7 Ways To Become A Better Starbucks Customer

Get maximum caffeination with minimal stress for yourself and the busy staff.

Like many consumers, I have a complicated relationship with Starbucks. I enjoy the espresso and cold brew drinks, but I hate that they're so darned craveable and that the drive-thru is directly in the path of my errands. Everyone has their weaknesses, and a quad iced shaken espresso is mine.


I'm not alone in this vice. More often than not, there are a half dozen other addicts stacked up before and behind me. And after years working in food service, the etiquette (or lack thereof) of some customers genuinely makes me cringe.

So, is there a right way to order your decaf non-fat no-whip caramel latte? Or at least a less wrong way that can smooth out the experience for folks on both sides of the counter? I recently sat down with a longtime Starbucks employee who shall remain anonymous, and they provided interesting feedback on this question. Here are six lessons I learned about the ordering process.

Put in your food requests first

As it turns out, a well-timed order starts even before your drinks.

"If you order your food first, we love that, because food takes the longest to make," our barista source said. "The drink is usually about thirty seconds, where the food can be up to a minute. The employee is going to put the food order in immediately, and then as you're saying your drink, they'll be cooking it."


This also applies when you have more than one person in the car. Order all of your food first, before you get to the coffees. If you wait until the end to tack on one of those tasty Impossible Breakfast Sandwiches, it'll still be in the oven by the time your latte is finished.

Learn your drink’s order of operations

If you've ever worked a fast food register (or navigated a computer menu, for that matter), you'll know that the process runs in steps. It's exactly the same with Starbucks: Though you can start with your preferred milk, size, or flavoring, there's a certain cadence that employees are taught to follow. If you mimic this pattern, things generally go more smoothly.


"The way that you say a drink is important," says our source. "If you want something iced, say that part first. Then whether or not it's decaf, then the size (Not saying the size drives me crazy!), and the syrup, the milk, the type of drink, then any other changes." Does that sound complicated? Don't worry, you'll learn fast.

"So, say it's an iced white mocha, and I'm going to throw in some modifications," they continued. "The way you'd want to say that drink is, 'An iced, decaf, venti, vanilla, non-fat white mocha with no whipped cream.' And a lot of the time, because that's the way we repeat it back, most of our regular customers say the drink in order. It's amazing how many of them do it without realizing that we've trained them!"


Mobile orders are great, actually

Here's something that surprised me: Mobile orders usually make things easier on employees. And the math behind it is solid.

As our anonymous barista explains, 30% of their Starbucks location's business is mobile ordering, 60% percent is happening via drive-thru, and only about 10% comes from people walking into the café to order at the register.


And mobile orders are immediate. This means that even if you're alone at the counter, you might not be first in line to receive your coffee.

"There's a chance that there are three or four drinks we're working on, even if you're the only person in the café," our barista said. "So, it might feel like you're waiting a bit, because those tickets do print out as soon as they're placed. I'd say give it five minutes, and if you don't see your drink after that, it's okay to come up to the register and say, 'Hi, I'm just checking on my drink.'"

Time your arrival

If you do decide to place a mobile order, showing up at the right time to collect it is key.

Once you've placed a mobile order in the Starbucks app, it will always provide you with an estimated pickup time. Our anonymous barista explains that this estimate isn't just based on how long it takes to make that drink in a vacuum: "It does link to our system, so if we have ten mobile orders before yours, it will estimate a bit longer for your wait time," they said.


In other words, check that estimated wait time and stick to it. Don't expect your drink much sooner than what the app tells you.

"I think the biggest thing that annoys me is when a customer places an order, and they're there within two minutes," said our source. "Give us about five minutes of leeway. If you have an estimated wait time that's more than ten minutes, don't expect your order in five."

Getting your mobile order in the drive-thru is fine

If you're looking for the most streamlined caffeine experience, you could always combine the screens—the big one with a speaker and the small one in your pocket. This becomes even more true as traffic begins to stack up.


"If you're in a line where there's 20-plus cars, like in a bigger city, maybe, and you just throw in a mobile order, you'll probably get your drink as soon as you roll up to the window," said our source. "Once you're a couple cars back from the speaker box, place the order on your phone and then just say, 'Hey, I've got a mobile order for XYZ.' We're pretty quick on finding that one and making it. And we don't mind so much, because you've basically skipped the step of ordering at the screen."

The “Secret Menu” doesn’t exist

Between the antics in the drive-thru and dances in front of the counter, the age of social media (and its accompanying internet clout) can be a nightmare for food service workers.

Perhaps the biggest potential headache is the rise of the "Secret Menu." On the surface, this is a cool idea: a roster of hidden Starbucks drinks that only those in the know can get. As it turns out, however, that so-called Secret Menu isn't real.


"We've gotten inspiration from frequent requests, like the Pink Drink—that was a modification that the internet put together and Starbucks ran with it," our barista explains. "Now, there's a button in the system, an official recipe, and two other drinks with a similar formula: Dragon Drink and Paradise Drink."

But the success of these drinks, which began as "menu hacks," might lead to misconceptions about how to order off-menu items. This doesn't mean you can't order some sort of viral white mocha you saw online—far from it, in fact! You just have to know what you're asking for, and come prepared with at least a basic grasp of the ingredients. Customers can't just sling codenames around and expect to be understood.


"If you say, 'I found this drink on the secret menu and I'd like to order it,' nine times out of ten we can make it, unless there's ingredients we don't carry," said our source. "But don't just say, 'Can I get the TikTok drink?' Know which one, and be clear on the recipe."

From a sales standpoint, some employees even see these customized orders as a win.

"Usually the price is huge, because it goes up for every added ingredient," they said. "So, I love TikTok drinks."

There’s no wrong way to order a “Pup Cup”

Let's close with a heartwarming bit, because most dogs enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up just as much as their humans. If the drive-thru is packed, you might be worried about requesting a treat for your pet. Let our source set your fears at ease.


"We love it when dogs come through," they said. "Puppuccino, Pup Cup, whipped cream, call it whatever. You can order it at the window or the drive-thru screen. We're probably going to see your dog and ask anyway!"