Friday, January 10, 2014

Why Do Starbucks Customers Drink their Coffee "For Here" in "To-Go" Cups?

EcoYogini considers the "to-go" Starbucks coffee cup phenomenon...

Recently I tweeted how frustrated I was with Starbucks customers drinking all of their coffee in "to-go" cups while seated IN the cafe.

Not surprisingly, I received some defensive responses (my favourite? A very deflective self-righteous "maybe you should lead by example instead of judging others" response from a yogini- extremely unhelpful and non productive, thanks).

More than anything, this response of deflective ownership of personal choices made me consider more carefully a) my knee jerk annoyed reaction, b) why this is rampant in Starbucks vs other coffee shops and c) who is to "blame" for this phenomenon? 

I typically avoid Starbucks as I have a few issues with their company (namely water waste, employee treatment history and slow organic and fair trade coffee use), but sometimes I need my coffee fix and there is no avoiding the 'bucks.

What is shocking is how every single person sitting down in a full to the brim cafe is sitting, leisurely enjoying their Starbucks out of a disposable cup. Andrew and I drink coffee from local shops frequently throughout the week where the polar opposite is true: the majority of customers are drinking out of porcelain mugs.

Why is that?

I'm sure part of the reason is the type of customer who frequents Starbucks vs a smaller more environmentally conscious cafe. Perhaps it's just that us granola crunching customers demand more often to drink out of mugs?

Except... have you ever tried to order "for here" at Starbucks? Unlike smaller, more environmentally conscious cafes who actually ask the customer if they'd like their coffee "for here or to go?", Starbucks baristas automatically pulled the to-go cup while you order and before you can say "STOP" start scribbling on the paper cup. There is no "do you want that for here or to-go?". Often I have placed my order and have had to concede to the paper cup because the barista already started writing (and would have thrown it out). Or, I placed my order and the second "prepping" barista grabbed a to-go cup instead of the mug.

I quickly learned that I had to start with: "I want mine in a mug please" before I even begin to place my order AND I have to keep a close eye on the prepping barista to make sure they grab a mug.

Further, it's happened several times that there just weren't any mugs available.... It would appear that Starbucks just aren't equipped to provide enough mugs for a full cafe of seated customers.

So. Now I start my order with: "Do you have any mugs available? May I have my coffee in a mug please?".

Why the new "reusable" 1$ cups are a cop-out:
Perhaps you've already seen them? The cheap, plastic 1$ cups are being touted as Starbucks main solution to my "to-go" gripes. I find this "solution" to be sadly inadequate, unoriginal and honestly half-a#$'d on Starbucks behalf. Why?

  • The cups are made from plastic- which we know that plastic chemicals leach more readily into heated beverages.
  • The plastic is #5, which isn't readily recyclable
  • The plastic cups are flimsily made, cheap and most likely won't last beyond a month of regular use, meaning they most likely won't get recycled and will end up in the landfill
  • They are made in China (which means they are shipped to the US and Canada via polluting transportation AND we have no idea the work conditions of the workers).
  • Really, the cups are more of a marketing sham than anything (read this report on how Starbucks will make money from these cups).

Come on Starbucks- you can do so much better!

Although I do feel that as the customer part of the ownership for making consciously minded choices lands directly on us, Starbucks could be doing MUCH more to encourage their customers to drink their coffee out of reusable or "for here" mugs:

  • Making sure their cafes have enough "for here" mugs
  • Training staff to always automatically ask "for here or to-go?"
  • Having signage promoting customers use their "for here" mugs
  • Providing a steeper discount than 10 cents for bringing your reusable to-go mug
Tell me- have you been shocked by the number of "to-go" cups sitting at café's? What have your personal experiences been trying to order in a "for here" mug? Do you think the plastic cups are an appropriate response?


Stephanie Hayes said...

I know that starbcuks can be delicious and at times, we crave it, but sometimes the best stand to take is to not partake at all. These huge monopolies only speak in $$$$ so if we speak their language, aka stop buying, maybe they'll listen. Instead you can spend your money where you'd rather spend it, at those local shops you have the same values as you and put a face to a name instead of scribble on a cup. Know what I'm sayin'? There's so much power in us as consumers.

Katie P. said...

When you look at it from a marketing perspective, Starbucks would not have much motivation to have coffee in "for here" cups. Their business was built on the appearance of a chic young person holding a starbucks coffee "to go" cup as they run their errands and shop. It's the brand they have built and they have profited greatly from it. People are obviously going to finish their coffee in a "for here" cup and not give them the advertising that "to go" cups provide! It's totally psychology and not eco conscious whatsoever. I try to make my own beverages wherever/whenever possible (Go Just Us! and Sissiboo coffee!). So then I don't feel as badly about the one take out cup I get per week!

Anonymous said...

I bought the $30 to go cup at Christmas that comes with 30 cups of coffee, one a day in January. And then we have a very good mug too. That solves all the problems.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Interesting. It's clear green isn't a priority for them.

Eco Yogini said...

@Steph: yes that is the best strategy, really. and one i try to abide by more often than not :)

@Katie: you make a good point- the mugs don't have their logo. I think the overall point is also, as Betsy says below, that despite all that they say "green" isn't a priority for the company. (and if you go to Starbucks to "stay" PLEASE ask for a "here" mug) :)

@Anon:to go mugs are great! I bring mine wherever I go. That said, it still kills me to see all the "to-go" cups when ppl are sitting to stay.

@Betsy: clearly!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I try to have my reusable cup with me whenever I know I'm going to be making a coffee stop. My own personal complaint, however, is that so many cafes (Starbucks and beyond) use a disposable cup to measure and pour the coffee into my reusable cup! That disposable then just gets tossed anyways so it defeats the whole purpose!

Eco Yogini said...

@Halitrax: UUUUGH! that makes me so angry

EcoGrrl said...

the few times I go to Starbucks I always tell them "in a for here cup" at the start and they always pull out a mug, it's not been a problem...but yeah, they need to ask it first and foremost and not do things like automatically put cardboard cozies on the cups, ya know? but i prefer to support indie cafes that make better coffee :)

Christopher D Drew said...

Not that it is a good reason but coffee stays warmer longer in the to-go cups than the mugs. That being said I prefer a mug too, they are just so darn quick with the to-go cup when I order.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen these plastic cups yet but they sound like a cop-out for sure!! It's such a pet peeve of mine when I go to a coffee shop and order my drink for here but they still put it in a to go cup. Maybe some of them do it because then they don't have to worry about washing them? It is annoying though, either way.

Yancy Lael said...

Yep. I am so with you on this. Remember my Starbucks flash mob in July 2012? Is it just me, or has NOTHING changed? My local Starbucks doesn't even HAVE reusable cups - if you want to be green, you have to bring your own! And I never got a reply from the letter I wrote. Just that "thank you and we'll get back to you" response. :(

Amber Strocel said...

I did not even know you could get your beverage in a mug at Starbucks. I have never seen anyone drinking from one, and honestly, it never occurred to me to ask. Clearly this just goes to show that 'for here' cups are not the norm at the chain.

I happen not to like coffee, so fortunately my visits to Starbucks are few and far between. If I find myself there again, however, I will definitely ask for my drink in a cup.

Anonymous said...

Ok, late to the conversation. A few thoughts though as I used to slog coffee for Starbucks for 5 years 14 years ago (eek).

1. In the past (can't speak for now but assume it's the same) staff were trained to serve in to go cups unless otherwise asked.

2. I agree with what Katie P said. It's all about image. If all those customers actually stopped being sheep wanting to seem cool for drinking Starbucks, the company would change it's policy. I've worked in stores with major fast food mentality, stores catering to the yuppy crowd, and stores that very much catered to the come, sit and chat crowd. Only the last one had customers who normally asked for real mugs.

The fact of the matter is, those mugs break often, are pricey, need to be cleaned and it's cheaper for the company to use paper so they've built an image around to go that the consumer has bought into.

katalana said...

This doesn't matter how busy It is, how A lot of people are generally throughout line, that is usually talking exactly about what in it is cell phone, IN ADDITION TO how quite a few babies are screaming. You can do this. This can be all about an individual IN ADDITION TO ones coffee, That is all there is.

Anonymous said...

Honestly I just never knew they had 'for here' mugs until one day a few years ago I ordered a drink and they asked " Would you like that for here or to go" and I said for here and was surprised that they gave me a mug. Now I try and get them when I know I will be sitting in Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments, I hate to see all the people sitting down, drinking from To Go cups, and yes, the person at the till NEVER asks if it's to stay or go (I heard that that's a Starbucks policy, NOT to ask, cause it's more labor/time/money to collect/wash/stack mugs in stores). I only drink brewed regular coffee with room for cream (and am shocked to learn today that baristas use disposable cups to make every fancy drink!!). I also have to ask for for a mug ahead of time, before orderimg coffee, or they automatically grab a cardboard one. Solution to the above comment re "it's hotter in a paper cup than a mug" - I agree, so I ask them to put hot water in the mug, half-filled, and wait 10 seconds for the mug to preheat, then put the coffee in it. It's not enough to just rinse the mug with hot water, as they sometimes, but not alwaya, do. Otherwise the cool mug will cool the coffee (and I add cool cream too). I like watching the confusion and sometimes chaos that ensues when I ask for a mug; they are often in inconvenient lower cupboards, the till person doesn't know where they are, has maybe never been asked before, the manager sometimes has to bring them from the back, fresh from the dishwasher (now THOSE mugs are nice and preheated already!). I now bring my own travel tumbler (Grande size) and I think it should be 25 cents off your drink, not a measly 10 cents! If Starbucks is serious about motivating customers to bring their own tumblers, it has to be more money off. Or they could say 10 cents off, but if you bring in a Starbucks branded mug or tumbler, it's 25 cents off. That would boost sales of their merchandise AND encourage people to bring them back in (ans return to the store).

kathie said...

So they do have coffee mugs?


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