Starbucks – A Cupful of Systems

It’s almost embarrassing to realize I visit Starbucks coffee stores so frequently they tend to know me by name! If my wife Susan didn’t know better, she might be jealous when younger women at various stores cheerfully welcome me as if I were their only customer.

She likes to tell people I have the entire United States mapped out by Starbucks locations. Of course, when we travel, she’s pretty quick to locate one for me with a Google search on her Droid. I like that system!

If I vary from my usual order at almost any Starbucks in Middle Tennessee, they wonder if they’re hearing the right voice—“Phil?” But, that’s the kind of consistent, friendly service I’ve come to expect at Starbucks, wherever I go.

Knowing what I know now about the importance of well-planned business systems, I felt sure the coffee giant had more than just a brilliant strategy of employing great people. Surely, I decided, Starbucks MUST operate using some elaborate system of checklists; to my way of thinking, that’s the one thing that could account for their stunning success.

So, one Saturday morning, stopping for my “grande decaf Americana with a little cream,” I was finally able to see the actual checklists that enable Starbucks to offer such a consistently high level of service.

Emily, a young “barista” (one who makes those wonderful cups of coffee) and one who has also earned a degree in marketing, was up on a step ladder cleaning an overhead fixture. I ask if she was using a checklist for cleaning. “Yes,” she said, and then pointed to a large binder at the end of the counter.

As the person behind the counter made my “usual”—one of the other employees, who had overheard me talking with Emily, was more than happy to show me the whole binder full of checklists, procedures and other documentation. I saw pages of detailed systems that allow the staff to take care of ordering supplies, etc.—also to keep up with the messes caused by Starbucks enthusiasts, like me.

Starbucks doesn’t just tell employees to “clean” when the store gets a little slow—it has an actual SYSTEM for cleaning Starbucks locations. I’m sure you know: what’s clean to one person is not necessarily clean by someone else’s standards.

Philip Beyer, founder/president of Beyer Printing and Ebiz Products LLC in Nashville, TN, is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant, author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business," and an InterTech Award recipient for the design and development of System100™ business process management software. Philip speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses.
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  • margiedana


    I appreciate this post and couldn’t agree more. As a fellow Starbucks fanatic, I pay attention to how organized and efficient my local Starbucks’ gang is, even when there’s a new barista in training.

    Recently a competing coffee shop (another chain, though I’d never heard of it before – Timothy’s -) opened nearby, and I thought I’d give them a try. The coffee is fantastic – especially their Latte Bene…it’s the best latte I’ve ever had! But (and here’s where we separate the Starbucks from the So-Sos) the staff member who’s served me a few times clearly had no training in coffee – their product. He kept forgetting how I wanted my pound of beans ground, seemed confused about the steps for making a latte, and just did not ‘present’ as the coffee professional I’m used to at Starbucks. Aside from checklists and incredible systems in place globally, they make sure their baristas know coffee. Well, DUH – shouldn’t the owners of every coffee cafe? I should think so. Thanks again!