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Decaf in the afternoon? Not at Starbucks

By January 26, 2009July 23rd, 20209 Comments

Decaf in the afternoon? Not at Starbucks

I had a Twilight Zone moment this afternoon at my local Starbucks when I ordered my decaf drip coffee and was told the Seattle-based coffee chain no longer brews decaf in the afternoons.

You read that right: A coffee shop that doesn’t offer decaf in the afternoon—the largest coffee shop chain in the world, mind you.

After some prodding, I learned that they will brew a 1/4 pot so you can get your decaf fix, but you’ll have to wait for it.

I shared this with my Twitter brethren and it set off quite a response:

No decaf after noon at Starbucks? You’ve got to be kidding! Isn’t afternoon & evening when most people drink decaf? ~ @heblogssheblogs

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? decaf in the pm for people who don’t want to be up all night? Caf in the am to wake up? ~ @emilyinchile

I don’t like it one bit! I “caffeine load” to 3PM and then hit decaf …I want a formal tweet on the topic from @starbucks ~ @ericglazer

When Kari Rippetoe asked Starbucks (via Twitter) if this was true, first they said “No that’s not true, we brew regular and decaf all day,” but to their credit, they checked, came back and replied:

I’m sorry, it’s true. I just checked @karirippetoe, @patrickbyers, @ericglazer … all stores, decaf only brewed on demand

Yet another example of the way social media has added transparency for consumers and new challenges for business.

I’m not sure where this is going, folks. But I can tell you this much, we haven’t heard the end of yet.

What do you think of Starbucks new decaf policy?

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • While I’m sure Starbucks did its homework regarding the potential cost savings, I do wonder what they’ll actually lose in customer satisfaction and/or loyalty.

    I also wonder why they couldn’t leave the decision to brew or not brew decaf up to the store managers, who (I assume) have a much more intimate understanding of his/her store’s regular customers and traffic pattern.

    My third point: Looking around a typical Starbucks store, there are many other places to save on cost, at a much more rapid rate, and can be done without sacrificing customers’ experience.

  • Anny Chih says:

    Hrm, I understand why they wouldn’t brew a big container of decaf all the time since it’s the least popular and usually gets thrown out (I used to work at Starbucks many years ago) but as Starbucks, the biggest coffee chain in the world, they really should have decaf available at all times – at least a fresh half-pot readily available and no wait time needed. Doesn’t this go against their 3 minute policy?

  • One would think that many people drink decalf in the afternoon. I do. I can’t have caffine after 3 PM or I will be up most of the night. I guess that if nobody orders it then they are wasting money,…. I just dont believe nobody is drinking decalf.

    That being said, Starbucks is obviously seeing a downturn in their business. Layoffs, cutbacks, stores closing…. I think the problem is deeper than who is drinking decalf at what time.

    They should look at ways to bring more people in during the PM hours. Their stores would be great places to hold business mixers and other gatherings that would create a sense of community…. but they don’t utilize what they have, they just do more of what used to work.

    Times they are changing, and the best companies are changing too. Cutting decalf wont solve the issues

  • Veronica makes a good point, and I would think that Starbucks store managers will likely make the decision on their own when to serve decaf, and when not to serve decaf (and brew on demand). One the other side of the coin, how many employees will simply tell people “no more decaf” once the clock hits 12:01pm and not even offer the brew on demand option? Patrick mentions that it took some prodding before the barista said that they would brew a 1/4 pot for you, and when it gets busy, I’m sure many baristas will simply say “sorry, we’re out” rather than offer to brew a 1/4 pot. I can see this decision blowing up in their faces, eventually.

  • Venkat says:

    Tough call – I think Starbucks could have avoided many of these questions by engaging customers and first floating the idea. The way it played out it just reinforces the image of Starbucks as a behemoth – driving many “non-chain” coffee drinkers further away.

  • I’ll go out on a limb here and say, “Good for Starbucks!” I’ll wager they did their homework on not only cost-savings but quantify just how much coffee they’re throwing away daily. Rather than just keep sticking to the old way of doing things (must make sure we always have regular and decaf at the ready), they’re making some tough decisions. And better that than laying off a third of their baristas.

    Now here’s where it gets to an issue of whether Starbucks has built a relationship with its customers. If you love Starbucks, you’ll accept this and say, “I understand and if it helps you stay afloat and not lay off the very nice baristas then I’ll wait a few minutes for a decaf brew.” So, the real question is whether Starbucks has valued your relationship in the past and is willing to bank off of this.

    Companies must build great customer relationships in the good times so they can rely on them for help in the bad times.

  • This is so ironic and I just discovered it the other day. You would think it would be the opposite, except I guess their demo is the hard core java joe or josie.

    The coffee is pretty cheap to them; surely they could do a drip cup or something – if they are expanding in to food service and oatmeal after all…

    I am curious though about the cost savings. Data please.

  • Damian says:

    I was so put off by the attitude of the bartista at my local starbucks when I asked for decaf that I don’t plan on returning to that starbucks, or any starbucks for that matter, unless there are no other coffee places around. She first said that decaf wasn’t availible, and then said they would make it as a favor, but only if I “really really really wanted it.” It was clear they didn’t want to make it, so I ordered regular even though I didn’t want the caffeine. Even the biggest dive of a restruant has decaf coffe, but not the largest coffee place in America. What a joke. I’ll never go back to starbucks unless it’s the only place around. What’s funny is someone at Starbucks is probably bragging about the EBIT they saved by eliminating decaf, and of course the numbers they use to support their savings will not reflect the gradual loss of customers, nor will it reflect the loss of “goodwill” with their customers.

  • Lindsay Rose says:

    Just so everybody realizes. The point of the pour over method is to offer you the customer a better, faster, cup of decaf in the afternoon. Stores have been brewing pike exclusively for a long time once the morning rush ends. As a lighter option that an americano, a pour over cup of coffee, is hotter, made just for you, and could be any coffee you want! Whats the problem here?

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