Secrets Starbucks Doesn’t Want You to Know

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Yesterday Starbucks announced prices are going up on some of its more labor-intensive drinks. But there are some secret ways to save. An anonymous barista spills the coffee beans...

Yesterday Starbucks announced that they’d be raising prices soon, apparently due to higher bean prices.

“Over the last six months a highly speculative green coffee market and dramatically increased commodity costs have completely altered the economic and financial picture of many players in the coffee industry,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president and CEO. “And while many, if not most, coffee roasters and retailers began raising prices months ago, we have thus far chosen to absorb the price increases ourselves and not pass them on to our customers. But the extreme nature of the cost increases has made it untenable for us to continue to do so and we have been forced to take the steps we announced today,” Schultz added.

Not everything’s going up: Starbucks expects to maintain its popular $1.50 tall brewed coffee, but will probably raise the price of more labor-intensive and larger-sized beverages. Retail packaged coffee may also be going higher. No specifics have yet been announced.

But if you want to spend fewer bucks at Starbucks, there’s no shortage of official advice everyone already knows…

But then there are the secrets Starbucks doesn’t want its baristas to reveal. Here’s what one barista in the southeastern United States – who wishes to remain anonymous – told us…

“Poor Man’s Latte”

If you want an iced latte but don’t have latte cash on hand, “You can order the espresso over ice in a big cup,” suggests our barista. “Then you can walk right over to our condiment bar and use our carafes of whole milk, half and half, and nonfat.”

While the prices vary according to Starbucks and state our barista says, “It’s way, way cheaper. You’ll save a lot of money.” In general, she says, only about “one customer every couple hours” has figured out how to buy straight coffee and espresso and use the free condiments to mix their own beverages – and they never get called on it. “We can’t do anything about,” she says. “What are we going to say? Don’t use our milk and syrups that we put out for everyone?”

Drink what you want, be careful what you eat

Customers know the drinks are brewed right in front of them, but what about those muffins and cookies in the glass display? “The food gets delivered to us every morning, frozen from the factory,” says the barista. “Our seasonal pastries are really good – pumpkin cream cheese muffins at Halloween and peppermint brownies at Christmas.”

But, she says, “There’s no point buying bananas or bagels from us, because they’re cheaper elsewhere and taste better.” In fact, in many big cities, cunning street vendors set up their fruit stands as close to a busy Starbucks as they can. Look for them.

Working at Starbucks but not for Starbucks

In the past, some self-employed coffee addicts spent hours at Starbucks, which became their home office away from home. Now with the free unlimited Wi Fi, that’s likely to happen even more. Starbucks frowns on this but doesn’t do much to stop it – especially if you follow these four simple rules:

  1. Go to the same store each time, tip the baristas well so they ignore your extended stay;
  2. Refresh your coffee every couple of hours (for either 50 cents or free, but still leave a modest tip)
  3. Don’t take business calls inside the store
  4. Don’t sit in the comfiest chair or seize the best table.

Also realize that with free Wi Fi is an invitation to high-tech scammers who now see easy pickings. At least, that’s what some experts are warning. So be careful out there.

Don’t get “decaffed”

Because Starbucks can charge up to $10 for a drink, customers tend to abuse the baristas if everything isn’t perfect. “Barista abuse” is a notorious condition seldom seen in other service-industry jobs – there’s even a Starbucks Workers Union to fight for better wages and a less hostile working environment.

Our barista is not a member, but she’s suffered her share of hostility. “I’ve been cursed at, had money thrown at me like I’m a stripper, and even had a guy throw his Starbucks card at me – twice. We’re treated like maggots because they feel so entitled to get this $8 beverage.”

Really abusive customers get decaffed – their drinks are secretly and purposefully filled with decaf. They’re never told and never find out. But they often come back later in the day for more, remarking to their friends that the last cup did nothing for them.

“You can taste the difference, but only a refined palate can do it,” our barista says. “It does read decaf on the espresso machine, so if they’re watching us, sometimes we’ll have another barista create a distraction, and we’ll quickly press the button.”

Adds the barista, “We decaf a person at least a few times an hour.”

The moral of the story: As when dealing with any overworked, underpaid retail employee, it costs nothing to be nice – and it could net you a better deal.

One thing that Starbucks does want you to know

Starbucks will soon launch an in-house Digital Network, being billed as a place for customers to share information, download the occasional free song and get free premium content.  The company is teaming up with Yahoo to allow Wi-Fi users access to sites they’d otherwise have to pay for – such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. It will also feature content from USA Today, Zagat and others, as well as films from SnagFilms, which has an online library of more than 1,600 documentaries.

Something to occupy your time while you drink your self-serve, discount iced latte…

Stacy Johnson

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