Drive-through menu change causes stir for Starbucks - USATODAY.com
What a difference a new sign makes.
At Starbucks drive-throughs — one-third of the chain's 11,000 U.S. stores have one — newly redesigned outdoor menu boards advise customers that they can buy Grande (16 oz.) and Venti (20 oz.) sized beverages. Curiously, the signs no longer mention the smaller, cheaper cup size that's still for sale: Tall (12 oz.).
This has set the blogosphere abuzz. Some believe Starbucks is being sneaky — nudging hurried, drive-through customers to spend a tad more than they might have intended.
While Starbucks' same-store sales have grown nicely the past year — following very difficult years in fiscal 2008 and 2009 — the brouhaha comes as the restaurant industry is desperately searching for ways to boost traffic and sales. Some 44% of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales decline in July, the National Restaurant Association says.
But Starbucks officials strongly insist this isn't about nudging sales. They say the change is actually something that drive-through customers have requested — a simplified menu board. Starbucks shrank the number of items on drive-through menus from 70 to about 25. The change was made at all drive-throughs on Aug. 31.
"We are not being sneaky," Starbucks spokeswoman Deb Trevino says. "We did it because our customers were frustrated with the difficulty of reading our drive-through menus."
What's more, she notes, drive-through customers can still order Tall beverages. For that matter, they can even order Short (8 oz.) drinks, which ren't posted on menus inside or out.
But Robert Passikoff doesn't buy it for a minute. The founder of Brand Keys, a brand consulting and research consultancy, says Starbucks is playing fast and loose with its customers.
"It's disingenuous to suggest that how they simplified the menu was to benefit the customer," he says. "I don't know why you'd suddenly drop your cheaper item off the menu."
Well, responds Trevino, that's because the Talls don't sell as well as the Grandes and Ventis. "We have to make choices about what we put on our menus so that customers can get through as quickly as possible."
Also, she notes, Starbucks is making more room on its menus for the calorie postings that will be required next year under the recent health care reform. Chains with 20 units or more will have to post calories on menu boards for standard menu items.
For the moment, Trevino says, Starbucks hasn't received "a significant number" of complaints from customers about the menu board change. "That said, if customers don't like a change we've made, we listen and will make changes, again."
Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at consultancy WD Partners, says Starbucks is getting a raw deal on conspiracy theories. "Starbucks is a well-managed company that knows exactly what it's doing. This hoopla will eventually quiet down — until something else replaces it."