Mobile ordering is out of control, causing delays and chaos

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  • Starbucks employees say the chain is letting too many customers place orders on its app.
  • They say some stores don’t have the capacity to keep up with demand.
  • Starbucks also allows unlimited beverage changes through its app, which staff say they are fed up with.

In addition to racing to cut drive-thru times and navigating customers without a mask, Starbucks employees face another challenge: mobile orders.

Customers turned to the Starbucks app during the pandemic because it allows them to order in advance and without any face-to-face interaction. Some baristas say it’s overwhelmed them with mobile orders, which now account for more than a quarter of its transactions in the United States.

“The whole mobile ordering system is really bad,” Nat El-Hai, a former Beverly Hills Starbucks barista, told Insider.

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Current and former staff told Insider that the chain is letting too many customers place orders on its app and not having enough staff demand, resulting in delays for in-store customers.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider that this was “not representative of the customer and partner experience in the majority of our stores.”

Mobile orders start arriving as soon as her store opens in North Carolina at 5 a.m., barista Sarah Ann Austin said. A former New York barista said most of their store’s sales are mobile orders and they can get over seven per minute during peak times.

El-Hai said his store was often inundated with walk-in and drive-by customers and was “chronically understaffed”. She said staff were told, however, that they could not turn off mobile controls.

A former barista in Long Beach, Calif., Said that before the pandemic, when the store was too busy, management would sometimes turn off the point of sale system used for mobile orders and pretend the server was down.

Customers expect prompt service and heavily modified drinks

Customers get an estimate of collection time when ordering on the app. A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider it helps to stagger arrivals based on how long the drinks are brewed.

But El-Hai and Austin said many customers placed their app orders on the way to the store and didn’t give staff enough time to prepare their drinks. They were angry if they had to wait, the barista said. Some customers even placed orders on the app after arriving at the store, El-Hai said.

On the other hand, some customers were very late to collect their orders, but would be “angry” if the baristas had thrown away their drinks, El-Hai said. A former Los Angeles barista said staff sometimes had to remake drinks if they were cold or melted by the time customers arrived.

Sometimes the app wouldn’t update when ingredients ran out in the store, meaning people were ordering drinks that couldn’t be made, El-Hai said. Refunds for mobile orders can only be made on the app, which can be slow, “and people are really mad at you,” El-Hai said.

“It’s not set up as it should be,” said Stephanie, a barista in British Columbia, Canada. She told Insider that sometimes the app doesn’t reflect when the chain’s collectible coffee mugs are out of stock.

The Starbucks spokesperson said, “The app shows what is available in each location and stores turn it on and off. It is accurate and indicates what is available.”

Workers also said customers are taking advantage of the unlimited changes available through mobile orders. A Maryland team leader said some customers had added changes “just because they were there.”

They added, “People can make drink combinations that not only aren’t intuitive, but just don’t make sense.”

El-Hai shared with Insider a photo of a drink she made for a mobile ordering customer who requested 12 shots of coffee, along with five shots of hazelnut syrup, in an iced latte.

They added that the staff are fed up with making so-called “TikTok” drinks, which are inspired by viral trends and are not limited to mobile orders.

Other workers told Insider that these drinks slow drive-thru times and anger customers when not perfectly prepared. They said the company should reduce the number of changes allowed.

Do you work at Starbucks? Do you have a story to share? Email this reporter at [email protected]


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