Monday May 12, 2014

The Price of a Cup

-- Or A Tempest in a Coffee Cup

SBucks Love Your Beverage crop

There's a sign at Starbucks that says "Love your beverage or let us know. We'll always make it right." I think we can agree that arguing with a customer doesn't make things right; it makes things wrong (and annoying).

I like Coffee Frappuccinos. I like them a lot. I buy them often (gold card customer). I know, from watching these get made, that a large scoop of ice varies in the number of ice cubes and that there is often more "Venti Frappuccino" than fits in comfortably in a Venti cup.

It's one thing to order a latte and not get all of the foam. It's quite another to watch several ounces of Frappuccino go down the sink. I paid for that mixture. I want everything that's in the blender pitcher.

I also want a bit of space at the top of the drink, between the drink and the lid. I need to stir a Frappucino regularly and it's messy when the drink oozes through the straw hole. (I also like to add some extra concentrated cold-brew coffee when I get the drink home, or add a bit of my spouse's "Misto" if we're out. I need extra space to do that.)

So: Venti size recipe, everything from the blender pitcher, plus some space before the top. How to get that?

I used to ask for a dome lid without whipped cream. (Have you ever knocked one of those over? Don't.) Then, one day, the barista at our local Starbucks proposed a brilliant solution: ask for the next larger size cup. In my case, that would be the Trenta.

Now I ask for a Venti in a Trenta. Problem solved, right? All the drink; extra space; no mess! Simple... except on those occasions when the barista wants to argue.

Why would anyone argue?

You see, there's a slight problem. Frappucinos aren't sold in Trenta size. The Trenta cup was developed for iced coffee and iced tea drinks.

Now, you might argue that a Coffee Frappucino is just a blended iced coffee, but that's not how Starbucks sees it. And that should make no difference, because I'm not ordering a Trenta Frappucino; I'm asking for a Venti (large) Frappucino in a Trenta (extra large) cup.

Again: I'm asking for Venti-sized recipe/ingredients (number of pumps, etc) in the blender, but pour the result into a larger cup. I don't want to lose any of the mixture and I want some space between the slush and the lid so it doesn't ooze out through the hole for the straw.

What's the big deal?

On April 6, the woman running the cash register in a Los Gatos store thought it was a big deal.

"That's not how we usually do it." she said. "If it's made to the recipe there won't be any extra", she said. (I've heard that before.) And then, the piece de resistance: "I'm a shift supervisor!"

So, because she's a shift supervisor, she magically knows exactly how much space every Coffee Frappucino takes up AND it gives her the authority to argue with a customer? I've ordered a lot of Coffee Frappuccinos and experience says this "shift supervisor" is wrong. (My experience that night proved her wrong... as well as disagreeable).

I contacted Starbucks Customer Service about my sub-optimal customer experience. I wasn't surprised when they apologized:

It is our mission to create inspired moments in each customer's day, and we definitely didn't live up to this expectation during your visit. To make sure this doesn't happen again, I will be sharing your experience with the store's management team.

Of course, I still order Venti Frappucinos in a Trenta cup and Customer Service didn't share my experience with every store manager.

On April 18, at a store in Mountain View, the barista (not the cashier) took the "correcting and educating the customer" approach. As she slid my drink across the counter she said "Just so you know, for next time, we don't usually do it this way. Starbucks policy is that the only drinks that come in Trenta cups are..."

As an Introvert, it usually takes me until I'm away from the conversation before I can think up a response to this sort of thing, but on this day I was primed. "No", I said, cutting her off in mid-declaration and stabbing my straw into my cup for emphasis. "And Starbucks Customer Service will back me up. You can put the drink in a larger cup."

(I'm still an Introvert; I didn't say "May I have your name, please? I'd like to let corporate customer service know how diligent you are in protecting the Trenta cup supply.")

I did not report that experience on the Starbucks website. But, for much of the drive home, I rehearsed my response for next time. "May I have your name, so that I can let corporate customer service know about this experience."

Next time came far too soon: two nights ago, in fact, in Pacifica.

We stopped into a Starbucks to grab a coffee drink before getting on the freeway to head to a concert across the Bay. We ordered a latte "... and a large Coffee Frappucino in the larger cup."

Cashier: "We don't have a larger cup."

Spouse (pointing at the cups): "These."

Cashier to Barista: "Can we do that? (explaining)."

Barista: "No, we can't."

Me: "Yes. You can."

Barista: "No, we can't."

Me: "Yes. You can. Starbucks customer service says you can. Other stores do."

Barista: "No, we can't."

Me: (deep breath) "Can I get your name? I'm sure Customer Service would be interested. Last time, they said they would contact the store manager."

Barista: "Sure! Go ahead!"

(Was that a dare...?)

At this point another woman cut into the conversation. Looking pointedly at the Barista before turning to me, she said, "It's OK Ma'am. We can make it that way."

I got my Venti Frappucino in a Trenta cup. It fit.

Perhaps some of these people think I'm asking for a Trenta Frappucino? But I make it very clear that I'm not and the V is written clearly on the cup.

Why is the use of a slightly larger cup worth starting an argument with a customer?

Why is anything worth starting an argument with a customer?

For the record, our two local stores never argue. They smile and ask if I want a receipt. (As of May 2015, one of our local stores has argued. Worse, the barista said he was afraid he could be fired!)

SBucks Barista Promise Apron

Edit: On May 18, 2014, at 12:07 , Starbucks Customer Care wrote:
Hello Vicki,

Let me start off by thanking you for your patience while waiting for a response.

I am so sorry you are having issues with this. I am forwarding this experiences to the 2 stores that you mentioned, however I understand that is becoming frustrating when you have this at each store you go into. The one suggestion that I can think of is if you take in you own cup and so then maybe the request would be more clear as they could make it in their cup and then just pour it into your cup. I will make sure I forward this to the appropriate departments so we can be sure to advise the baristas of this type of scenario going forward.

Additionally, I would like to invite you back for a better experience by crediting your Starbucks Card ending in 0714 with $10.00. The funds are available immediately for your use. I know this is not why you wrote us, but I recognize how frustrating this is. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to fix something that went wrong.

Sincerely, ...

Addendum - June 29, 2014

All has been well for a month (I'm still buying Frappucinos but I've been buying them locally. My local stores never argue.) Then, I took a trip to Southern California. Yesterday's experience in Hawthorne, CA was the most frustrating yet.

Me; I'd like two Venti Coffee Frappucinios, in Trenta cups. That's the venti recipe, but the larger cup.
Cashier: You just want some space?
Me: Yeah

(It's sometimes easier not to have to explain that I want it all ("Don't rinse any down the sink"). This prevents the argument that "If it's made to the recipe there's no extra...". Uhuh. I'm sure you count the individual ice cubes every time...)

Then, I watched the barista. She

  1. made the first Frappucino...
  2. poured from the blender pitcher into a Venti cup...
  3. poured what didn't fit into the sink and rinsed the pitcher...
  4. walked over to the counter next to the espresso machine and poured from the Venti cup into the Trenta cup (leaving some Frappucino behind in the Venti cup...)
I said "No. That's not what I want. The point is to get it all, not pour some down the sink."
Barista: "We can't do that."

We can't do that.


We can't pour from the pitcher into a Trenta cup. We can't give you everything we made. We would rather pour product (coffee) that you've paid for down the sink than let you have it in a Trenta cup. And we're prepared to argue about it.

Barista: "I'll get my manager."
Me: "Please do."

The manager came out and lectured me. Apparently, she has never read The Barista Promise. They have rules, sent from corporate, that state that Only Certain Drinks can be sold in Trenta cups.

I repeated that I don't want a Trenta recipe; I want the cup. I'll gladly pay an extra nickel for the cup if it's that expensive.

The manager continued to lecture me until she realized I wasn't going to go away. Finally, she said "I will do it for you this one time, but I want your name."

I said "Certainly. And you will give me your name for the report that I will send to customer service when I get home."

She wrote her name on a receipt (not my receipt). I got my Frappucino. I left the store.

It's a cup, people. It's not more coffee. It's not a free pastry. It's not even extra work. It's exactly the same amount of coffee, milk, syrup, and effort. I'm not trying to rip you off. I'm trying to get what I paid for (with a little space at the top so the drink doesn't ooze through the hole in the lid).

The responses I got from Customer Service for that Experience:

Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I'm very sorry about the experience you described. It is our mission to create inspired moments in each customer's day, and we definitely didn't live up to this expectation during your visit. To address the situation directly, I would like to share your feedback with the store and district manager. Please reply to this e-mail with more information about the store location. You may use our store locator found here - Additionally, I would like to invite you back for a better experience by crediting your Starbucks Card, however, since there are multiple on your account I'm not sure which one to credit. If you can reply with the last four digits of your current card, I'll credit it right away. I know this is not why you wrote us, but I recognize how frustrating this is. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to fix something that went wrong.

We appreciate you taking the time to reply back to our email with more information on the stores address, we were able to locate the stores address and share your feedback with them. This is obviously not the experience we want you to have at our stores. I want you to know that we take your concerns seriously and that I will share this not only with departments here in our corporate office, but also with the manager and district manager of the Starbucks store to address this. If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Think Outside the Coffee Cup!

StarBucks Barista Promise

Addendum - May 2, 2015

I went into one of our local stores yesterday and ordered two Frappucinos. The barista (who did not recognize me) said "I can't do that. My District Manager is here today. If he saw me do that, I could lose my job."

Read that again. A Starbucks barista feared for his job if he served a Venti recipe Frappucino in a slightly larger cup. There is something so wrong with that.

I said "go back and ask". He asked. I got my Trenta cups. And, of course, when I got home I contacted Customer Service again.

Although I asked the CS person to review the past conversations, she apparently didn't bother because her reply to me was: "the decision to place the beverage in a bigger cup is up to the store and store's manager." Um, no. Not according to every conversation I've had up to this point.

So, now I'm taking this to the next level, skipping over CS and contacting VPs and Brand Managers. If Starbucks really wants me to believe it cares about "Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit -- one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time", then please, Stop arguing with me about the size of the cup!!!. (Side note, and more important, stop arguing with customers at all. Seriously.)

It's not like I asked for 60 free shots of coffee in my Frappucino.

See also: My followup blog post: Watching Temperament Play Out Over Coffee Cups

Lest you think I'm alone in this (one Facebook commenter said "Aren't you a special snowflake!"), I'll suggest you read some of the comments here. Pay close attention to the person who couldn't get water in a Trenta cup.

The Price of a Cup ( in category Random Thoughts , Trivial Pursuits ) - posted at Mon, 12 May, 09:45 Pacific | «e»


Wow... I'm a Starbucks barista in the bay area and while reading about your experience with other stores I was getting frustrated for you as well! I don't understand why they won't do what you ask...? I don't see what they don't understand with your request, it made me wanna pull my hair out. Haha! Rest assured if you come to our store in Belmont, we'll make your drink as perfect as you want it to be! (;

Post a comment

Any posted comments will be viewable by all visitors. Please try to stay relevant ;-) If you simply want to say something to me, please send me email.

All comments will be moderated. Thank you for your consideration.