Business

Starbucks baristas are oppressed by TikTok Frappuccinos

Most coffee shops have customers who stop by occasionally, and Starbucks has a boss who does the same. Howard Schultz began his third stint in 35 years as chief executive this week with a promise to restore the heart of a global chain that grew from a Seattle coffee shop.

“We crave love, to be hugged, to be appreciated, to be cared for. . . Over a cup of coffee, we bring people together,” he told a gathering of employees, many of whom feel unloved themselves. His first act was to suspend stock buybacks and try to quell the discontent that has led to baristas in several US stores joining a union.

His vision of Starbucks cafes as a soothing “third place” away from home and work, where locals can meet and chat over coffee crafted by passionate experts, is familiar. He said something similar Most recently, he took back control in 2008. Even Schultz admits that his platonic ideal has “become somewhat dissipated in recent years.”

Some of the stresses it faces are common to other companies. Supply chains are stretched and commodity prices are rising. Many US companies are struggling to recruit and retain staff after the pandemic’s “big resignation”. Dissatisfied employees want better pay and conditions: Amazon workers in a New York department store voted for a union last week.

But Starbucks has its own problem among its employees. Ray Oldenburg, the sociologist who popularized the notion of the “third place” praised Cafes and hostels to facilitate the “atomization of life” in urban America. The burden of today’s baristas is the atomization of the Frappuccino.

One of these blended ice drinks became infamous at Starbucks last year fired a barista for tweeting a picture of “Edward” named after him. customer who he had to mix it for. The Venti Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with 13 Modifiers (Starbucks term for additives) featured five bananas, seven dashes of caramel sauce, and extra cinnamon dolce topping.

The Edward is a Frankenstein monster of mass customization, but he’s not unique. According to Schultz, baristas can work in coffee shops to make their espresso crema. In reality, they’re often at drive-through stations, pumping extra shots of syrup and cream into White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccinos.

There is 170,000 ways to customize drinks in Starbucks stores, including any multicolored off-menu mixes that Gen Z customers request before posting Videos on Tiktok. Flavor variety has been facilitated by the Starbucks mobile app, which allows customers to pre-order wacky combinations for pickup without having to face an angry barista in person.

Frappuccinos has been around since 1995, during Shultz’s initial tenure as CEO, but has proliferated in recent years. Cold beverages, including cold brew coffee, iced lattes, and frappuccinos, are considered 70 percent of US sales last year, up from half in 2018.

That’s on purpose. Schultz last took over the helm in the middle of the coffee wars Mid-2000s with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts when Starbucks was undercut by cheaper cappuccinos. Since then it has regained its premium – and grown worldwide 34,000 points of sale — by offering higher-priced, individual drinks.

Starbucks has changed in other ways. The pandemic-driven work-from-home shift and population movement to the suburbs means many Americans are no longer lingering in downtown stores, such as the original coffee shop at Pike Place Market in Seattle. They’re more likely to grab a frothy drink on a drive-through.

The company has closed 420 US stores and opens new drive-through and walk-by “pick-ups” for pre-ordered beverages: 45 percent of outlets will be available in such formats next year. These are intended to satisfy individual consumer preferences, but this is not the case for community third places.

That’s not a recipe for employee happiness either: all of this makes the barista’s job more stressful and stressful less fulfilling. Many complain of overwork from having to juggle a deluge of digital and in-person orders while mixing increasingly fancy Frappuccinos. The personal touch boils down to greeting customers through windows, or on screens.

Schultz goes on an audio tour to bring “kindness and joy” back to his estranged baristas. I suspect he’ll hear they’re feeling like the face of a machine, with the artificial intelligence software in their mobile app advising customers digitally while offering a thin layer of humanity on the front end.

Starbucks has been a good place to work in the past. It stood out among the quick-service chains by offering its employees health, education, and parental benefits, as well as stock ownership. The hourly wage has increased to one average $17 in the face of union aspirations, and Schultz vowed this week to “make it better for our partners.”

But dissatisfaction goes deeper than money. BMW has called time Let buyers customize their cars endlessly, and I advise Schultz to do the same for Frappuccinos. Otherwise, no matter how cute the vision, its baristas will not feel cared for.

john.gapper@ft.com

https://www.ft.com/content/562eefc2-5842-4dc6-a07c-728f59f64cbc Starbucks baristas are oppressed by TikTok Frappuccinos

Adam Bradshaw

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