Starbucks is Brewing a Speedy Plan

Coffee chain to embrace fast-food mentality

By Emily Feldman
|  Tuesday, Aug 4, 2009  |  Updated 4:30 PM EDT
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She better hurry up--Starbucks wants its baristas to be speed machines.

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Starbucks Corp. is embarking on a speedy endeavor -- the coffee chain wants you to get your cup faster than ever, and a corporate team will ensure that it happens with a little help from Mr. Potato Head and a stopwatch.

To stay afloat in a stale economy, VP of "lean thinking" Scott Heydon and his 10 man "lean team," are teaching store managers across the country how to speed up their baristas, so the company can do more with less, The Wall Street Journal reported.

These speed trainers use Mr. Potato Head to show managers that when eyes and ears (or milk and caramel) are closer together, putting the final product together--Potato Head or Caramel Macchiato--takes less time. Once the toys are away, managers are asked to rearrange the store for increased efficiency.

"Motion and work are two different things," Heydon said. "Thirty percent of the partners' [barista's] time is motion; the walking, reaching, bending."

Moving the chocolate drizzle from the drink preparation area to the drink pick-up area will require less back and forth, and give baristas 8 additional seconds to engage in friendly chit-chat with their customers.

Other changes include placing coffee beans above the counter, which will eliminate bending-down time, and color coding different roasts, because reading labels takes time.

Not everyone is thrilled with Starbucks' new fast-food mentality.

"They're trying to turn workers into robots," Erik Forman, a barista in Minneapolis told the Journal. "It's going to essentially turn the cafe into a factory. They want to control our every move in order to pinch every possible penny."

While Heydon says the intent is not exclusively finance-inspired, there's no doubt that Starbucks is looking for ways to stay afloat.

The company has planned to turn the pots off at 900 stores and cut costs of their notoriously expensive drinks to compensate for a poor economy and increasing competition from Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds.

Heydon thinks his plan will work. "We're on a never ending quest to get to perfection," he said.

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