Here's why customers might be having a hard time getting their favorites at Starbucks

·4 min read
A sign inside Starbucks in downtown Phoenix says it is only open for to-go orders on March 18, 2020.
A sign inside Starbucks in downtown Phoenix says it is only open for to-go orders on March 18, 2020.

It is a busy Thursday morning, and the scent of freshly brewed coffee hits the noses of the crowd of customers waiting to pick up mobile orders at one Starbucks in Glendale.

For many Arizonans, a quick stop for coffee before work is part of their daily routine. However, Starbucks regulars might have noticed some changes in their local stores lately as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life.

One downtown Phoenix Starbucks temporarily has shifted to only drive-thru service in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus for its customers and employees. Shift supervisor Theo Harris said his store closed its dining room once before, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The decision was made to return to drive-thru only in mid-January due to the spread of the omicron variant.

“In order to provide the optimal experience consistently, we have transitioned to drive-thru only, just because left and right partners have either been exposed or tested positive,” Harris said. “Most (customers) are fairly understanding when they hear the reason behind it, just because everyone is kind of aware of what's going on right now.”

Jennifer Arrieta is a frequent Starbucks customer, stopping for coffee about four to five times a week. She has noticed supply shortages at her local Starbucks since the start of the pandemic, especially for items like cups, lids and straws. She recalls a time when one store was out of medium “grande” size cups, so she was offered a larger “venti” size for no extra charge.

At the Glendale Starbucks, customers swarm by the door to pick up orders placed on the Starbucks app. The wait is about five minutes long for mobile orders, but behind the counter, employees swiftly put drinks together and call each customer's name one by one.

Baristas try to be transparent about what items are currently unavailable and why, but with some stores turning off mobile orders due to short staff, it is difficult for customers to see what their local store is out of before they arrive.

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“It's mostly out of our control,” Harris said. “It's out of the baristas’ control what food we have and what products we have in general. We're just doing the best we can with what we have.”

Arrieta said she almost always chooses to use the mobile order option available in the Starbucks app, but that she is often stuck waiting a long time for her drink.

“Since the whole pandemic started, I feel like there's more mobile orders. So, like coming in, if you order at the counter, I feel like there's already a bunch of mobile orders ahead," she said. "That's kind of why I switched to mobile because I felt like when I came in, I was still having to wait a really long time.”

However, Arrieta understands that the reason for the long lines is due mostly to the pandemic, and thus out of the baristas’ control. She thinks everyone is doing a good job despite the circumstances.

"There've been times their hours have had to change, I think because of COVID and close contacts and not having enough staff,” Arrieta said. “But every Starbucks I go to, they're all super friendly and still just going with the flow, and it doesn't seem to have impacted their service as far as their customer service. Like there may not always be supplies, but they're just doing the best they can, and I appreciate that.”

In an email sent to all Starbucks rewards members on Jan. 14, the company wrote, “With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, we’ve all been forced to adapt again. … You may notice some stores will have shortened hours, that some products will be unavailable, or that mobile order and pay is temporarily turned off at your store.”

In addition to reduced hours or dining room availability, a number of stores have shortages for a number of items, from drink flavorings to straws, which Harris attributes to supply chain issues heightened by the pandemic.

Erin Riley, a Starbucks spokesperson, said in an email that the company suggests customers check the Starbucks app or store locator to find out which locations are open near them.

An article on Starbucks’ website said, “Starbucks is taking a number of actions to protect the health and well-being of our customers and partners (employees) and to control the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in accordance with the expert guidance of the CDC and local public health authorities.”

These actions include offering vaccine pay and other benefits to its employees, as well as requiring masks to be worn by all employees and highly recommended to be worn by customers, according to the company website.

Reach the reporter at endia.fontanez@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EndiaRain.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Why COVID-19 makes it harder to order your favorites at Starbucks

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