The inventory on Starbucks' app isn't always accurate, current and former baristas say.
This means sometimes customers can order food or drinks that aren't in stock, they said.
Baristas said that some customers got angry when they couldn't make their drinks.
If you've ever ordered something on the Starbucks app only to be told by a barista when you go to collect your drink that they don't have the ingredients in stock, then you're not alone.
Twenty-one current and former Starbucks baristas told Insider that the app sometimes doesn't update when ingredients run out, meaning people can order food or drinks that can't be made.
This sometimes made customers angry and disrupted the workflow because they had to process refunds or find substitutes for the out-of-stock ingredients, according to baristas.
Current and former baristas also said they couldn't communicate with customers through the app. This meant that they couldn't tell them that the ingredients were out of stock until they came to the store to collect their drinks.
"It was such a pain because people would order and there's literally nothing you can do about it until they get there and they're furious," Nicholas Anderson, a former barista in Atlanta, said.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider: "A visit to Starbucks is an important part of our customer's day and we apologize for any inconvenience when an item is unavailable. As our customers plan their visit, we recommend they use the Starbucks app to check item availability."
Glitches allow customers to order items that are out of stock, workers say
The baristas attributed the inventory problems to three main glitches.
First, the app was sometimes slow to update inventory or simply didn't update it at all, they said.
Second, some ingredients couldn't be turned off by staff.
And third, customers could reorder favorites or recent orders on the app, even when the ingredients were listed as out of stock, they said.
Baristas said that to list a product as out of stock, staff have to turn the product off in two places on the electronic register – both the main point-of-sales (POS) system and the backend inventory system.
Alexis Rivera, a former shift manager in New Jersey, said that customers could sometimes still order ingredients even if the baristas turned them off in both places.
"Sometimes turning an item off at POS turns it off for mobile. Sometimes it doesn't," said a former barista in British Colombia, who asked to remain anonymous because she may return to work at Starbucks again.
A former store manager in New York City, who asked to remain anonymous because he had family working at Starbucks, said the company had told him that stock could take between 30 and 60 minutes to update on the app. He added that customers could sometimes order items on Uber Eats even if they were out of stock, too.
Baristas also said that some ingredients couldn't be listed as out of stock, no matter what. "There were certain products we couldn't even take off the app," Gary Ladewig, a former shift supervisor in Waukegan, Illinois, said.
"That was a big issue," Kelly Preston, a former barista in Atlanta, said.
Among the products baristas said couldn't be "turned off" or listed as unavailable were espresso, tea, chai, cinnamon powder, caramel drizzle, heavy cream, sweet cream cold foam, Splenda sweeteners, and honey. Different baristas from different locations listed different ingredients.
The former British Colombia barista said staff could turn off drinks that contained these ingredients, but not the ingredients themselves.
"You can go in manually and turn off caramel macchiatos with the item availability button. But you can't actually go into the main item availability and turn off caramel drizzle," she said.
Rivera said that staff couldn't "properly shut off" cold brew and nitro cold brew on the app, too.
The former British Colombia barista added that there were two ways to order blonde espresso in the app – either by ordering the designated blonde version of the drink, or by ordering the regular and changing the espresso to blonde.
"The second option allows you to order blonde espresso even if it's turned off in the mobile ordering," she said.
Some baristas said that Starbucks had fixed the problems with some of these ingredients, meaning that baristas could list them as out of stock. Ladewig, for example, said that previously baristas hadn't been able to turn some syrups off, but that Starbucks had changed this.
The third glitch allows customers to bypass item unavailability.
When customers have an item saved in their favorites or recent orders, they can re-order the drink even if the ingredients are out of stock, some of the baristas said. Jennifer Romero, a former barista in Florida, attributed this to a "bug" in the app.
And, on top of the glitches, some baristas said that staff at their stores didn't always update item inventory.
Eric Fellner, a former barista in North Carolina, said that sometimes when his store was really busy, staff wouldn't have time to update the inventory when an item was out of stock. It was easier to just apologize and give out replacement drinks, he said.
A current barista in Minneapolis, who asked to stay anonymous to protect her employment, said that staff would sometimes forget to turn products off if her store was busy, too.
Baristas: customers get angry when we say we can't make their drinks
A current barista in Tennessee, who asked to stay anonymous to protect his employment, said that customers were sometimes confused about why they could order these ingredients on the app, and that baristas didn't have answers.
A former barista in Indiana, who asked to stay anonymous because she may return to work at Starbucks, said customers asked questions like "I paid for it, where is it?" and "If it was out, how was I able to order it?".
Fellner said that this would lead to "awkward conversations" with customers. The former British Colombia barista said that customers would get "really mad."
Anderson said that staff would "look like assholes" and customers were "exasperated, annoyed, and rude." He said this added delays that interrupted "the whole workflow."
The baristas said that they apologized to customers who had ordered drinks with unavailable ingredients.
Fellner said that at his store, baristas would offer customers any replacement drink, regardless of price. He added that most mobile order customers were in a rush and wouldn't waste time arguing about their drink order.
But some customers wanted refunds instead. Nat El-Hai, a former barista in Beverly Hills, and Romero both said that mobile-order refunds could be slow because they required a different system to regular in-store refunds. "People get really upset with you," El-Hai said.
Starbucks baristas say that mobile ordering causes a range of complications beyond just the inventory problems.
"The whole mobile order system is really bad," El-Hai told Insider.
The baristas said that in some cases the app caused in-store delays, led to rudeness from customers, and put them under pressure to make TikTok-inspired drinks.
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