Coffee Roundtable – Our Starbucks Idea

I just saw a news story on how Starbucks is asking it’s customers for ideas on how they can be a better company. Well good ideas are no fun if you can’t share them with your friends. So I asked a few of our contributors to pitch in their ideas on how they would fix Starbucks.

Below are some Starbucks ideas by some of our contributors.

Winter, StarbucksEverywhere

Winter is a computer programmer and the subject of Starbucking, a documentary that chronicles his mission to visit every Starbucks in North America. He has visited more than 7,800 company-owned Starbucks locations around the world, including 7,190 (91 percent) of the active Starbucks cafes in existence in North America. His website is

  1. Curtail store growth. The announcements about cutting back on new store openings and closing 100 stores are a positive step, but Starbucks can go further. When I start to encounter a multitude of baristas who do not know what a “short” coffee is, that is a sign that store growth might be affecting the company’s ability to hire and train quality staff.
  2. Since music has become almost as important to Starbucks as coffee, I think the company should allow baristas more control over what is played in the stores. Sure, guidelines need to be in place to ensure that customers are not offended, by explicit lyrics for example, but if there is only one customer in the store, what is the harm in letting the baristas play what the customer wants to hear?
  3. The recent announcement of the closing of 45 licensed locations in the West was a great sign. Starbucks should go further in closing down licensees that are not up to standards, and the company should severely curtail granting of new licenses that dilute the brand.
  4. Don’t be evil. Starbucks should start playing nicer and stop doing things like being so rabid about pursuing trademark infringement cases on any name or logo that might resemble Starbucks.

Ryan Jacobs, Columbus

  1. Use cups that don’t routinely leak around the lid due to bad seals. I have no idea why this is a problem with Starbucks but doesn’t seem to be with other places.
  2. Ensure that all Starbucks locations are complete Starbucks operations. A ‘Starbucks’ in the grocery or Target are really misleading and lowers the bar for true operations. Fix them or shut them down. Same goes for selling your beans in groceries or even your own store with expiration dates 6 months past the date of roasting.
  3. Hire some of the masters of McDonalds to streamline your cafes and develop consistency plans. They really are the masters of consistency and efficiency.
  4. Narrow the focus of your ideas site. Baristas donating kidneys, while a nice gesture, has little to do with the quality of my beverage. Paying people to sort through this cruft is not the best use of resources.

Michael Allen Smith, Seattle

Although I could probably write a book on things I’d like changed about Starbucks, I’m just going to list two easy ideas.

  1. Stop serving espresso in tall cups with a lid. Not only is it a waste of paper, the drink gets cooled too fast. Use those little sample cups that nobody can ever seem to locate.
  2. Better quality tea. I know the immediate goal is about improving the coffee. Believe it or not your tea quality is in worse shape than your coffee. Peets and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have much better tea. This means pitching that Tazo tea dust for real loose leaf tea. Be sure to include at least one oolong tea. And while you are at it, do some research on the proper brewing temperature of tea. I can assure you it is not boiling.
  3. Don’t offer Free WiFi. Free attracts freeloaders. People arrive early, buy maybe one drink, and then camp out all day. Other customers quickly learn there are no places to sit among the sea of laptops and stop coming.

loose leaf tea
Offering better tea is an easy fix.

Paul Rj Muller, CaffiNation USA (Philadelphia)

  1. Ditch the malformed sizing information, call a small a small. Put it on the menu. have small, medium, large and extra if you really need to. Even McDonalds shifted back from a large being a medium. Or as a compromise stick to one language when detailing sizing information.
  2. Stop suggesting that a cappuccino can be made correctly as anything more than an 6 oz serving. It isn’t possible to froth the milk to that volume for long enough to create a true cappuccino, anything bigger than a tall is milky coffee.
  3. Please rethink what you call iced coffee, it should only consist of ice and coffee. This faux paus extends to all major chains, I’m looking at you Dunkin Donuts… What you are serving is an Iced latte which has milk in it. As someone who drinks coffee black I can’t get a decent true iced coffee without ordering a black coffee and a cup of ice. Try two menu items, Iced Coffee, and Iced Lattes. Everyone wins.
  4. Remove the small mall kiosks, the people you hire there tend to trend more towards the teenager looking for a night time gig, and his buddies always hang out near the condiments. (I sound like an old man…)
  5. Perhaps deploying 5 stores in three blocks isn’t a good idea. Diversify where the full stores start up and you’ll reap the rewards.

Chris Arnold, San Diego

  1. Get rid of the superautos, and train their people to be REAL baristas. It’s called investment.
  2. Get more comfy chairs and sofas. There is always someone hogging the one soft purple chair that I desire.
  3. Have some smaller, specialty single origin beans, freshly roasted onsite to go along with the Clover machines.
  4. Change the names of cup sizes to Small, Medium, and Large, so I don’t have to learn Latin to order.
  5. Reduce the variations on Commuter mugs being sold by 6 or 7. It might save some landfill space.
  6. Sell some real espresso machines and grinders, not those colorful things that belong in a toy chest.
  7. Tell us exactly what is in the “Breakfast Blend”. I loathe ambiguity.

starbucks super auto machine
These super-auto machines produces tasteless espresso. Ditch them.

Mike Rohde,

  1. Create a truly “light” coffee roast of drip coffee. My wife won’t drink the drip coffee because it’s too burnt for her tastes and I must admit that at times I would enjoy a light, refreshing blend.
  2. Create an exclusive, free club for regular visitors that would earn them free drinks, WiFi time, goodies and private events.
  3. I second the motion on size naming. Small, Medium and Large, please.

Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to three hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland,Vancouver and San Francisco and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 800 coffee enthusiasts. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and economics.

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