Starbucks’ embrace of viral social media drinks is infuriating some baristas

Starbucks barista makes mobile orders
Starbucks barista.

  • Starbucks is testing a new way for customers to order popular drinks from social media.
  • Baristas say the drinks are nearly impossible to make with current staff and ingredient shortages.
  • Starbucks says it chose the two initial drinks to reduce complexity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Starbucks is testing a new way for customers to order popular drinks through social media, and some baristas are not happy.

The coffee chain just launched a limited test that will let some customers order the off-menu drinks through Facebook and Instagram, according to an internal memo viewed by Insider. The program spotlights a recent trend of customers ordering elaborate Starbucks drinks and sharing the recipes on social media, so others can replicate the concoctions. The program will at first be limited to two such drinks: the Pink Drink Remixed and the Moon Drink.

Insider spoke with four current and recent Starbucks workers, who said that the test could add pressure and complexity to their jobs at a time when they already feel understaffed.

The Pink Drink Remixed is a venti Pink Drink – a Strawberry Acai Refresher with coconut milk – topped with Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Foam. The Moon Drink is made up of a grande iced matcha latte and two pumps of chai. They will cost $6.25 and $5.55, respectively. The two drinks were selected to “reduce complexity but still test the function,” a Starbucks spokesperson said.

Some Starbucks baristas have spoken out in various outlets about the difficulty posed by drinks that get popular on TikTok and other social media platforms.

“Custom drinks from social media like TikTok are also increasing the need for labor. These drinks are getting more and more complicated,” one Pennsylvania supervisor previously told Insider.

Starbucks says the test could make things easier for workers.

“Testing a solution that gives customers and partners a way to easily order popular social media beverage customizations is just one example of our approach,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. “This test was created with input from baristas and the beverages selected for the test are not complex builds. The test size is intentionally limited in order to not impede lines or create complex beverages.”

As elaborate drink orders become popular on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, baristas acknowledged that tapping into those trends is a smart business move.

“They’re totally cashing in on social media viral drink trends,” one Starbucks employee in Seattle, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation, told Insider. He said he is “livid” about the test.

“What they aren’t taking into account is the toll it will have on their baristas,” he told Insider. The barista said his store feels understaffed and overworked, and that the company should address more pressing needs like additional staffing, training, and updated store designs, instead of making it easier to order potentially complex drinks through social media.

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A Texas Starbucks worker of five years, Bailey, told Insider he quit the chain recently due to what he described as increasingly overwhelming demands.

“Now, with the way they want to do all these modifications, not to mention promoting it and encouraging it from customers,” drive-thru times will get even worse, he told Insider. The combination of drive-thru, in-store, and mobile orders made it impossible to stick to the standards set by corporate, he said, while growing wait times and shortages lead to angry customers.

The Seattle worker also said he worried that the program could lead to further ingredient shortages, which tend to lead to more frustrated customers.

“I haven’t seen strawberry inclusions in weeks,” he said, which goes into the base of the Pink Drink Remixed, one of the promoted beverages.

Customization has become increasingly crucial to Starbucks’ brand, especially as the chain relies on fewer customers who spend more money on drinks. In the second quarter of 2021, US same-store sales increased by 9% despite a 10% decline in the number of transactions. The growth was driven by a 22% increase in average ticket size as orders grow larger and more complicated.

“They have a ton of customization, and that’s not going away. They believe it’s a strength,” Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider in a previous interview. As most other fast-food chains are cutting menus to become more efficient, he doesn’t expect Starbucks to follow the trend. “Customization is much more meaningful for Starbucks,” than speed Kalinowski said, even if it means slightly longer waits.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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