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July 29, 2011


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Jim  Romenesko

Overheard at an Evanston Starbucks today:

"Have you ever been in a Starbucks when they didn't play Bob Marley?" one customer asked another.

Michigan Barista

The baristas are sick of Bob Marley, too! The playlists are shuffled, and only recently is Bob Marley a dominating artist. One month, a playlist offered The Shanghai Restoration Project, and more recently, there's a Motown and/or Soul playlist that I love.

Mike Pollock

How prevalent is this disturbing trend I'm noticing in Manhattan locations: vanishing AC outlets? Presumably to discourage loitering, previously functional AC outlets are being replaced by blank wallplates!

James Connolly

God DAMN that article is one hell of a piece of propaganda.


Maybe in a perfect world that is how Starbucks operates....but in this world, what a load of crap.

beantown beanhawker

I work in a Clover store, and while I am known to bitch about damn near everything else that thing makes a damn fine cup of coffee. The rest of that article is a crock of shit though.


I grew up in a swampy, southern town. Never thought it would have happened to me, but my family headed from a small, progressive town Oregon to a sad town far down the East Coast when I was about 10.

Around the late 90s, a Starbucks opened about 20 miles from our house, and it felt like we had been found by civilization. Walking into the store, I felt like I was back on the West Coast, or, I don't know, just somewhere completely different. The atmosphere was different. It was the contrast you can usually only get by flying to a different country.

It was an experience I have never had with any other restaurant, quick service or any other variety. For me, that was something Starbucks did better than any other competitor.

Now, I live near 3-4 Starbucks. But I still find compared to most other stores and definitely compared to most fast food places, Starbucks feels clean and classy. The air seems clear. Positive ions or something. And the drinks are very consistent.

On the odd occasion I go to a McDonald's or any other fast food place, they look grimy. I feel like the food and oil are enmeshed in the air, the tables, the chairs. Starbucks has that unique feeling of serving food and beverage, yet the ambiance stays crisp and clean. It's separate, like a pleasant austerity. Or like a European place setting, where there's a table cloth and on top simply a cut up apple.

I don't order the fancy drinks from Starbucks with artificial ingredients. I just get iced lattes--no syrups or anything. Just milk and espresso. And the taste of the espresso has this wonderful caramel sweetness. And the milk is cold and refreshing. It's the type of simple thing, just two ingredients, where I have the feeling that even if McDonald's combined the exact same two ingredients, it wouldn't taste fresh and as good as homemade.

It's how I feel about Chiptole. Chiptole doesn't have hidden recipes--their food is only as good as its ingredients, and they use great ingredients. I've tried Qdoba--and there's no reason it shouldn't taste as good--but it doesn't have that same raw, fresh taste, even though the ingredients don't seem that different.

I just have that same feeling about Starbucks. It has a raw, crisp, clean feel, both in the drink I get and the atmosphere. Just as I couldn't imagine the food at QDoba tasting fresh like Chipotle now that I've tried QDoba, I couldn't imagine McDonald's serving anything that tasted real like Starbucks' iced latte.

I'm in a pretty weird state to write all this praise for Starbucks. I guess I'm bored since it's 5:31 AM and I can't sleep. In case you're worried I'm a Starbucks apologist or fanatic, I'm not. I've been critical of them on this blog before. And I can't extend my comments to their mystery drinks like frappaccinos that i won't drink. They've tried explaining to me before what is in them, but once I hear the word "base" I realize it's not for me.

For the atmosphere/cleanliness and the quality of their milk and espresso drinks though, I say they are far above and beyond other fast food places.


Isn't it obvious? Starbucks tops the list with their *consistency*. We can customize our beverage to a T. Exactly the way we want it... because extra-this or less-that is just too open to interpretation. Props to Starbucks for the consistency.


Marcus, you express yourself so eloquently! Ironically, I only order iced lattes too, also with no syrup. I want to add that while the drinks are consistent, I like how every store has a uniqueness that sets it apart. I went to a Starbucks the other day that was in a building far from typical. It had exposed wood beams and was overall lovely and rustic inside. It was an hour away and I may never go there again, but it was worth it to stop on the way to an interview. I felt much more centered. Maybe it was the positive ions? ( ;


Since it's open thread... I'm applying for an ASM position. Can anyone tell me:
Does it come with a decent raise?
Is it a 40 hour week?
Any tips would also be welcome. I know each district is so different and I'm not looking for exact answers. General answers are better than no answers. Thank you.


The sbux by my house always seem stuffy inside. I feel like if they kept the door open for awhile it would help out a lot. Every time I walk in it's the same musty odor. Does anybody else smell it?

I think the drinks are very consistent. I get the same drinks where ever I go. When it comes to the espresso you need to add tons of milk to it (hot or cold) because in my opinion it isn't very good. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a good shot of espresso from Sbux. Keep getting the iced lattes because the espresso by itself is disgusting.


@Mark- please more info on the AC outlets in NYC?

Also, does anyone have more info on "playbook," I know it's being kept *hush hush* but I'm sure some one knows the low down

Jim Romenesko

CuriouSM -- I believe Playbook was discussed in last weekend's open thread. You may want to check that out.


Hey guys. I was wondering, does anyone have the link for the partner benefits (U.S.)? I've been looking around for a bit and can't seem to find it; the material that I have is slightly aged and want to check if everything is correct (my books were printed in 2007).


Ian. Go to Starbucks.com.
Scroll to the very bottom and click on partners.
Enter your global ID and password.
Over to the left is benefits somewhere.
You may also need your web md name and password. It's a pain in the butt.


Thank you very much, :)

Barista Ben

Jim - checked last weeks open thread - no info on playbook. Right now it's just some company mythical unicorn that not a lot of info is known about it! The more I hear the name the more I want to know what it is.


Ian, I tried to get into do my health quotient a couple hours ago and I couldn't get in. Strange since I was there a couple days ago. Anyway, I think you now need to go into Partner Cafe.

SBUX Alum Bill

The one thing that Starbucks does better than any other competitor: getting people to publish misinformed, but adoring, propaganda like the above article!


RE: Spence

ASM position is salary/hourly. You are paid salary for 36-40 hours and are supposed to be paid hourly overtime for 40+ though as you develop towards SM (which is the goal within a year) if you really are looking to get promoted you will probably be putting in closer to 45+ hours with no overtime. The raise internally is minimal from SS when you consider tips, but it is guaranteed money and you have the opportunity to bonus. Also the pay bump from ASM to SM is a little more substantial and if you work hard the difference in money in 1 year from SS to SM is worth it!


When can partners use their free partner beverage? I heard 30 minutes before and after your shift and that it can be used whenever for unlimited times. Clarification?


@B: Thank you so much. That is the honest answer I was hoping for. Wish me luck, please.

Ben, sbux barista in D/FW

The new Mastrena espresso machine produces more consistent shots that are all drinkable, yes, but that's a big trade off. After hours of tinkering, it just cannot make a really tasty shot... like the kind you want in a doppio. It's just too automated. But with a 200:1 latte:doppio epsresso ratio, consistency is more important.


I don't know for how long these two worked at Starbucks or at which locations, but I know for sure that they didn't work at any stores near where I live. My local Starbucks are consistently dirty, under staffed, and incapable of producing consistently good tasting beverages. These two sound like just a couple of hired flacks!


B was indeed pretty spot on with her info. However, as a seasoned SM, I can tell you if my ASM was working over 40 hrs w/o getting paid for it, it wouldn't go over well! Time management is a vital component in being a successful ASM. While interviewing, make sure you speak of specific examples of how you handled your time well, or didn't, and what you'd do to improve next time. You also have to develop great communication so you & your manager stay on the same page at all times, and aren't overlapping duties or double-coaching. It's challenging, but very rewarding if successful... so best of luck!

Jim Romenesko

Re Playbook ... I see it was mentioned in the 7/15 Open Thread but there was no explanation offered.

(former) NJ_newbie

I'll agree that Starbucks consistency has improved lately. But unfortunately, it's because the espresso consistently tastes gross lately.

I too, prefer relatively simple drinks, iced latte, espresso macchiato, or sometimes an espresso con panna...lately the espresso tastes overly bitter. It's more than just being an expired shot...the taste of it is just...off. And it's at EVERY starbucks i've been to for the last year or so. Disappointing.


@ DoubleShotOnIce: Thank you for the information. I will use your tip well.


Starbucks still sometimes falls down on the basics, such as baristas knowing how to use the cash register.

Consider my exasperating experience on Saturday.

I was $1.13 short on my card. I know you have to add at least five dollars. That's what I wanted to do. No dice! The barista couldn't process the transaction. I ended giving up and leaving with the coffee sitting on the counter,

When a customer wants to buy something, and an employee can't figure out how to sell it, something is very wrong.

Here's how it went down.

Barista: You're $1.13 short
Me: Okay, add five dollars to my card and give me 15 dollars back (handing over a 20)
Barista: Okay. (fumbles with register and after a long delay starts to hand over $13.87)
Me: No, no, I have no place for the change. Give me back 15 dollars and add five dollars to the card.
Barista: But you owe me $1.13. And there is a five dollars minimum.
Me: And that's what I want to do. Add five dollars to the card and get fifteen dollars back,
(Barista still doesn't get it...so i repeat twice more. Finally, the penny drops and the Barista says....
Barista: I can't do that
Me: Let's forget the whole thing,


Toronto, it's really too bad the barista couldn't think of a better way to explain the situation to you. It seems to me that they did it through the "Reload the card now?" option which pops up when people are short, but you have to pay the amount owed immediately in this option as you reload the card. If you're 1.13 short, you need to account that payment first. Ok, so the 5 dollars you handed over for the card has become 3.87 after accounting for the amount you owe, before it has even had a chance to go on the card. So you were trying to put less than 5 dollars on the card, which as you acknowledge is under the minimum amount. The barista definitely should have known how to either explain this situation to you clearly or, to make the process a lot more simplified, should have known to just hit "save order" and done all of this as a new transaction. Of course maybe they don't have Simphony. It's been such a long time since I used that old POS system, but I still am haunted by memories of how frustrating and unhelpful that system was. So maybe it wasn't the barista's fault; maybe their system honestly would not allow them to take 20 and give back 15, while putting 5 on the card, while you still have an outstanding balance.


@Torontodude, I can relate to the barista in your situation because what you were asking is not possible. You can pause a transaction once you have begun to tender it out, and even a seasoned partner may not realize that you actually have to cancel the first transaction, then perform the five dollar reload, then ring in the original transaction again (which as you can see is a little confusing). However, if you wanted to avoid this type of thing occurring you could put more than $5 at a time on your card so you don't run out of funds every other purchase you make.


^that was supposed to be, "you cannot pause a transaction once you have begun to tender it"

Mike Pollock

Please allow me to rephrase my earlier question to better tie it into the linked article, which states, "Starbucks provides free WiFi, and there's no restriction on laptop use."

Several Manhattan, New York, stores have replaced AC outlets with blank faceplates, implying that wifi users should leave when their batteries run out. Isn't that a type of restriction on laptop use?


What should have been done is, you should have hit NO to the "Would the customer like to reload card now?" prompt, then manually reloaded in the functions screen, tendered $5 CASH, dropped the $20, Paid the $1.13 with the $5 that was reloaded to the card and the drawer would have opened to return $15 to the customer in change. It's possible people, I've done it many times.

Sad Barista

I joke all the time we moved from DOS to Windows 3.11.


Isn't that a type of restriction on laptop use?

No, it is a restriction on free electricity. All Starbucks customers paying for YOUR WiFi is problematic. Paying for charging your laptop is bullshit you cheap f###.


I recenly transferred to a different region and am still new to the frozen pastry thing.

I've always been told that 'close' and 'end of day' aren't specific times and shouldn't be written on day dots. I believe qasa has taken off for it when I first started as well.

Well, the frozen pastries just received a 'clarification' standards update per say. The item clearly states to write date/time etc but does make a small mention of 'eod meaning end of day'. It doesn't actually specify to use eod though. My store manager has interpretted this to mean we are to write eod on everything now. Is the really correct? Cause it is the opposite of what ive been taught the past five years...? Thanks guys.



I'd go with what QASA wants. However, if your manager insists upon EOD being okay, go for it. Though I feel a good manager will probably err on the side of a good audit than otherwise.

As well, I am curious regarding the taste of pastries in frozen v. fresh markets. As in- is there one? I never go to Sbux when I'm not at work (because really, I get enough of it there) so I don't know about this.

I'm absolutely convinced that the "fresh" markets have been receiving previously frozen product for a good couple years now. I.E. the only difference being that the pastries arrive to me defrosted already.

I work in a Seattle, a fresh market, and we consistently get pastries that have condensation on the outside of the packets. There have also been quality issues with frosting staying on, taste and seeming freshness (i.e. dry, stale, this-texture-seems-like-previously-frozen situations.) When the pastries were made by Schwartz Bros. (I think?) they were much better and really, none of these problems were present. Not to mention the donuts, which used to be Top Pot and actually not taste like musty sugar dust. Having spent time working in a bakery, I know a small amount about pastry.

Also, I may work in Seattle, but we have a fairly sheltered delivery area that wouldn't leave the pastries as wet as they come in some days. They also are often wet on rare clear mornings.

So... any taste difference?

Coffee Soldier

All pastries are frozen at some point...the only difference between frozen stores is they stay frozen to be placed directly into the freezer because they do not get daily delivery so you can have multiple days worth of items with one day of shelf life and the fresh stores stuff came into a warehouse, was frozen, then picked and delivered but defrosted on the way...at least here in New England. I toured the distribution area in MA with a group at one point and first hand saw it.


Yeah they're delivered fresh but have already been frozen. Though, to me vivannos taste significantly better with a fresh banana over a frozen banana.

Jim Romenesko

The American Society of Copy Editors takes note of Starbucks' inability to use complimentary correctly; get it right, SBUX! -- you're NOT offering "complementary" wi-fi.


Regarding the whole reload card thing. The customer should have clarified to reload the card for 5 dollars and to pay the due amount off the card when reloaded. And to go further...just suck it up and take the change. problem solved.


Sorry, I am going to stand my ground on this one and not acknowledge any fault. I reject the idea that I should have either:
- done better planning
- or just "sucked it up" and taken the change

I was wearing gym shorts and planned to go on a run. I had no place for change...just my card, keys, ID, and an emergency $20.

Other people have now clarified that there WAS a way to process the transaction, The problem was the barista didn't know how to do it.


Torontodude, this problem occurs often at my store. I understand your frustration. It is an example of the POS system getting in the way of common sense, which is a shame because although simphony improved upon the old system, this issue is still present. You are right that it is not your fault, but there is no simple way to process the transaction you are describing, and this specific set of uncommon circumstances is not covered during POS training. Whether this is a limitation of the POS system or a barista training issue is irrelevant to the customer, but should eventually be corrected at the corporate level.

Going forward, I would call it a "best practice" to always reload your card with the desired amount before asking to pay with it. If you are unsure of your balance, the barista can easily check your card for you before you order, and there are Starbucks card apps for most smartphones that make using the card even more painless.


I'm not a mathematician. Hell, I'll even go so far as to say that I'm pretty dumb. So when customers ask me to perform complex equations involving reloading cards, balancing totals, adding up change, or whatever the hell else, well... you're maybe going to have to wait a minute or so and have some patience while I try to figure out what you're asking me for, how to proceed with that, and what the calculations amount to.

If you honestly believe that all it involves is just pressing numbers and letting the computer figure everything out, well, you're wrong.


"Isn't that a type of restriction on laptop use?"

Hey... Old Country Buffet says their food is "all you can eat," but they close at 10:00pm. Is that a restriction on what I can eat?!

Um... no. It's all you can eat as long as you are there during regular business hours. And Starbucks offers free wi-fi. The life of your own battery is on you, not us. Stop being obtuse.


"Isn't that a type of restriction on laptop use?"

Hey... Old Country Buffet says their food is "all you can eat," but they close at 10:00pm. Is that a restriction on what I can eat?!

Um... no. It's all you can eat as long as you are there during regular business hours. And Starbucks offers free wi-fi. The life of your own battery is on you, not us. Stop being obtuse.



Just curious, any one know the average salary for an ASM?


coffee soldier that isn't true about the pastries. Not all store's have pastries that were frozen at some point. In certain markets they are shipped from the bakery to the store via the distribution center and never frozen.


toronotodude. an emergency 20 you just had to use to reload your starbucks card? jesus... I wish something like that was considered an emergency in my life. anyway, unfortunately your request could have easily been processed, at least with simphony. and for those following along at home, when the baristas screen popped up 'starbucks card out. $1.13 still owed. reload now?' the barista should have hit yes, entered 5.00, swiped the card, then hit the $5 pic, then hit sbux card and swipe the card again to take the remaining $1.13 off the newly refreshed card.

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