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Where Starbucks Fails

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in Business Management

Starbucks mission statement, according to their Web site, is to “develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.”

If that’s so, can anyone answer me why none of the Starbucks in my area can give me a slice of lemon with my iced tea?

I mean, that’s a pretty reasonable request, right? Even Wendy’s, purveyor of crappy fast food, serves iced tea with fresh lemon slices.

But when I accompany my wife to Starbucks, which she loves for the coffee, the only way I can get lemon flavor in my iced tea is to have lemonade added to it — because none of the Starbucks she goes to carries actual lemon.

Seems to me this is a serious mission disconnect for a company with the rather modest goal of giving people drinks they like.

One of the Starbucks here has a sign that says to speak up if your drink isn’t “perfect.” When I do, I get a shrug, a smile, and an apology — but no lemon.

I wouldn’t make noise about this, except so many hold Starbucks up as an example of business brilliance, and this rather obvious service flaw makes me wonder why.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Chichi82 November 24, 2009 at 2:43 am

It’s customers like you that make me glad that I quit.


DNF1978 November 9, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I just caught a typo…….. I do feel that most of our partners enjoy getting to know our customers and making their drinks the way they like them, that is our job. As in any other job market there are employees out there who do not enjoy their job, who got beat by their husbands the night before, or their electricity got shut off, or they got in a car accident on the way to work, their mother is dying of cancer…….. there could be a list of things that are going on with them, so like in my job where I tend to ask questions before I assume they are just grouchy or that they hate there customer, who knows it could be your perception. There are many people out there who refuse to be satisfied and what feels like nothing will stop them from ruining and degrading someone until they feel better about themselves, I’m sure you’ve met someone like that in your life. Anyways, if you care enough to complain about thinking someone hates their customers maybe you should care enough to give them a break and chuck it up to them having a bad day, and not take it so personal…… we’re only human.


DNF1978 November 9, 2009 at 3:07 pm


I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience. I don’t feel that most of our partners enjoy getting to know their customers and making their drinks exactly the way they like them, that is our job. I love that you used McDonalds as an example, in fact it made me laugh a little bit. Sure they don’t complain about it, they don’t have time. At Mcdonalds you are not a person, you are a number that is times through their lines and drive-thrus. I’m pretty sure most of the negative things, although I have not read through all of them, is just retaliation from partners who on a daily basis get yelled at, complaints, and at some times physically threatened for things beyond their controll, such as offering fresh lemon slices. You may think that statement is a bit much, but if you actually worked behind the counter I think you might have a much better perspective on what people who work in our industry really go through day after day. You can only say “I’m really sorry that we don’t have lemons, but we do have lemon juice packets or some lemonade to add to that for you” and then get treated less-than-human because it is not the answer they wanted to hear. It’s coffee, it’s tea, it’s and experience, and it’s people helping other people. Just because you are not the one behind the counter does not give you the right to treat someone badly because they don’t offer a product you want, it isn’t their fault. I suggest to everyone customers and employees alike……….. why dont’ you treat people the way you would like to be treated? And Tracy, FYI, your statement would have been much more credible without the profanity.


DNF1978 November 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I think Bob Bly was having a bad day. I will agree with a comment made before me though. I have been with Starbucks for 6 years and working in 6 stores. Requests for lemon have got to be below 10, there is just no demand for it. The cost of lemons, the cost of labor for partners to prep the lemons, the price for making labels, extra containers to hold the lemons, the additional food permits for handling fresh food, the additional sanctioned sink that would have to be available to prep the lemons, finding providers of lemons for all 16,729 stores, shipping lemons to all 16,729 stores. Then lets train all 124,898 partners on the standards of cutting those fresh lemons, how to sanitize them properly, how to store them, what the shelf life of the lemons are, the list goes on and on and on and on and on……… its much more complex then just simply having lemons available for your iced-teas. Bob Bly should know this with all of his experience as an independant copywriter. Cheers.


Tracy November 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Wow. Just wow. This is what baristas really think of their customers?

I don’t have a super-complex drink and I’ll take it without complaint if it tastes halfway close (just please, please, please don’t put those chemical laden syrups in my drink, I can’t tolerate the taste). I used to make espresso at a no-name coffee shop and I sure didn’t complain if customer wanted their drink a particular way – customers who come back are dollars that keep my paycheck from bouncing. But to see Starbucks employees complaining that customers want their high-priced drink to taste the way they want it – it boggles the mind. Why do people pay $5 for a freakin’ coffee? Because they want it the way they want it. If we’re supposed to just take what you feel like making, we may as well get coffee at McDonalds. But then again, McDonalds employees don’t b!tch about adjusting the drink for a customer.

No wonder Starbucks’ quality has been declining. Their employees don’t give a **** about customers.


Rick November 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Depending on the state, all employees who work with food (i.e. baristas, cooks, bar tenders) are required to attend state food handler classes and pass the associated test on safe food handling procedures. Washington state is one such state where this is required.


Susan October 31, 2009 at 3:06 am

First let me say, I am a Starbucks barista. A lot of baristas are taking this personally. It seems to me that this article is an attack on the CORPORATION, not on you! He is challenging its mission statement. Nothing wrong with that. Also, if we can keep bananas, we can definitely keep lemons. (Might need more refrigeration, etc though- but it definitely can be done.) Food prep? Nope I don’t think we need a special course to learn how to cut lemons… we handle food all the time. Good job Bob, good point. And also who says that Bob is the one that orders the complicated trink? I don’t think he’s suggesting that any baristas are doing a bad job. He’s just challenging the company’s menu. I would love to be able to serve customers lemons– I have gotten that question before, believe it or not. Especially with hot Awake tea on a cold day in Toronto!


Joeytee October 31, 2009 at 12:39 am

Give those goofy customers lemons and they next thing will be cream and sugar for coffee, where will it end?
Give them what they need like Kenny G CD’s and a buck a cup Instant freaking coffee!
Lemon slice whit tea, the nerve of those customers!!


Joeytee October 30, 2009 at 7:20 pm

No wonder this ****** company has hit the skids with dumb ***** like this working there! Boycott this ****** greedy corporate pig, put them out of their misery!


Courtney October 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

I’m also pretty sure the reason the tea lemonades are on the menu is to satisfy some people’s need for the lemon flavor in thier tea. To carry lemon slices as well would defeat a number of customers getting this drink, I would think.


rockthebux October 21, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I have worked for Starbucks for 7 years in 4 different stores in 3 different states and in those 7 years I can think of maybe 3 people asking for lemon slices. The demand is just not there.


Barista Jen October 21, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Whoever you are….I heart you!!!

I really do!


3rdPlaceProvider October 20, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Hmm, this post actually made me sit and think of ALL of the things I already do for my customers that I’m NOT supposed to do for them. Being as it may, I say “yes” with a delightful smile on my face. Melody is correct, we would all have to take classes on food preparation, this would lead to a number of things. In the end, changing the third place environment all together and speed of service. “Yes, sure I will have your decaf triple grande 3 pump mocha skim no foam shots on top not stirred latte right up. And you would also like a bacon artisan sandwich on a buttered multi-grain bagel? Sure thing.” While Joe is waiting just for a tall coffee behind that customer. Why do we feel the need to be so picky with the things we do? And at no cost. If it matters so much to you, carry around sliced lemon with you to add in your drink. I know plenty of customers who carry their own sugars with them. Who ask for their second tea bag on the side. Who actually like the lemon packets. Get a life and complain about something else


Really Bob? Really?! October 19, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Seriously?! It’s a freakin’ lemon slice. You can live without it. Really?! Really?! This is worth bashing the company who will bend over backwards to make your Triple Venti, two pump sugar free vanilla two pump sugarfree hazelnut nonfat 175 degree no foam latte? Because they don’t carry fresh lemons? And then re make it with a smile on their face when you suspect that it’s only 170 degrees. Really? BRING YOUR OWN LEMON.


you blow, bob October 18, 2009 at 8:19 pm

If you love that other places have lemons, then quit going to starbucks. i’m surprised you cared enough to write that article. Go back to wendy’s.


get bent, bob. October 18, 2009 at 3:28 am

Something tells me Bob is just one of those customers you just can’t please and that employees just don’t want to help. Get lost, Bob.


where bob fails October 18, 2009 at 2:09 am

i agree im sorry but i cannot take a request for a slice of lemon seriously from a disgruntled copywright writer thats achievement is an entry in cosmo, sorry bob.


Write for a Living October 18, 2009 at 1:59 am

It’s ideas like these that make Bob an “independent copywriter and consultant.”


Melody October 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Hi Bob! I was just browsing through mystarbucksidea.com – I haven’t seen you there yet! (or I’ve missed whatever you’ve posted there) That would be a great place for you to be heard by Starbucks because it is precisely what that site is for!! Use the “search” button and look for “lemon” and you will find lots of threads for you to participate in. Good luck!


ex-SM October 16, 2009 at 9:22 am

Hi Bob,

Starbucks store managers are held accountable for a very detailed quality assurance checklist. One highly important item on the checklist is not having “unauthorized” food on the premises — this prevents stores from selling homemade food, keeping pet treats for when folks have their dogs with them, things like that. So unfortunately, you aren’t likely to find a store manager willing to bring in lemons for you — it could literally cost them their job when their auditor comes around.

Your best bet is to follow Melody’s advice and to continue to lobby the corporation directly via mystarbucksidea.com.


JavaJoe October 15, 2009 at 11:51 pm

fresh lemon slices, a lot like the bananas, would have to have certain hold times and a whole slew of stipulations. the next thing for you to complain about is that your lemon slice isnt chilled or so forth. plus the lemon packets arent that bad. plus if you look at all the services we offer and the services we dont in the form of a two-sided scale, you might be surprised at how little the fact that we dont offer fresh lemons seem unimportant. also a lot of stores cant get fresh produce. hence why we use frozen bananas and not fresh. im sorry but i think this claim is frivolous compared to how almost every barista you encounter is willing to bend over backwards for your every need within a possible range.


Suki October 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm

A lemon packet is no substitution for fresh lemon slices. And Starbucks is already in the food business. They sell all sorts of food. I don’t see this as demanding something new. As an iced tea drinker, I will tell you that a lemon slice is an expected condiment. No more or no less than somebody ordering coffee would expect the establishment to provide cream as a condiment for their coffee.


Melody October 15, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I’m an absolute believer in the customer is always right, and “just say yes”, but I do not think the customer can demand that a corporation introduce something new into their stores that has not otherwise been available. Trust me, I believe customer service is about SERVICE, and that baristas should treat every customer like a regular, whether or not they even like them.

But in your case, you’re demanding that Starbucks introduce freshly cut lemon to the stores. Starbucks is in the beverage business and not the food business. Food preparation – cutting lemons – may require Starbucks to then have each barista go through some sort of food certification class. I don’t really know. There may not be enough demand for it. I don’t know the reason WHY Starbucks hasn’t done it, but there is a distinction to be made between (1) demanding good service with the resources that are there already within the Starbucks, and (2) demanding the corporation introduce something new.

My understanding is that store managers can order lemon packets. Your first step might be to ask your local store manager to order lemon packets.

You can complain to customer service, the district manager, and you can introduce your idea to mystarbucksidea.com – Though you’re far better off just voting on an existing thread about lemons. Thousands of people before you have already said the same thing to Starbucks. Here is just one example:


By the way, there has been much “gossip” that tea offerings will be re-vamped in January 2010. I have no idea what that really means (and I’m a hardcore coffee drinker) but perhaps you will get your wish then.


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