Check Out This Starbucks Store That Could Hold the Key to Solving the Coffee King's Biggest Problem
A classic Starbucks store

Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) will have to get creative to solve its newest problem: overly congested stores because of an increasingly complex menu and an influx of mobile orders.

"It used to be, they [customers] would look at the line at the point of sale, and if that line looked too long, they might decide not to do a transaction at that time and come back later. Now when customers walk into the store, we've alleviated the congestion at the point-of-sale line, and now we have congestion at the hand-off plane," explained Starbucks president and COO Kevin Johnson on a conference call in late January.

"So, they might look at the number of customers around the hand-off plane and the number of beverages on the hand-off plane, and that might create the signal to them that they are going to wait to do their transaction," Johnson continued, adding that congested lines was "the most significant contributing factor" to the company's so-so 3% fiscal first-quarter same-store sales increase.

Promised Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, "We are now laser-focused on fixing this problem. But the nature of it, too much demand, is an operational challenge we have solved before, and I can assure you we will solve again."
 
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Mobile orders represented at least 20% of Starbucks sales during peak traffic times at about 1,200 stores in the most recent quarter. That was up significantly from roughly 13% a year ago.
 
One way for Starbucks to address its congestion is by redesigning its locations for better flow, both from customer and barista standpoints. We recently visited a newly renovated Starbucks store in New York City's Penn Station with a design geared to tackling the logjam issue. The fact that we waited almost 10 minutes to get a large, black iced coffee (store was relatively empty) and weren't sure where to wait for the order are two things we'll let slide as the store just re-opened, and it's bound to have kinks to work out.
 
Editor's Pick originally published Feb. 22.

Customers are encouraged to enter this wide line queue.
Customers are encouraged to enter this wide line queue.

The wider queue makes the line seem shorter. Also, you can grab sandwiches while in line, instead of choosing them per the usual near the register.
The wider queue makes the line seem shorter. Also, you can grab sandwiches while in line, instead of choosing them per the usual near the register.

Multiple registers to take multiple orders are reminiscent of checking out at a Whole Foods.
Multiple registers to take multiple orders are reminiscent of checking out at a Whole Foods.

An extra-long counter to wait for drinks and food alleviates typical Starbucks crowds.
An extra-long counter to wait for drinks and food alleviates typical Starbucks crowds.

More ovens to pump out more food helps get people served and out the door faster.
More ovens to pump out more food helps get people served and out the door faster.

A wide, dedicated spot exists to handle mobile orders.
A wide, dedicated spot exists to handle mobile orders.

The back of the house also looks more open so baristas can walk around more easily and handle tons of orders.
The back of the house also looks more open so baristas can walk around more easily and handle tons of orders.

One of two spots to wait and pick up your order. It could use some signage, as we were a little confused about the process.
One of two spots to wait and pick up your order. It could use some signage, as we were a little confused about the process.

One of two large stations to add your sugar and milk. Many Starbucks have only one.
One of two large stations to add your sugar and milk. Many Starbucks have only one.

Some of the tables are smaller to encourage people to get in, and out. No lingering for five hours to scrub free wi-fi.
Some of the tables are smaller to encourage people to get in, and out. No lingering for five hours to scrub free wi-fi.

But there are also longer communal tables (than the norm), if you want to camp out for the day and work.
But there are also longer communal tables (than the norm), if you want to camp out for the day and work.

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