Starbucks is weighed down by billions of drink options

Starbucks has a latte problem

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The Future. Starbucks is doing just fine financially, but skyrocketing demand for insanely complicated drinks is overwhelming employees and irking customers who say orders are taking too long. So, the fast-coffee company is spending billions to go even faster, giving baristas the space to try to connect with coffee hounds — part of Starbucks’ original mission to bring Italian espresso culture to the US. But with 74% of orders now coming from drive-thrus, delivery, and pick-up, Starbucks may be on the verge of changing the flavor of its stores’ customer experience.

Custom complexity
Starbucks is overhauling its systems, technology, and maybe even its whole vibe.

  • Viral TikTok trends have brewed demand for elaborate orders with dozens of ingredients and secret menu items, thanks to the 383 billion different drink possibilities (yeah, for real).
  • That’s good for Starbucks ($1 billion in revenue from add-ons alone), but it slows down how fast baristas can make drinks, with wait times stretching to five minutes — which, ironically, is now the biggest complaint from customers.
  • Aware of the issue, Starbucks is bringing ingredients closer together, adding handheld blenders, introducing a machine that can brew coffee in 30 seconds, and piloting a way to make cold brew in minutes (as opposed to overnight).

The changes are important to Starbucks because by serving just five more customers per day at its 37,200 locations worldwide, annual revenue can increase by more than $900 million. 

It also gives baristas more time “to make eye contact and make a connection,” says Natarajan Venkatakrishnan, the exec who oversees in-store equipment. That’s key when exhausted baristas note their ability to chitchat is integral to a good performance review.

It’s hard to make drinks quickly and make a connection with customers.


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