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TikTok Slows Down Starbucks

TikTok has inspired a variety of customized drinks at Starbucks, especially when those drinks go viral. Complicated orders have also inspired baristas to post TikTok videos about what goes into making such complex drinks.

In general, organizations appreciate customers promoting their products on social media. But occasionally, there are unforeseen consequences.

Starbucks strives to keep its drive-thru time around 40-50 seconds. However, some viral video recipes are complicated, which increases the time it takes to make them, resulting in longer lines with increased waiting time. An additional problem is that several of the customers do not like the TikTok-inspired drink they ordered.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the USA Today article, ‘That’s on TikTtok,’ Not Our Menu’: Starbucks Baristas Can Make Viral Drink Orders But Need Time And Patience , by Gabriela Miranda, May 27, 2021; the Yahoo! article, TikTok Trends Are Shaping What You Buy, Eat and Drink, by Amy Poulter, September 22, 2021; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Shutterstock / Slava_kovtun.

Discussion Questions:

1. Should Starbucks encourage customers to post their drinks on TikTok and/or other social media?

Guidance: From a marketing perspective, the answer is yes. Increased exposure on social media can increase brand awareness and brand loyalty. However, from an operational perspective, it presents problems. At the moment, Starbucks does not limit the number of modifications a customer can make for mobile and delivery orders. Starbuck reports that there are over 170,000 possible combinations that a customer can request.

Encouraging customization results in a conflict with their 40-50 second service time goal for drive-thru. As the order becomes more complicated, the time it takes to make the order increases, increasing waiting times in line.

2. What can Starbucks do to help reduce the line size?

Guidance: There are two basic approaches: 1) reduce the time it takes to fill the order, or 2) increase the number of baristas.

Reducing the time to fill an order is difficult. One approach is to limit the options. However, Starbucks prides itself on allowing customers to customize their orders. Another approach would be to encourage customers to order items, especially the more complex customized items, through an app. This would save time and one step in the overall process. Finally, they should consider their processes of making the drinks to see if improved processes or equipment could reduce the time.

The other basic approach is to add more baristas and equipment to handle the slower service times. Obviously, this can be an expensive approach.

3. What operational advantages are gained from TikTok favorites?

Guidance: Interestingly, Starbucks could gain insights for product development by examining TikTok favorites. It is possible that they could take one of these favorites and turn it into a standard menu item, or at least see what flavor combinations are most popular.

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Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips
1 year ago

TikTok Slows Down Starbucks 1.     Should Starbucks encourage customers to post their drinks on TikTok and/or other social media? Yes, Starbucks should encourage their customers to post drinks on social media. This will create more of an influx of business for Starbucks. For Starbucks to be successfully, the company must embrace all forms of advertisement. This includes the platform of social media. To keep up with the trending times, TikTok will be necessary along with other social media platforms. Starbucks is a leading coffee company, and it will be imperative for future successes to encourage the advertisement of their products. This… Read more »

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