on sped than quality, and quality was measured very rarely; for example, my boss could surely tell I was taking too long to make a drink, but he rarely noticed if I was using the right type of milk or checking the temperature (if it goes from hot to lukewarm, you're supposed to toss the milk and start over). There was also no incentive to make especially good drinks; the customers can't tip you.
Taking the pressure off baristas to perform at superman speed will definitely benefit product quality. Better still, however, Starbucks should change their approach to customer complaints if they want to improve their efficiency. Starbucks' official policy for consumers is that if they do not find their drink satisfactory, Starbucks will make it for them again, free of charge. In practice, this usually means that one out of every ten or twelve people will use this as a license to reject their drink for reasons that would never fly at another coffee chain (for example, 'the bubbles in my latte are too big') or, even worse, change their order after the fact. This not only wastes the time and materials involved in making a drink twice, but also interrupts the work flow at the bar, forcing baristas to stop everything they were doing and deal with the needs of one angry customer.
In summation: Good for you, starbucks, for giving your employees more time to do things at a speed conducive to quality. But don't expect the number of disruptive complaints to change; until you take away the customer privilege of endless and unwarrented drink do-overs, you are inviting clients to abuse their right to chose.



Was a time when Starbucks had a lock in the "premium" coffee market. Now you can get "premium" coffee nearly anywhere for the same or lower price.

So it makes sense for them to try to differentiate somehow against the competition -- quality and service seem reasonable places to do it.


I brew my own coffee in the AM, but for an afternoon cup I like Starbucks well enough if I pass by one. It beats the stuff that comes out of the Keurig machine at work.
Since I only get coffee the potential to be extra frustrating exists for me since I don't much care what the barristas are doing - the counter help can fill my orders. Now I may have to wait behind the more complex drinks... unless they put in a coffee only express line.
We'll see.
My greatest frustration is that I usually get half-caf and many shops don't brew decaf after the morning rush.


I think this is is a good move for Starbucks but not to improve quality. Starbucks is likely suffering from the recession like everyone, so there are fewer people in line which has sped the process up. One of the characteristics that Starbucks tries to foster is it's atmosphere as a coffee house. Coffee houses have people milling about and they are a place to see other people. If they make their drinks take longer, they can possibly bring this back to their business. I for one don't really want to go into a store with no one else in it.



I was a Starbucks Barista and when you have a line of 10+ impatient, grumpy people running out the door, speed and efficiency is crucial. Instead of making the baristas slow down, making only 1-2 drinks at a time, maybe they should be training them how to multi-task properly and efficiently instead.

People hate waiting and are usually late for something. Those who see long lines will walk away with a quickness. Slowing down the production will only keep growing lines out the door and turn more business to the coffee shop next door who's lines are actually moving.

This idea is suicide and yes, the coffee does usually taste like burnt dirty socks.


This is part of a Lean initiative (based on principles developed at Toyota). Basically do one thing at a time when demanded by the customer. I don't think these initiatives will increase the speed of a barista or the quality of the finished product - the drink - enough to make a significant difference but it's worth the experiment. After all, the central tenant of the Toyota system is continual improvement - do something then get better at it in slow, steady increments. It's kept that company profitable for 40 straight years, maybe it will work for Starbucks.


Why doesn't someone just invent a machine that steams the right quantity of milk to the right temperature every time at the push of a button, with no human decision-making required? Starbucks already uses push-button espresso machine; why not push-button milk steamers too?

While in college, I worked as a barista at a coffee house that used hand-pulled espresso machines. Making a great drink took much practice and the reward came when customers requested me specifically. Starbucks is volume and consistency oriented, so the use of a steaming machine would help them achieve their goal. I don't think most Starbucks customers go there because of the hand-crafted product, but rather because they can get the same thing every time no matter whether they are in downtown Seattle or suburban Kansas City.

Cash McDollar

McDonald's will eat their lunch. And give extra froth on your mochachino.