Ordering a coffee is not always as simple as saying, “I’ll have a coffee.” As TikTok videos with hashtags like #starbuckssecretmenu go viral, it has become normal to walk into a Starbucks and place an order with enough detailed modifications to blow a barista’s mind.
While it’s fun for customers to concoct a drink order to their specific liking, how does it feel for the baristas being asked to make these long, detailed orders?
In a since-deleted tweet this week, a Starbucks employee shared an elaborate Venti Caramel Crunch Frappuccino order he received that had 13 modifications, including adding five bananas, heavy cream, extra caramel drizzle, extra caramel crunch, extra salted brown butter topping, frappucino chips, one pump of honey blend, seven pumps of dark caramel sauce, extra whipped cream and ice, all double blended.
The Starbucks barista captioned the order: “On todays episode of why i wanna quit my job.” His tweet racked up thousands of retweets and likes — and prompted other baristas to commiserate with their own examples of nightmare orders they’d been asked to prepare.
Here’s how baristas really feel about your complicated coffee drink.
One of those baristas who responded to the viral Twitter thread was Bianca, a Starbucks employee who works in Northern California. She shared a Venti Green Tea Frappucino concoction that had 31 customizations, including bananas, affogato shots, cascara topping, frappucino chips, mocha and caramel drizzle, and pumps of toffee nut, pumpkin, vanilla, pineapple ginger, raspberry, cinnamon dolce, and hazelnut syrup.
this order comes in every other week pic.twitter.com/PAdcIFotyv
— Bianca (@binxsicle) May 3, 2021
Both Starbucks staff members whom HuffPost interviewed asked not to be fully named because they fear job reprisal for speaking out.
“I understand that there are unlimited customizations to your drink, but first of all, that drink didn’t make any sense and none of those things went together. It really just felt like they ordered it just to order it,” Bianca said about the drink order she tweeted out.
“A lot of customers are always like, ‘But it’s your job.’ But at the end of day, we’re not getting any raises or getting paid any more for putting in more work.”
– Bianca, a Starbucks barista
Bianca said that Starbucks drink recipes are designed to be short enough that they can be brought out to you in under three minutes, and these additional customizations take extra time. “I can understand that this is our job … but when it’s like this, and there’s a rush, and this order comes in, it really messes up our whole system,” she said.
Bianca said she enjoys her job and she likes trying out new recipes customers think up, but her one issue is the frustration from customers. “A lot of customers are always like, ‘But it’s your job.’ But at the end of day, we’re not getting any raises or getting paid any more for putting in more work.”
Victoria, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Virginia, said she personally considers it selfish of customers to make these elaborate drink demands. “I wish they’d be more understanding when we get busy and have a ton of drinks with specific modifications,” she told HuffPost. “They expect the drink to be done like 30 seconds after it’s ready. They don’t see that whatever prints first from the machine is our first priority, so if they order it after 30 people do, it’s not going to be made until their sticker is pulled.“
Ashley Rodriguez runs Boss Barista, a newsletter and podcast series about workplace equity and employee empowerment in coffee. As a barista veteran who has worked in the coffee business for over 10 years, she said that she does not mind customizations — as long as customers are polite about it.
“As a barista, you want to make customers happy,” Rodriguez said. “You want half-caf, that’s great. You want half-skim, half-soy, that’s fine too. If I can make it happen and you ask nicely, that’s totally fine, you should have the drink that you want, especially if it’s not onerous to do … I really am not into shaming customers for the things that they want.”
There are some reasonable limits, though. Rodriguez recalled a customer who wanted her to steam coconut milk from a can of coconut milk that she brought in without a can opener. “I was like, how do you expect me to open this?” she said.
Here’s how to make an elaborate coffee order without being a selfish jerk.
If you are a customer who really wants a super-customized drink, follow these guidelines baristas shared:
If you order online, you should still be patient.
Bianca recommended mobile orders for complicated Starbucks drinks because baristas get more of a heads up about your order, and customers can be clear about exactly which customizations you want.
If you do order ahead, though, you should still have patience. Recognize that online ordering systems and how busy a store is are largely outside of a barista’s control.
“I think the people who mobile order especially just need to realize that if they mobile order and come in immediately, their drink won’t be ready for at least a minute,” Victoria said, noting that this expectation of immediate service “leads to them coming to us, kind of rushing us in a way, even though we’re going our fastest.”
“We’re not, as a society, very nice to baristas.”
– Ashley Rodriguez, Boss Barista
You still need to consider that there’s a human behind the counter making your drink, Rodriguez notes.
“I think it’s really easy to take out your aggressions on people that we kind of shit on in society,” she said. “Either we make fun of baristas at Starbucks for being lazy, or we make fun of baristas at specialty coffee shops for being too hip and cool. We’re not, as a society, very nice to baristas.”
It helps to get specific with the ingredients if you’re going off-menu.
There are more than 170,000 ways to customize a Starbucks drink. Despite what TikTok suggests, there is no hidden menu that all Starbucks baristas know about. “There is no ‘secret menu,’ but we encourage customization and provide tools for customers to decide what’s best for them,” a Starbucks spokesperson said.
Bianca said customers have gotten frustrated with her for not knowing drink names they have heard of online. “There are times where they just simply state the drink that people on TikTok say like, ‘This is the sunset drink’ or ‘This is the cinnamon toast drink,’ and we don’t know what that means if you just say the name of the drink, because it’s not really on our menu,” she said.
“We know the same amount of information that customers know. We’re just trained to learn the drinks that [are] on the physical menu that you see at Starbucks.”
That’s why, if you do place a customized drink order you read about on someone’s “secret menu,” remember the ingredients, not the name.
Make requests, not demands.
Rodriguez said that if you know your coffee order is going to be complicated, give the barista a heads up before you launch into your order so that they know to pay close attention.
And watch your tone. Phrase your drink order as a question, like, “Can I get a latte?” over a demand like “Let me get a latte,” Rodriguez suggested. “It’s a small little way to signal that you’re asking for something,” she said.
If mistakes happen, you can politely ask for a drink to be remade.
Mistakes can be inevitable with a complicated order. When they happen, you can request a new drink ― just don’t throw a tantrum about it.
“I’ve never not been totally OK with remaking a drink,” Rodriguez said. “Just come up with kindness. ‘Hey, I think that I ordered this with soy milk, and I think this is regular milk. Is it OK if you remake it?’”
If the drink was awesome, let your barista know.
If you make a complicated drink order and your barista knocks it out of the park, tell them how much you enjoyed it.
“Coffee is one of those things that you can make it and enjoy it immediately,” Rodriguez said. “Take that opportunity to say, ‘Wow I love this. Thank you so much for making my drink. This tastes awesome.’ Those are the things that stick with us.”
Tip, regardless of what you ordered.
Rodriguez recommended tipping a dollar per drink every time, no matter how complicated or not your order is.
“We notice every single person who tips; I always notice, and I’m always angry at people when I’m like, ‘You come in here every day and you never tip me,’” Rodriguez said.
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