Should Starbucks Slow Down Its Service?

Starbucks is telling its baristas to slow down and prepare only two drinks at a time. Is it a good idea or will longer lines keep customers away? Vote in our poll and see what TheStreet thinks.
Publish date:

(Article updated with additional information about Starbucks selling wine and beer.)

SEATTLE, Wash. (


) -- The line at your local


(SBUX) - Get Report

may get a little longer. And the drinks you wait for may soon be alcoholic.

That's because the coffee shop chain is asking its baristas -- the workers behind the counter who actually make the coffee drinks -- to work at a slower pace so customers don't feel like their coveted caffeinated beverages came off a mechanized assembly line.

Starbucks wants its baristas to prepare two drinks at a time at most, and to take more care in preparing each beverage, according to a report in the

Wall Street Journal


The report also said baristas should steam milk for one drink at a time instead of a whole pitcher for multiple drinks, as well as rinse pitchers after each use, remain at the espresso bar at all times and use one espresso machine instead of two.

A barista who works in a Starbucks location that has already put the new guidelines into practice told the


that working on a maximum of two drinks at a time has "doubled the amount of time it takes to make drinks in some cases," and that his customers now wait in longer lines.

Vote: Should Starbucks slow down their service?

Another barista whose store has yet to employ the new rules told the newspaper he was concerned about his ability to keep up with the volume of customers if only making one beverage at a time. "While I'm blending a frappuccino, it doesn't make sense to stand there and wait for the blender to finish running, because I could be making an iced tea at the same time," he said.

Starbucks maintained that its new drink-making protocol will lead to more consistent beverages made in a time-efficient manner, and that the drinks will be fresher and hotter, even if some customers will have to wait longer for certain drinks like no-foam lattes.

Slowing down their barista's coffee-making techniques is not the only change to be implemented by Starbucks as of late.

In a separate endeavor, Starbucks is looking to start selling regional wine and beer, and a selection of local cheeses served on China tableware.

More of an all-day café than a traditional Starbucks, Starbucks already outfitted several locations -- including one on Olive Way in its hometown Seattle's Capitol Hill area. The test store's barista bar was rebuilt so customers can sit at and around it, conversing with the baristas and watching them prepare drinks, much like customers at a traditional bar would do.

The new store was designed to look like it had been a part of the neighborhood for years, with a "green" design and sustainability-minded décor.

If the refurbished location proves successful, Starbucks could make moves to expand the updated concept to other Starbucks locations, according to a report in

USA Today


It could also help Starbucks tap into the afternoon and evening markets of store traffic, where a customer may come in for a $4 cup of coffee on the way to work in the morning, then stop back for a $9 glass of wine and a cheese plate on the way home.

Starbucks also recently announced last month that it would raise prices on some of its menu offerings to offset rising commodity costs .

The Seattle-based chain said the increases would be targeted to "certain beverages in certain markets" in response to the recent jump in the price of green arabica coffee, which it said was close to a 13-year high. It also noted volatility in the cost of other key ingredients, such as sugar, dairy products and cocoa, as a factor in its decision.

Vote: Should Starbucks slow down their service?

The move echoed that of fast-food operator

Wendy's Arby's Group

(WEN) - Get Report

, which said earlier last month that rising commodity costs would hit its restaurants in the third and fourth quarters of this year. Wendy's expects a 2% to 3% commodity increase for fiscal 2010.

Higher raw food costs would likely undermine profit margins as fast-food restaurants are hesitant to raise prices in a weak economy, according to Wendy's CFO Stephen E. Hare.

>>>> Bankruptcy Watch: 20 Riskiest Restaurant Stocks

Starbucks left open the chance that it could make further adjustments to its pricing, saying it would continue to monitor green coffee prices closely and that it "could not rule out the possibility" of lifting the price of its packaged coffee products in the next few months.

In a show of confidence that these moves would be enough to offset the higher ingredient costs, Starbucks reaffirmed its outlook for earnings of $1.36 to $1.41 per share in its fiscal 2011, which ends in September of next year.

Separately Thursday, UBS analyst David Palmer raised his forecast for Starbucks' third-quarter same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least one year. The analyst now expects Starbucks to grow its comps by 7%, up from his prior estimate for comps growth of 6%.

Palmer noted that Starbucks likely "maintained its third-quarter sales momentum into the fourth quarter, with consistent sales strength through the quarter."

With higher prices on a number of Starbucks menu items, it's easy to see how Palmer's expectations for higher revenues could easily be met.

The analyst also raised his price target on Starbucks, to $31 from $29, and maintained a buy rating on the stock.

With all this in mind, do you think it's a good idea for Starbucks baristas to slow down and take more care in preparing each drink? Take our poll and see what readers of



-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

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