Starbucks in Britain: No names, please

The company has changed its policy and now writes customers' names on cups. That crosses the line for some.

By Kim Peterson Mar 14, 2012 4:19PM
Credit: © Stuart Wilson/Getty Images
Caption: Jimmy Carr launches new stronger British Latte at Starbucks on March 14, 2012 in London, EnglandStarbucks (SBUX) baristas often ask American customers their names to write on order cups. It's an easy way to move orders fast, and Americans don't generally mind sharing -- even if the names get a little mangled along the way.

The British, however, are a different story. Starbucks has begun asking customers' names there in an effort to be warmer and friendlier, and some aren't thrilled by the policy change.

The controversy is brewing to the point where the BBC wonders if Starbucks should brace for a backlash. "I am not looking to make friends when I go into a coffee shop, I just want a drink," grumbles Arthur Smith, an actor in the U.K. television series "Grumpy Old Men," according to the BBC. "I want a pleasant but respectful distance between me and the person serving me coffee -- I don't want to go clubbing with them."

Hrmph. A London marketing professor chimes in that this false attempt at camaraderie can be irritating when you're quickly buying a coffee. "It's a bogus personalization of an economic relationship," Chris Hackley told the BBC. "Friendship needs to be genuine."

One Wall Street analyst discusses in the following video whether investors should dump Starbucks. He says yes.

Post continues below.
The complaints come as Starbucks revives its efforts in the United Kingdom, where it has 743 cafes. It wants to boost that to 1,000 in the next few years -- a big change, considering the company had a net loss of 65 U.K. stores in its 2010 fiscal year and a net gain of just 6 in 2011. In addition, it's spending nearly $13 million to overhaul its London cafes and make them more, well, British.

One of Starbucks' first moves in this new effort is to increase the caffeine in its beverages. The number of customers asking for extra shots of caffeine has risen by 60%, the Motley Fool reports, and some say Starbucks' drinks aren't as caffeinated as those made by rival Costa.

Starbucks is also unveiling coffee vending machines for the on-the-go British and serving drinks on planes and trains.

In its efforts to turn around operations in the U.S. -- something the company has done well at -- it lost some focus on a country that adores coffee and tea. That isn't to say Starbucks is foundering in the U.K. -- 743 cafes is nothing to sneeze at -- but there is definitely further room to grow. Costa Coffee easily has more than 1,000 locations in the U.K.

Starbucks is also experimenting with new strategies across Europe, and last week opened its first European concept cafe in Amsterdam. The cafe will be a testing ground for new ideas -- such as an in-house bakery. Starbucks may send out messages on Twitter when hot pastries roll out of the in-house ovens. The Amsterdam store has 16 new food items sold exclusively at that location.

Tags: SBUX
Mar 14, 2012 5:27PM

I'm happy to give my name to get my coffee in the order that I was on line to pay . when they're busy mistakes can happen, I know  because it happened to me, I had no receipt to prove that I had paid.

Mar 14, 2012 5:26PM
This is interesting, I would think that if you are stupid enough to pay, what $4.00-$5.00 for a cup of coffee, you would surely be stupid enough to give your name.
Mar 14, 2012 5:26PM
Grumpy a$$ Europeans... No one wants to be your friend Chris Hackley! Just give them your name and wait in line quietly like everyone else! Make up a name if you like!
Mar 14, 2012 5:25PM

After reading this article and knowing Starbucks competitor in Europe, Costa Coffee serves coffee way stronger, They should open some up here in the US!  

Mar 14, 2012 5:25PM
avatar about an over-reaction! I like the fact that not only does my barista know my name, they remember exactly how I like my grande  peppermint mocha frappucino with whip cream (4 pumps of peppermint and 4 pumps of mocha! Thank you to the baristas in Bethpage NY...Tiffany, Evan, Sam, Janice, Victoria, Fran (just to name a few of my friendly baristas!!!!)
Mar 14, 2012 5:23PM
So, instead of saying 'Brad, coffee up...' to speed the process, they have to say 'Venti Mocha Latte Low Soy Whipped Carmel...' and you better hope only 1 person is waiting for that order. 
Mar 14, 2012 5:21PM
fine then identify the coffe with what the person is wearing or how the look, so instead you would hear " tall nonfat latte for  guy with bad teeth" take your pick, quit crying over the small stuff
Mar 14, 2012 5:21PM
lol.. my "take-out" name is John. I like the ambiguousness of it.
Mar 14, 2012 5:13PM

I have to say Starbucks isn't a perfect company by any means but they do make a great effort at trying out new ideas and innovations. 

Mar 14, 2012 5:12PM
This also seems to be a fad here with the fast food restaurants.  Just look at the person's nametag and repeat their first name.  As soon as they say "Your last name is 'Melanie'?"  Simply say, "Yes.  Is that a problem?"  It doesn't take them long to learn to leave you alone.
Mar 14, 2012 5:05PM

Just give them your name for the order, is it really that hard?  Just like when you call-in ahead for pizza you give the person taking your order your name.  But no, in the world we live in today it's a  "bogus personalization of an economic relationship".  Give me a break...

Mar 14, 2012 5:02PM

Starbucks, in the end, should give the people what they want.  If they do not want to give names, give them an order number like so many fast food places do.  It would be just as effective to move the orders along...75, your caramel macchiato is up!  However, I do think it is a tad silly that someone would get their panties in a twist over something like that.

Mar 14, 2012 4:58PM
Just give your surname - Mr. or Ms. Grumpy works.  It's professional and maintains the "pleasant but respectful distance" mentioned in the article.  Damn, that was difficult. 
Mar 14, 2012 4:57PM

"Friendship needs to be genuine."  What would any American know about "genuine"?  Our whole society is based on a repeated lie that the people who are trying to sell us stuff care about us.  Call a consumer complaint number and get a really warm apology from the nice Asian person manning the phone.  Of course, you will not get a resolution of the problem unless it is technical help.  "Getting and spending we lay waste to all ..."

Mar 14, 2012 4:51PM
use the name "yoda" - it works for me !
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