Debunking the myth of the Starbucks secret menu.

It has been in the news that there is a Starbucks “secret” menu.  An example such a  story is here.  My position is that there is no such thing as a “secret menu,” and I’m trying to debunk that myth.

Starbucks has built its business on the idea that a customer can customize beverages to an extreme degree.  Because beverage customization is encouraged, there is nothing to stop  highly creative baristas and customers from coming up with beverage combinations that are well-liked by many.

The problem with a “secret menu” is that it implies that there is some standardization to customized drink recipes which simply does not exist!  In other words, if I walk up to the register and order a “tall peppermint hot chocolate,” I will receive the same beverage whether I am in Seattle, Anaheim, or Boston.  Baristas will follow a standardized official Starbucks recipe for a “peppermint hot chocolate,” and it is going to be the same everywhere I go.  There are only so many official, standard drink recipes.

This doesn’t mean that a customer cannot order something unique.  For example, partners have said to me, “Melody, you should try toffeenut syrup in a Strawberry smoothie!”  This would create something close to the “Captain Crunch” recipe described in “Starbucks “secret” menu“.  However, and this is important, if I walked up to the register and said, “I’d like a Captain Crunch Smoothie” the only thing I would do is create confusion.  Different stores will have different ideas about what this will mean:  Some stores may think this means just a single added pump or two of toffeenut.  Other stores may think this means some combination of toffeenut and hazelnut.  Other baristas will look at you blankly and say, “I’ve never heard of a Captain Crunch smoothie.”

The real moral of the story is that if you, the customer, want to try a customized drink you should be prepared to learn how to order it to be able to get the same thing twice.  In other words, it behooves you to learn to say, “I’d like a tall Strawberry Frappuccino with 2 pumps of toffee nut.

I’m not very creative at coming up with unique drinks.  Some baristas are gifted at this.  One barista highly recommended that I try a “Chocolate Smoothie with White Mocha instead of Mocha, add Java Chips, and substitute Soy Milk.”  That is a delicious drink!  It tastes a bit like an Oreo Cookie.  However, if I tried ordering “an Oreo Cookie smoothie,” I’d be met with blank stares.

I saw this “idea” on and I was reminded of the problems with the secret menu:

The author of the above thread writes:

  • I heard of a cake batter frappuccino on the secret menu but every time I have tried to order this the barista looks at me like I’m crazy! Is there really a secret menu? And why would barista in at least five locations not know about it? From what I have seen almond syrup should be used, not toffee nut syrup. If this drink was tried as a promotion frap it would be a hit!
    Try this one out Starbucks!

That above thread inspired this blog post.  It is such a perfect example of the problems created by a “secret” menu that does not really exist!

In summary, customers please know your drink!  Ask your baristas for their suggestions for new drink combinations.  But if you simply order a drink by a “secret” name, you’ll run the risk of any or all of the following:

1.  The drink will be very inconsistent from store to store.

2.  Many baristas will have no idea what you mean.

3.  You may be trying to order a drink that is not possible to make:  The syrup and sauce offerings change frequently.  For example, Almond hasn’t been available on the menu since 2008.

4.  You may find that your Starbucks experience feels frustrating and confusing, and you don’t know why.

By the way, it is super obvious that the Starbucks “secret” menu in this news article is not real.  Starbucks would not put out an official menu with “Frappuccino” incorrectly spelled, or incorrectly referred to as a “Frappe.”  Notice that on the official Starbucks Frappuccino page, Starbucks is careful to remember to put the registered-trademark symbol after the word Frappuccino.

I don’t mean to disappoint many customers who wanted to try something new.  By all means, experiment away!  Just learn how to order it.  And when in doubt, talk to your barista about the kind of flavor you’re looking for, but don’t expect that your barista has some magical recipe for a “secret” drink.

This is an open thread.  Feel free to talk about anything Starbucks-related.