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Where Starbucks Fails

September 1st, 2008 by Bob Bly

Starbucks mission statement, according to their Web site, is to “develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.”

If that’s so, can anyone answer me why none of the Starbucks in my area can give me a slice of lemon with my iced tea?

I mean, that’s a pretty reasonable request, right? Even Wendy’s, purveyor of crappy fast food, serves iced tea with fresh lemon slices.

But when I accompany my wife to Starbucks, which she loves for the coffee, the only way I can get lemon flavor in my iced tea is to have lemonade added to it — because none of the Starbucks she goes to carries actual lemon.

Seems to me this is a serious mission disconnect for a company with the rather modest goal of giving people drinks they like.

One of the Starbucks here has a sign that says to speak up if your drink isn’t “perfect.” When I do, I get a shrug, a smile, and an apology — but no lemon.

I wouldn’t make noise about this, except so many hold Starbucks up as an example of business brilliance, and this rather obvious service flaw makes me wonder why.


This entry was posted on Monday, September 1st, 2008 at 2:49 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

38 responses about “Where Starbucks Fails”

  1. Ryan said:

    During the time a company is in startup and growth mode they tend to bend over backwards to satisfy their customers. That is usually the time their mission statements evolve. Once they get to the point of stagnant growth and their shareholders are still demanding profits they go into “whatever affects the bottom line” mode. Cuts to everything they can, tweak a little here or there, all the while forgetting about the customer who put them at the top in the first place. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the original Mickey Dee commercials but a company like that should be able to run their first commercials and show that they have the same values as they did 40 years ago.

    Do you think Mcd’s could run that jingle nowadays – “grab a bucket and mop, scrub the bottom and top.” Most of the time you have to ask them to send someone out to clean the tables. And you can forget the enthusiasm.

  2. Stacey said:

    Perhaps their rather modest goal is giving coffee drinking people drinks they like. I’m wondering if they’re doing this to discourage tea drinking. Maybe there aren’t enough tea drinkers affecting their revenue for them to care about splitting their target audience. Encouraging tea drinkers, also means now catering to all tea drinkers’ many different desires, etc., and with the Starbucks, a marketing approach to tea would have to be over-the-top, because that’s who they are. Maybe it’s just not worth it to them. I’m sure they must have done the math and done tests, etc. They’ve got the coffee market’ why branch out if it doesn’t help? For us it looks like just one little lemon. But it’s not really. It’s several millions of dollars and manpower, and revamping the infrastructure and, and, and.

    When Starbucks opened in England (one of the tea drinking capitals of the world), tea sales declined.

  3. Stacey said:

    Forgive my punctuation & structural typos, which I discovered shortly after hitting “Enter.”

  4. Jay Ehret said:

    Surely you jest, Bob. Do you really take seriously such a nebulous brand promise? Starbucks fails not on delivering lemons but on delivering a crappy brand promise.

  5. dianacacy said:

    I live where I have to drive an hour or an hour and a half, depending on which direction I go to find a Starbucks. And I love it, so I make the trip. (Also have to drive an hour and a half to get to a bookstore. = torture)

    But I don’t see anything in their business model as a whole to be exceptionally impressed with. Oh, they do a good job, but as with all chains, some stores have better service than others. I also don’t like some of their products, but love others – just like other stores.

    I managed a small coffee shop until the owners took it to California with them. In my opinion, going to those small shops is better than going to a franchise, because they have so much more room to please the customer. Like being able to carry an actual lemon in the store for those who want them in their tea.

    Starbucks can’t pull through on that promise and they do need to change it.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Stacey: In America, if you are going to serve iced coffee, as Starbucks does, you also have to serve iced tea. Hot coffee is more popular than hot tea in the USA, but iced tea is more popular than iced coffee. And if you are going to serve hot and cold coffee and tea, shouldn’t they all be done right? Starbucks has a big emphasis on hot tea, by the way, with many gourmet flavor choices.

  7. Bob Yokl said:

    I try to give Starbucks (the expensive colored water people as the investment market call them) the benefit of the doubt and try their coffee from time to time but it always tastes burnt/over roasted. Even when the coffeesta tells me it was freshly brewed. Plus, they hand it to you and it is Smoking Hot Hot Hot almost impossible to drink for 15 to 20 minutes after you get it. Hey I like hot coffee but flaming hot is not a good thing for me when you are walking though the mall or through an airport.

    As for any exceptional service or experience, they are no different than any other coffee shop except the name. Even the original Starbucks in Seattle is nothing special and it serves the same burnt tasting coffee.

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  9. Edward Weiss said:

    Totally agree. But have you contacted Starbucks and asked why? They may start doing what you ask.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Edward: I’d just as soon get my iced tea with lemon at the local coffee shop, which I do almost every day.

  11. Knoblauch said:

    Sigh. Not the tiresome, recycled lemon-in-iced-tea Starbucks rant again. Hasn’t this story been flogged to death already over the past couple of years? Aren’t there better topics to write about, let alone exhume?

    I bet you don’t even drink iced tea.

  12. Knoblauch said:

    For the record, please at least give some credit to the Denver Post for your plagiarism:

  13. Bob Bly said:

    Knoblauch: you embarrass yourself when you make such accusations. I have never read this about Starbucks. And my story is a real one; it happened a few days ago, How does showing me a link to the Denver Post negate the truth of that? I don’t read the Denver Post. Your post here is really ridiculous. Please don’t contribute to this blog unless you have something intelligent and accurate to say.

  14. Lou Wasser said:

    Call it arrogance, call it market blindness, but it appears that Starbucks has been caught sleeping. They’ve been hit hard by the double whammy of a soft economy and competition. Not necessarily broadside competition as with — as in a related market — Burger King vs. McDonald’s, but rather competition from many smaller cafes and coffee spots throughout the land. These Starbucks alternatives offer not only lemon with your tea, but coffee in many more flavors than the standard big three (bold, mild, coffee of the day) that Starbucks offers.

    McDonald’s, on the other hand, has come up with health food servings, coffee for seniors, and price specials which they push aggressively from time to time.

    Once upon a time, Starbucks built a better mousetrap. But now the mice are beating a path to more appealing coffee spots.

    Markets get old and tired, and need a caffeine spike. Nothing’s forever. Wake up Starbucks and smell all the OTHER coffee!

  15. Knoblauch said:

    OK, if you don’t read the Denver Post there’s also Gawker and Slashfood:

    Look, I could post in my own blog about topics that already have dozens of blogger comments from months and years ago, but I don’t because, well, it’s been done several times over already.

  16. Denise Johnson said:


    I think I can answer your question. I, too, enjoy a slice of lemon in my iced tea and have found it odd that no Starbucks can fulfill my request. I asked while I was in a Starbucks in Green Valley, AZ. I was told it was a health department issue. A peculiar answer given so many other establishments,such as Einstein Bagels, offer it.

  17. Roberto said:


    As I sit here with my large (um, Grande) iced coffee (well, OK, it’s an iced decaf espresso Americano b/c Starbucks does not have cold decaf available for an iced coffee) I wonder about all the comments to Bob’s simple rant (I mean simple request). Yes, the coffee is better at local shops and it is important to support the local small businesses. Yes, there are better places to get iced tea in my town (well, any town, probably). But Starbucks is not really about coffee or tea anymore, at least for me. Starbucks is a great place to gather and have a discussion with one or more people when no other place works. The Mom & Pop shops won’t let me meet there unless I buy breakfast (or lunch or whatever), and the staff is just plain lame. And they rush me out ASAP so they can “turn the table” for another customer. I tolerate the over roasted coffee and iced tea w/o lemon so I can gather with my friends, associates, clients, band of brothers, etc.

    Perhaps you could try an experiment (perhaps we could all participate in it with you!). Here it is: each of us who enjoys iced tea with lemon in it will bring a lemon to Starbucks and ask the Barrista to slice it and add a piece to our tea. Let them know that the rest of the lemon is for other customers who would like lemon in their tea. Let’s see what happens and report back next week. Did they honor our request? Would they share the remaining three wedges with others? Did they shave the rind off and twist it into an espresso? Or did they firmly state that it is against company policy and refuse to cut the lemon.

    Are ya up for it Bob? And Denise, and Lou and Knoblauch, and Edward, and Bob, and Stacey, Jay, and Ryan?

  18. Bob Bly said:

    Knoblauch: your comment is still wrong-headed. The incident happened to me, it illustrates a point my readers are obviously interested in talking about, and I did not copy it from anyone else. It may have been written about elsewhere, but I didn’t see this, mainly because, like every other writer on Earth, I can’t read everything. Are you suggesting bloggers to an exhaustive search prior to every post and refrain from posting anything that has ever been written about before? That seems impractical and absurd. If bloggers can only do posts on topics never done anywhere else, blogging would end tomorrow, as there is little new under the sun….

    Denise: the excuse they gave you seems bogus to me. If it’s a health department regulation, why does every other restaurant and coffee shop in my state offer lemon with iced tea, but not Starbucks?

    Roberto: actually they would probably refuse you, because how would they know you aren’t a looney bringing tainted food into the establishment.

    As for ambiance, I understand your point, though I am much more comfortable in a regular coffee shop than in Starbucks’ rarefied Yuppie atmosphere. But that’s just me.

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  20. mg said:

    Well, in a couple of months when the economy drops and more Starbucks close up shop, then maybe you could all go back to the local donut shops in your area…I’m sure they be glad to drop a slice of lemon in your tea (iced or hot)…support our local businesses.

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