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    Starbucks Finds Ways to Speed Up

    A 10-person "lean team" is showing stores how work can be done more efficiently.

    SEATTLE -- Starbucks Corp. is embarking on a speedy endeavor—the coffee chain wants customers to get their cup faster than ever, and is putting a new initiative into practice at its more than 11,000 U.S. stores to make sure that happens.

    Starbucks built its business as the anti-fast-food joint, but now faced with the recession and growing competition, the coffeehouse chain is behaving more like its streamlined competitors, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

    Under the new initiative, which began last year, there will be no more bending over to scoop coffee from below the counter, no more idle moments waiting for expired coffee to drain, and no more dillydallying at the pastry case, the report stated.

    Scott Heydon, the company's "vice president of lean thinking," and a 10-person "lean team" have been going region to region armed with a stopwatch and a Mr. Potato Head toy that they challenge managers to put together and re-box in less than 45 seconds.

    The company began testing lean methods in Oregon. One of the first stores was managed by Tara Jordan, in Oregon City. "In my eyes, we couldn't get better," said Jordan. Her store boasts one of the fastest Starbucks drive-through windows in the country, according to the company, with an average time per order of 25 seconds.

    To help her understand how work can be done more efficiently, Kim Landreth, a member of the lean team, brought a Mr. Potato Head to Jordan's store and sprinkled the ears, nose, lips and other accessories across several tables.

    Using a stopwatch, Landreth timed how long it took Jordan to assemble the toy and place it in its box. It took more than a minute. Landreth then asked her to think about how she could complete the task faster. Moving items closer together shaved time, as did altering the order of assembly. Over two hours, Jordan amended the task. Her final time: about 16 seconds. "That really opened my eyes," she said in the report.

    The next project was observing the area where blended drinks, such as frappuccinos, are made. "I thought it was going to be the best station in my store," Jordan told the newspaper. "What I saw was how much my partners were moving and reaching for things that were never in the same place. It took way too long to make one beverage."

    They moved all but the most commonly ordered syrup flavors to where the drinks are made. After learning that topping the drinks with whipped cream and chocolate or caramel drizzle at the drink station was slowing down production, they moved those items closer to where drinks are handed to customers. The changes shaved eight seconds off the 45-second process. "Just to top the beverage with whipped cream and drizzle took six seconds," Jordan noted.

    In all, the new methods have cut two seconds off the store's drive-through time—to an average of 23 seconds, according to The Wall Street Journal. Between September 2008 and June 2009, the store experienced a 10-percent increase in transactions.

    Without going into specifics, Starbucks said the efforts are already helping its bottom line. Still, some baristas said they fear this drive will turn them into coffee-making automatons and take away some of the things that made the chain different.

    Heydon told the newspaper that reducing waste will free up time for its baristas to interact more with customers and improve the Starbucks experience. "Motion and work are two different things. Thirty percent of the [baristas’] time is motion; the walking, reaching, bending," he said, adding he wants to lower that.

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