In the wake of Starbucks recent one-drink-at-a-time decree, we thought it was time to set out and find out if Starbucks aficionados had noticed a change in their lattes, or in their wait times for those lattes.As a reminder about the new rules, Starbucks recently ruled that employees:
• Steam milk for each individual drink (instead of steaming an entire pitcher for multiple coffees)
• Rinse each pitcher every time it gets used
• Stand still at the espresso bar rather than moving around the counter
• Use only using one espresso machine at a time – not two.
Here’s what we found.
STARBUCKS STORE #1
First stop was the Starbucks at 17th St and Union Square. This location is always busy and today was no different, although the small area at the end of the counter and ground zero for the new laws – the barista bar – was mighty cramped. I counted, and there were 18 people waiting in the area.
The barista I spoke to said people had been complaining because of the long lines, “because no-one wants to wait,” she said. She estimated that an espresso-based coffee (your lattes, machiatos, cappuccinos) takes twice as long as it did before they were required to make no more than 2 drinks at a time.
Jordan “Tall Latte” Oslac, a student at NYU, said she had waited about 25 minutes for a coffee at one of Starbucks’ NYU store. “I was waiting forever,” she said, “and the coffee tasted the same.”
A man who is a regular at the Union Square storefront said, “Oh yeah, it definitely takes longer… at least five minutes.” Obviously for some, five minutes is no biggie. For others, well, just think about the movie, Sliding Doors.
One woman said she hadn’t noticed a change.
STARBUCKS STORE #2
On to the Starbucks on 23rd beteween 5th and 6th. It was basically empty, but the few standing in the queue confirmed their wait-times had increased over the past few weeks.
Suzanne “Drip Coffee” Merrill said waiting times were noticeably longer, by “at least five or 10 minutes.”
If the wait times are longer, and the coffee’s not that great, why do people continue to make Starbucks their caffeine destination, we asked her. Its not like there’s a shortage of coffee makers in New York. Suzanne speculated that Wi-Fi is the reason.
Ah, internet. Good one. That little bonus would definitely offset some of the angst associated with delayed coffee gratification. In fact, Starbucks wi-fi gets 30 million log-ins per month, so Suzanne was on the money there.
Melissa, also in line at the 23rd St store, confirmed the sluggish barista trend. There are “definitely” delays, she told me.
STARBUCKS STORE #3
My next stop was ostensibly a failure. The store on 6th between 22nd and 21st was bare, spare a few loungers in the front. But no line. With no antsy customers waiting for their drinks, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask the baristas how life is under the new Starbucks doctrine.
Obviously somebody at Starbucks HQ had gotten to them. They refused to speak.
I barely finished the sentence, “are their longer lines now…” before I was cut off by an employee yelling “NO” from the back corner of the area behind the counter. His co-workers began a “Starbucks is improving the customer experience…” spiel before they noticed my pen and paper. Then they said they aren’t allowed to speak to me and asked if I wanted the number for media relations. I did not.
RETURN TO STARBUCKS STORE #1
I decided to go back to Union Square to see for myself if these alleged delays are true. I ordered a regular coffee and a latte, then lingered by the counter in anticipation of a long and agonizing wait. I wrote 3:54 pm on my notepad.
My experiment failed. My regular coffee arrived no less than one minute after I placed my order, and the latte took only three minutes.
However, I was the only person in line when I ordered my drinks. And, when I asked the checkout girl if lines had been longer since the new rules were implemented, she smiled gingerly and then shrugged in defeat: “Yeaahhh…” Followed quickly by, “but you’ll be fine now; its empty. You should have seen it before.”
As I left, I counted 23 people in the line leading to the counter. This morning, when my co-worker Courtney “Triple Grande Skim Cappucino” Comstock was in line at 8 am, it was too long to count.
“There were easily fifteen people in line, with four people behind the counter,” she says.
“I waited about five minutes for my drink, after I ordered.”
So two lessons can be gleaned from this:
1) Those 23 people are going to be waiting a hell of a long time for their drinks.
2) If the 23rd, 22nd, 21st, 20th… you get my point… person in that line still stepped into that queue even after seeing the mass of people in front of them, then Starbucks’, and its new, obedient barista frontline, will be fine.
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