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Should Coffeehouses Do Something About Drink Loopholes?

At some Starbucks and other coffeehouses across the country, there are worse things brewing than bitter coffee — namely, nasty disputes over customized coffee drinks.

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out that customized drinks at Starbucks often cost less than specialty drinks. The customer profiled realized that after years of paying $3.90 plus tax for her skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte, she could make the same drink — for $0.40 less — by requesting a nonfat latte with a shot of cinnamon syrup. When her baristas caught on, they refused to cooperate with her order, charging her the price of the specialty drink instead.

Earlier this year, another drink was at the center of online coffee controversy. The ghetto latte, which is a double-shot of espresso (usually on ice) made into a latte with free milk and cream at the condiment bar, often costs less than half the price of a latte ordered by name.

Starbucks Corporation has responded with mixed answers. In the past, the company has said, "We trust our customers to make the choices that are right for them." Yet when prompted by the Star Tribune, a Starbucks rep stated that customers "should be charged the corresponding premium drink price."

Where do you stand? Should baristas be able to refuse requests for orders such as espresso on ice? Is Starbucks ripping off customers for so-called premium drinks? Or are customers taking advantage of the Starbucks ordering system?


Join The Conversation
Rancher'sGirl Rancher'sGirl 8 years
It really disturbs me to use the term "ghetto" but if that is what I am, then so be it. I add a lot of milk to my drip coffee because I don't want to burn the skin off the roof of my mouth, not because I'm out to rip off the company. I didn't realize how lowbrow and trashy I am until Starbucks pointed it out to me. No money spends just as well elsewhere, yes? :)
Lydiana Lydiana 8 years
It's not actually a "premium drink." It's just what the drink is. It actually rings up the same in the register if you hit "cinndolcelatte" or if you hit "latte" and then "cinndolce." The customer who was getting the discount was probably getting it from poorly trained baristas who weren't hitting the "cinndolce" button. It's not the trained baristas fault they were following protocol by charging her the correct price for the drink. Also, when you say you want a "shot" of syrup, you're not actually telling the barista what you want. There is no such thing as a "shot" of syrup. There is a "pump" of syrup and if you tell the barista you only want one "pump" of syrup, they probably won't charge you for the syrup at all. But, if you say you want a "shot" they're going to assume you mean you want the full two, three, four, or five pumps that go into whatever sized drink you're ordering. And, as far as it goes with people trying to screw over the company by "ghetto" drink ordering and the like, we usually use a case by case basis. One time deal: not a problem. But, I usually let them know when I catch them that what they're doing is wrong and if I see them in the store again, I won't be as nice about it. I'm lenient about problems, but I don't want to lose my job because someone wants to pay fifty cents for their venti tea six times a day!
leoladie23 leoladie23 8 years
i just dont drink coffee...all my problems are solved!
newimprovedmrsmc newimprovedmrsmc 8 years
I haven't had this experience with Starbucks. I go there because it's the closes coffee shop to my house since the locally owned shop closed it's "second" location due to time commitment and I'm guessing a slower afternoon and evening crowd based on location. Generally I'm a supporter of local businesses. I will say that in they years I've frequented the locally owned place that I NEVER got the same kind of service in spite of daily visits. The baristas know me & my husband by name even though we're not daily customers. They also know our drink orders, so much so that a few days ago my husband went in and ordered my drink & the barista corrected it. There are times when I go in at an odd hour and the price is different than what I pay at the usual times we happen to go but I don't argue it because most of the time the baristas are wicked friendly & go out of their way to keep our business! I'm frankly surprised that a barista would object to pricing the drink one way or the other.
erinlikestoplay erinlikestoplay 8 years
If you can create your desired drink peace-meal, and get a lower price, the drink should be the lower price! What's the deal with charging a premium just because it's a popular drink option? Building your own latte from the condiment bar, however? That's a little sketchy. However, why do iced lattes cost so much anyway? They just pour espresso over ice with milk, and charge $3 for it! Iced drinks should totally be cheaper than the equivalent hot drinks. In addition to less work (no steaming the milk), you get less liquid because of all the ice.
Lindira Lindira 8 years
I think it's hypocritical to call people out on their "coffee snobbery" then go on to say people who drink sugary coffee drinks aren't really drinking coffee. It seems just as judgmental. Back on subject, I agree that if something is on the menu as a viable drink choice, customers should be charged for exactly what they order. And if a latte with caramel is the same as a more expensive Caramel Macchiato, Starbucks is absolutely overcharging just so they can call it "premium."
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
I gave up Starbucks a long time ago. They burn their beans, and their coffee gave me a headache (too much burnt carbon).
rockd_out_vxn rockd_out_vxn 8 years
Amen, Swag! At the same time, what's with all the Sbux hating? Seriously... if you dont like it, don't go... but dont get on your high horse of coffee snobbery and tell me they suck. I feel some less commercialized places have burnt espresso... but I don't bad mouth the place when someone says they like it. I like Starbucks... and as fancy as my drinks get (which is a non fat latte), I dont mind paying for my steamed milk. If you need sugary coffee drinks, you shouldn't say you drink coffee because you dont. You drink sugar.
swag1 swag1 8 years
If you're ordering a bucket of pumpkin-pie-flavored Cool Whip that you call "coffee", you deserve whatever pricing they throw at you.
dootsie dootsie 8 years
So what do I get for all the times they've only filled my cup to 3/4?
Spectra Spectra 8 years
If I had to shell out money for coffee every day, I think I'd figure out the cheapest way of getting it too. I think Starbucks has a high enough profit margin that they can afford to lose 40 cents on a smart-cookie consumer every now and again.
sparklemeetspop sparklemeetspop 8 years
I'm no barista, but if the same ingredients cost more because it's labeled "premium" or whatever, it seems wrong. Granted, it's just a matter of a few cents, but if they're going to wave the morality card, they should double check their business practices. And I don't really feel bad for Starbucks not doing well financially, everyone is these days. Maybe they should have thought twice before over expanding. We don't need stores a block away from each other.
DMBloyola6 DMBloyola6 8 years
The "ghetto latte" thing really pissed me off - I actually love iced espresso, and didn't appreciate the possibility of getting mad-dogged at a Starbucks because that's what I ordered!
jelibeann jelibeann 8 years
a latte isn't a latte without steamed's just an overly milked-down coffee milk...probably kind of room temperature at that because the milk isn't hot, like it would be if it were steamed...personally, I drink my coffee dark, but I hear people all the time at coffee places asking for extra-light coffee...the difference is that starbucks lets you add your own and my local DD adds it behind the counter...they might call it a "ghetto latte," but it's not taking the time of a barista steaming the milk, so it's not the same and shouldn't cost as much...all that aside, starbucks stinks
bluepuppybites bluepuppybites 8 years
Give the customer what they want as long as it's reasonable. Word of mouth is the best and worst thing for a business. Screw one customer and they will rant to all of their friends and whoever will listen.
lisabarn lisabarn 8 years
If it is on the board (IE latte and you can order the syrup added) then you should be able to order it - if it is cheaper the the 'specialty drink' then they are obviously over charging us!
shoneyjoe shoneyjoe 8 years
I customize my Starbucks drinks. I go in and order a large black coffee. After a beat, I repeat it, because the barista can't quite comprehend that I don't want anything else added. Drinking my black coffee, I feel like the weirdest guy in the place.
CBragin CBragin 8 years
I work for Starbucks, and I tell all the baristas, "Just say Yes" to any order. The reason why many customers come to us is for the customization. Whatever you want, we can make it! No matter what the drink, it should be made perfectly and with a smile. Most baristas don't feel animosity towards a customer just because they want extra syrup or in a larger cup or whatever. Its just another drink! We have several people come through the drive-thru just for cups of ice or hot water to heat baby bottles. If people take advantage of our good will and "just say yes" policy, well that guilt and karma is on them, not on us.
verily verily 8 years
I don't like the taste of their espresso, so I've been replicating their "flavor of the month" lattes with cheaper Cafe Au Laits/Mistos for years. They never push back on putting a specialty flavor into a regular Cafe Au Lait. We're talking $2.50 tops for a Tall drink.
caryatid caryatid 8 years
this happened to me... asking for hot chocolate with a shot of peppermint used to be cheaper than peppermint hot chocolate but lots of places would just say "oh you mean you want a peppermint hot chocolate". annoying!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
The ghetto latte is totally tacky and takes advantage of the free add-ons, so I get why they're angry about that one, but adding a flavor shot? You're still spending more than you would on the regular drink and it's ridiculous that would refuse to sell to the customer. Why offer the shot flavors if you're going to get all stingy about it? But then, the stupidly high prices are part of why I think Starbucks is crap (well, that and their nasty, burnt-tasting coffee).
starangel82 starangel82 8 years
Now I do agree, if you are going to Starbucks, then you should realize you are paying a higher price. But if someone figures out a way to get a cheaper drink, then more power to them. I think in cases where they have a person coming in everyday... cut 'em a break. They are a loyal customer.
clickmichelle clickmichelle 8 years
I gave up my Starbucks a few months ago. I guess my order was ghetto - I'd get a grande drip coffee in a venti cup. I like lots of cream, and ordering a venti with room for cream meant I was pouring out coffee at the condiment bar to make enough room at the top. When you think about it, the coffee or tea cost is minuscule compared to the gallons of milk and half and half they go through. they might make more money by dropping the price of the coffee/tea and charging for the dairy or soy to put into it. (Horrors!)
krissycake krissycake 8 years
if youre being sneaky about an order, then i would say starbucks should catch on and charge for what you're getting...i mean, a skinny latte with cinnamon syrup (not a shot of syrup, shots are the espresso) is different than a cinnamon dolce (that's a different syrup!) latte, so if what you want is a skinny latte with cinnamon that's actually a different order, so you should only be charged thusly. As for the 'ghetto latte,' i think it's about how you go about ordering it...i mean, two shots of espresso and ice should be served in an appropriate cup size, and adding milk or cream is your right as the coffee buyer. But, if you are being ultra ghetto and requesting that drink order in a larger than appropriate cup, then yeah, you are kind of going against the system. And I agree with annebreal...don't get mad at the baristas, it's a real case of 'don't shoot the messenger' in these situations!
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 8 years
I think Starbucks needs to simplify their menu and just do their drinks. Any customized drink should be more expensive then a drink on the menu, I think. I only get hot water and bring my own tea bag if I meet friends there, so :shrug: . I like organic tea, not that crap they serve.
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