Names on cups: Starbucks moments of connection

I dropped by the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue (near Bellevue Square) in Bellevue on October 31st, as well as a couple of times in early November.  If want to visit, here is the address:  Starbucks store #303, 10214 NE 8th Avenue, Bellevue, WA, (425) 454 – 0191.

I was struck by how effectively this store uses names on cups.

I arrived during this store’s morning rush, ordered the Colombia Supremo on the Clover and a cinnamon roll, and took a seat near the bar area.  There is bar-like seating right near the Clover/ espresso bar area, and it allows a full view of most of the store, plus what is happening at the bar.  One thing I noticed was that every single cup in the very long  queue of cups had a name on it.  And I listened.  Names were called out with drinks.  And it looked like a lot of care was being put into it.  I wish I had taken a photo of that line of cups on the 31st.  I noticed that “Shirley” got a cup with a somewhat ornately written name on it.  I assumed she must be a regular, and there had to be a story behind that.  I noticed that even cups of water had names written on them.

As the bar barista handed off drinks, she smiled and managed to make very quick conversation too.  She asked a little girl about her trick or treating plans.

I actually went back to this store on November 10th, because I wanted to see if the store was still using names on cups.  I have to admit, I have seen very few stores ever actually effectively use names on cups.  What I notice is that some stores will use names on cups for a while, and then stop when the store is slow.  It seems to become an off and on habit, and it becomes easy to turn “off.”  The other thing I notice that sometimes you’ll have the register barista marking a name on a cup, and then the bar barista still calls out, “Tall Vanilla Latte 140 degrees” despite that the name is on the cup.  I think this can make the customer feel like, “What was the point of putting my name on the cup if you weren’t going to use it?

This store looked like they were genuinely working to make a customer connection around the names on the cups – and I saw that both times I visited.  The reality is that a few customers might not like it, and say that they’re “Billy Bob,” or “Batman,”  but with the millions of customers that cycle through Starbucks, there is no way to create a routine about names on cups that will make 100% of customers happy.  It’s not going to happen.  I think most people will like the connection.  Some people would rather be an anonymous number, but they can be the “John Does” on cups.

I was doing some Twitter searches related to names on cups, and came upon this awesome tweet:

The womam working at Stabucks was getting my name and actually asked if it is Cate or Kate. I love you, Starbucks lady. You make an effort.

Customers appreciate the effort to get a name right.  That is such a perfect example of that.

I asked my Twitter followers to weigh in on their thoughts on names on cups.  Here’s what I tweeted: I’m writing an article about the customer experience of baristas writing names on Starbucks cups. Weigh in – Like it or not?

Here’s what I got:

If you want to see a store that’s committed to names on cups, visit this store in Bellevue.  I got a great photo of a customer named Larry picking up his drink!  Larry told me that he loves to drink Eggnog Lattes this time of year.

I have to tell you, much later on November 17, 2012, I saw a downtown Seattle Starbucks using names on cups effectively.  I am reminded that the register baristas have to be in sync with the bar baristas and vice versa.  That was also great to see.  I have heard rumors that starting in early 2013, names on cups will become the U.S. and Canada standard.  Please don’t take that as written in stone – as I mention, I’ve only heard that as a rumor.  In the UK, writing names on cups is already the standard as of March this year.  I’ve heard that other international markets, such as Argentina, have been using names on cups for a while.

So what do you think?  Do you like names on cups?


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  • denise r

    Well, I know I’ve said this before..maybe not here….but in the Chicago area, names aren’t used on cups. (maybe a rare store will do it bit 99.9% do not). And, in my many yrs of Sbux, I’ve never seen it done here. (I know Intelligentsia uses names) I was talking with an older, retired partner..he was with Sbux for maybe 15yrs here…and he told me that at one time they tried it, it just wasn’t effective and stopped doing it in less than a week.

    Personally, I don’t care whether they use names or not. I am just as ‘connected’ with any partner without a name on my cup as I would with a name. And I’d say I am pretty ‘connected’. At my regular store they ALL know me very well, and I them. And at all other stores that I happen to go to, I’m always chatting a bit with a partner about something or other. So, for me, and apparently millions of others in entire Chicago area, I think the lack of names-on-cups is just not an issue. And as I said, I feel plenty connected with the partners, and Sbux in general. Besides all that, I’d rather have my drink repeated (in an ‘irregular’ store) than possibly end of with the wrong drink. It’s not necessary in my regular place…they do just call my name if I’ve roamed away from the bar…but it’s not written on the cup.

  • Purple1

    Melody what a very interesting topic. I am now sitting at my local SB and they do
    Put names on drinks but as you say do not always announce the name but rather the drink. Virtually all the partners know me and my drink so I do not have to say anything. I always get a hello. When my daughter worked at SB, I noticed the partners at that store did do designs on the cup along with the name and people appreciated it. Talking about names another side to this is when they put food on the counter they do not put names on the bag so sometimes I see customers opening the bags to see what item is in it and that sort of makes me cringe. If the partner is nearby, they will let the customer know which item is theirs but sometimes the bags are lined up.
    How do you control this? I like having names on the cup.

  • Purple1

    Denise R nice to know we both share that feeling of belonging from
    Our local SB and other stores. It really is a nice feeling to walk in and be greeted by name and I would rather have that than the name on the cup but it is a nice touch. Even my husband is greeted by name and they know his drink
    As well.

  • Vicky

    I love it when they use names on the cups and actually call them out. The store I go to does not use names on the cups but they always make a point to have conversation with the customers. I always love going.

  • Ciaran

    I do really like it and they brought it into Ireland in March too but most stores that I frequent stopped using it a few months later :( I was actually in a store Monday morning and was asked for my name :) Barista said it was a pleasure to meet me and shook my hand ! Put me in a good mood all day :) Have problems with my name sometimes but most of the time its all good :)

  • Melody

    @Ciaran – Do you know if they still do names on cups in the UK? I remember last March when there was a ton of news about names on cups in the UK and Ireland. Now, the Ireland Starbucks business is run by a licensee and so I wonder if they just decided they didn’t want/care about names on cups?

  • Matt Stewart

    As a partner, I can see both sides of the names on cup policy we try to follow (yes, I said try).

    I like the idea, it makes it really easy during the busy times to ensure that everyone gets there drink fast and efficiently…even though there have been the odd “Is this my drink” “Is your name _______” “No” “Then it’s not your drink” conversations.

    For everyone who loves the name-on-cup thing we do, we have just as many people argue it, get mad, and become uncomfortable with it. I’ve had one person never return to my store because we get names and she found one that doesn’t. We are always nice about it, and will explain the theory behind the policy, but some people just don’t like it.

    I’ve also had some inappropriate alias’ given to me which I have refused to write on the cup.

    And I agree, Melody, it is VERY easy to turn off. We typically end up not getting names in the evenings and during dead time. I think the idea behind turning it off in our heads is “There’s only one person, one drink at the bar and the store is empty…no need” type thing.

    All in all, it’s just a part of the Starbucks experience, and you know when you go in you could be asked for your name. It’s a friendly thing :-)

  • Joseph

    As a barista at a very busy Starbucks, we often do the name’s on cups when it gets crazy busy and people seem to expect that the next tall latte called out after they order is theirs even though 30 people are waiting on their drinks already. Even so, this effort seems to make no difference at all to speed of service or getting people the drinks they ordered. Customers, at my store at least, don’t respond to their name when called 3 or 4 times. It’s still chaos. It might help with personalization, but when you are a store of mostly tourists, many foreigners, and huge crowds, the result I mostly see is confused people with poorly spelled names the baristas terribly pronounce.

  • Brandon

    I love when they put my name on my cup it really makes me happy Starbucks is amazing i drink Starbucks almost every day in k-cup or go to the sbux near my house in ingles they have the mestrena love going there

  • Ciaran

    @melody yea I’m pretty sure they still use it in the uk . In Ireland it is pretty hit and miss with stores! The city centre stores all seem to use them which is strange as high amounts of customers are tourists !but stores in malls/shopping centres don’t always use it! And it seems that stores that were formerly owned by Starbucks not the licensee don’t use it while new stores opened by the licensee do !

  • Zach, the fmr CoffeeMaster

    When I worked at Starbucks, I always wrote names on cups! We were an extremely busy cafe store just 1 mile down the road from the Corp HQ for Walmart (aka Walmart Home Office) in Bentonville, AR. I have to say that by using names and having the small conversations with customers, I felt a connection to our customers and I got to know them quite well. I was there for just over 8 years and now, a year since I left for an opportunity to work in Social Media, I can still remember the names and drinks of a vast majority of the customers and they remember me. In this day and age of all digital interaction, it means a lot to hear people actually address you by your name.

  • Somebarista

    I personally like to call the drink and as I hand it off say, “Thank you ______, have a great day!”
    But I admit there are times that I don’t effectively use names because A) I can’t read the handwriting on the cup or B) I’m not sure how to say an unfamiliar name.

  • Melody

    So many great replies. I hope that a few people from the UK weigh in on how it’s working out there.

  • elly

    i don’t mind either way, though i do like to have my drink order repeated back because it’s often complicated. i’ve also kind of learned what my drinks usually look like though, so if it looks wrong, i will simply ask what was made.

    the thing with my name is that it’s always misspelled. i’d be pretty happy if someone spelled it right once in a while, but it’s no big deal. everyone spells it wrong not just starbucks. i kind of did that on purpose, i guess 😛

  • Charli

    I love it though most stores don’t do it. They print out the drink order. The Northpark store in Dallas writes the drink and name on the cup and in turn the barista says I have an iced grande white mocha for Charli at the bar. I love it even if I’m the only one their and they know me. I love it!! Don’t see why someone would have a problem with a person who is making them a drink asking your name? I wish more stores did it because it does get confusing when it’s crowded and 3 people are reaching for that tall vanilla latte at the bar. :-)

  • Sandra Trolinger

    I like the idea of the names on the cups and the personal touch but I have pictures in my Facebook photos that SHOW the failure of the system. I have had “Sandy, Cassandra, Sendra, Cindy”, and just yesterday the name “Leslie” scrawled on my cups.
    I think the attention to detail is gone and it is a waste of time at this point. I am going to start using random names when I go in like “Baltimore” since maybe they can spell that and it makes THEM feel better about writing something on the cup. Like a friend pointed out yesterday when I posted my “Leslie” picture on Facebook…”does the coffee taste any different with the wrong name on the cup?” No, it doesn’t.

  • Chase Jaynes

    I love the idea of names on cups and I’ve always felt that it is a very “Starbucks” thing to do. When I work, probably 85% of names are on cups. It’s not just about connecting, it makes the job easier when you have more complex drinks or the same drink 3 times in a row. I’d much rather say “Mel your drink is ready” instead of “I’ve got a double tall decaf soy no whip extra hot mocha”. When I am busy, being able to just yell out a name and then say thanks “name” is quicker.

    Why don’t we do it more? Usually it’s an awkward situation where the person taking drinks just writes the name poorly and it’s hard to say to someone “can you write nicer!” But I think a store is at its best when they take and use names.

    I wish people didn’t get so upset about spelling their name correctly, though. I have horrible spelling and usually I just write the name the way it sounds to make it easier to call out. I don’t mind at all when people help out, though. Just tell me “the name is Eryk E R Y K”

  • Janie

    Yes … I like names on cups. I work at Napier Starbucks in New Zealand. I prefer to ask my customers their names (and write it on their cups), and as they become regulars I welcome them by name. One of my customers last week (a teenage girl) said she wanted me to put the name Harry Styles on the cup … I said – “oh, he’s from One Direction isn’t he” … she was amazed that I knew …. I replied that even 50 year olds knew of One Direction :)
    So I wrote Harry Styles on it and she asked me to call the drink out as Harry Styles gf. When the drink was ready …. I walked around the store calling out – “Mocha Frappaccino for Harry Styles Girlfriend …. ” … she came running up to me full of smiles and laughter, and enjoying everyone turning around to look. She is one customer who will definitely be back … :) It is creating fun, personal moments like these that make Starbucks a great place to work.

  • merryncole

    I can see why Starbucks (and other places) want to do names on cups, but anytime I’m asked for my name for an order (at Starbucks or other places) I hate it. I hate it because I have an uncommon name. It gets mispronounced, even when misspelled. When I try using my last name, they still often mishear me. In the end, I never really know what name will be called with my drink. It makes it hard to know if it’s really my order or not. Sometimes I use fake names, but that kind of defeats the connection purpose at Starbucks. It makes it simpler for me though. It is also really irritating when they insist on putting a name on the cup and then never call names at the other end of the bar. Really, what’s the point?

  • Chgo.

    @denise – They started requesting names and writing them on the cups at the PR store for the past month or so. I think they were doing it at another location also that I stopped in at. Regarding the PR store, it is being done rather inconsistently. It depends on the partners working the shift. The same partners always do it, and a few never do it. Of course they know my name by heart, but they are asking other customers. Oddly…… Today they were calling out the drinks and not asking or calling out names.

    Did you see my comment on msi about Starbucks completion of the remodel at the Harlem and Lake store? It is allegedly now a Clover location? I have not been there yet.

  • ChrisTina Sims

    I LOVE my name on the cup and a smile as its handed to me. Our store (9813) is EXTREMELY busy (have one for 68k people) and at least 80% of the time don’t write the name (they all know mine and don’t need to ask, so why not?). Adds major confusion at the bar wo the name. Many times they misspell my name which doesn’t bother me, they meant well.
    This past Friday there were 8 or 9 standing at the bar in our small store with 28 seating crammed capacity and people were very irritated. It was impossible to get to the small make shift condiment bar as well. Yikes! Customers were calling out the drinks because of the confusion of whose is whose.
    It was a major relief when a name was called!

  • denise r

    @chgo: Wow!!! R.F. store is now a Clover??? and remodeled? Going that way likely tomorrow and will stop in if I do. That’s another Chicago area store where I’ve never been asked my name. Thanx for the info!

  • Chgo.

    @denise – I received the info from another manager that shares the same district as the RF store yesterday. I still will believe it when I see it! I will even believe it if you see it first. Let me know what you think if you make it there tomorrow.

  • Melody

    So funny – On Twitter, a user by the name of @LovelyLanvin is pretty sure that that cup described above as for “Shirley” was hers! Small world!

  • Michelle

    Melody – Canada has been putting names on cups since last October.

    I really like it. Today for instance, it was absolute madness (thank you BOGO), and while on the bar, I was able to call the customers over as I started making their drinks so that they would be able to fight their way to the handoff by the time I had the drink ready. When it’s slower, I don’t necessarily call out the drink with the name, but I try to use it in coversation. “So Joe, how’s your day been?” or “Thanks Steve, have a great day!” To me that’s more genuine, because I’m connecting with them using their name before I have to call out the drink, or as they’re on their way out of the store, depending on how the transaction goes at the cash, I can sometimes have their drink ready before they get to me.

    We hand off the pastries to the customer directly at the cash register, but I’ve been trying to get my partners to put names on the warming bags, because those can sometimes be problematic at the hand off. That’s been slow going, but we’ll get there!

  • Skooter McGoo

    I must admit that there are times I don’t always get a name but it’s best practice especially when busy. Getting coffee drinkers names are the most difficult. It doesn’t always keep people from grabbing the wrong drink but it helps. Holidays are upon us, time to feel the red. Happy Holidays everyone.

  • Suzanne C

    I love the stores that put names on cups. I usually have my travel mug with me so usually it is not needed but when I don’t have my travel mug, it is a nice touch.

    When my husband and I go together, I usually place the order for both of us and my name, of course, is on his cup as well. :-)

  • Joel Bain

    One of the staples of every store that I’ve worked at has been names on cups. That’s not to say that partners never get lazy or they feel awkward asking for names, but as a partner and customer, I do find it frustrating if a name is taken and the bar barista doesn’t do anything with it. Effectively, all it accomplishes is allowing a stalker on the bus to know what the pretty girl’s name is and start and awkward conversation with her. I love the interaction when the name is called, as I feel it brings more smiles and connection. I have noticed that some McDonalds in the Pacific NW have started taking names too know. In Western Canada, it is now standard/expectation for names on cups at Starbucks as per the directive of the RVP. Still working on 100% execution though! =)

  • Analu

    In guatemala they do put names in the cups, it’s been that way since the very beginning. Here the mayority likes it, it makes it more personal and the staff is so friendly that you make a grate conection with them. I was just in London last month and they did’t use names and for me it was uncommon and you had to really pay attention and not go out of line or you could end up with no coffe. I think the name is a keeper and more if you are a regular like me.

  • BCav

    I truly miss my experience in a cafe only store and using names on cups and actually marking cups.. Drive-Thrus don’t really allow for that personalization, although I still try to grab names for the cafe customers when possible. It’s part of what makes a trip to Starbucks legendary.

  • NJ

    My store makes it a point to put a name on every cup and call out that name when their drink is up. It’s just a simple way to connect with our customers and make them feel at home. :)

  • Earl

    I hate giving out my name in places. But there are some Starbucks I go to where the baristas recognize me and know what drink I want and I like that when it happens. I feel like I’m Norm entering Cheers.

  • Melody

    Sorry that I haven’t responded to so many great comments. I definitely have noticed so many great comments and thoughts about names on cups. Definitely, there will be some stores where it’s a little harder to implement than others, but I think it will be well worth it.

  • Becky E

    I would be happy to give my name if asked but that never happens at my local store. Haven’t noticed the request for names at either of the other two stores that I occasionally go to. So people are always grabbing the wrong cup or asking if it’s their cup ready to be picked up. Last Saturday I went for BOGO at 2:30 and the store was not busy. Only a few people sitting at tables. No one in line to order and I stood at the counter for at least 5 minutes before being told that he’d “be right with me”. Two other baristas walked past and never even said anything or made eye contact. I thought maybe I’d get an apology for the wait but instead was told they were out of gingerbread syrup when that’s what I ordered. If I hadn’t had someone with me that I was sharing the bogo offer with I would have said never mind and left. Just unreal and I’ve been going to this store for years. I was going to pick up a few of the new Christmas items but wasn’t in the mood after that.

  • Kate

    Hi there! I’m from Moscow, working in at Kuznetski most Starbucks store. For Russia calling names is a total rule. It helps our guests feel closer to american style and to the idea of starbucks. So every Moscow store use it efficianly ’cause it also makes closer relationships between the customer and barista. At my store, we usually draw hearts and flowers on the cup to make it more pesonal)

  • Rebecca

    My store being in a mall, we’ve always done names on cups at Christmas time – we are such a small store, and I’ll echo what a previous poster said – we’d call out names prior to the drink coming up so they could fight their way over to the handoff plane :) I’ve always loved names (have kept lists of potential baby names since I was 7, yes, 7, haha) so I don’t particularly have a problem spelling names, and have had a couple of opportunities to really make a customer’s day when I know how to spell or pronounce their name without asking. Last year, right around the time when we started doing names, BC decided it was going to be an ongoing provincial strategy, and then the rest of Canada followed suit.

    And absolutely, it’s one of the most annoying things to me when my partners don’t call up names on the bar – that’s why the name is there. At our store, we call out the full thing “Bob, I have your triple grande, non-fat, no-whip, no foam gingerbread latte for you” – mainly because calling out the drink also reassures the customer that you heard all the modifiers and got them right. Crucial when it’s going to fuel your crazy last minute December 24th Christmas shopping :) And the name helps clue people in, and works well when you have seven of the same drinks in a row!

    Names on cups is certainly not the only strategy one can employ to connect with customers, but if it’s coupled with a team that uses it effectively, and understands how to help customers who are uncomfortable with it work around it – smiley faces, fake names etc. And when it is slow, and a customer looks at us weirdly when we ask for a name I let them know that a) my cafe can fill up fast, and b) we want to connect with our customers at all times of the day, busy or slow.

  • Melody

    Can any barista tell me if this is now the standard to put names on cups? I thought I heard it would be. Though from what I can see, some of the time when the register barista writes a name on a cup, the bar barista still often calls out “Grande Iced Chai” and doesn’t use the name. This really does take coordination between both register and bar barista to >really< be effective.

  • Devin

    From all of the material I have read so far, it should be standard to have a customer’s name on their cup. It allows for a better opportunity for the baristas to get to know their customers and clears up some of the “is this my drink” confusion at the bar.

    Obviously it is not required/recommended for drinks that can be prepared quickly and handled by the barista manning the register (like brewed coffee or tea) and for customers who do not wish to give out their names (I normally just do a smiley face, star, or something else if I’m feeling creative).

    I believe that there was an update recently on the portal pertaining this topic, so I’ll check it out tomorrow when I’m at work.

  • denise r

    @Melody: I can tell you there are still (and I don’t care) no names on cups in any Sbux that I’ve been in recently. They are coming out with the names on the aprons……but on the cups, not happening here.

  • Melody

    Using names on cups is hit and miss in downtown Seattle – And I thought that’s strange because my area is sometimes strict about rules! As to baristas’ names, I have heard that eventually they’ll have name tags. The idea is that they would look like the chalkboard name tags already in use at the Tazo tea store.

    ^ You can see the name tag that I mean in that article in the photo with Cody holding the Tazo card.

    I generally like names on cups. I understand that it doesn’t make sense in every single circumstance – such as brewed coffee orders or where customers don’t want to give a name – but I am just surprised that downtown Seattle isn’t executing names on cups very well. The store manager at 7th and Pike still calls out my drink as what it is rather than my name. I figure when you know me, you can yell, “Melody your drink is up.” Such is life. No biggie.

  • Rebecca

    I believe the official deadline on training everyone on this is the 28th of this month? I’m not entirely sure as, like I mentioned, my store, and my entire area actually, has been doing this for over a year now :) So, while I’m reading all the materials I’m supposed to that go along with this, my grasp on the details is fuzzy cuz we’ve already rolled it :)

  • Melody

    @Rebecca – That’s helpful to know. I didn’t realize it launches much later in the month. Speaking of Casi Cielo, it’s nearly here? It launches on the 15th or 16th or 17th?

  • Rebecca

    Jan 17th :) so excited… All of mine arrives in my order on Monday – we’re going to coffee taste it up!!

    And I think the names are later in the month because we are rolling it to SMs first, then to partners in pods of 2 or 3, so it takes time!

  • Devin

    We got our shipment of Casi Cielo in last week. Everytime I go to the back, it is hard to resist the Christmas-like temptation of opening the cases to taste some.

  • Rebecca

    Oh, and I forgot to mention – we should still be calling out your drink as well as your name. A) Sometimes, there are several people with the same name (three Sarah’s tried to take a drink at Christmas time :)) and B) it helps reassure you that we really *did* hear all the modifiers on your drink. If I ever make the mistake of not calling out a drink, I then have to go through the “Is it decaf?” “Yes.” “Half sweet?” “Yes.” “Extra hot, no whip, with sprinkles?” Yes, yes, and yes.” dance :) Obviously, with a few of my regulars, who always get the same drink, or trust me implicitly, I will just say “Melody, here’s your drink.” but standard is beverage name and customer name!

  • Chris

    Hi, I have just recently discovered your blog and I’m going through old posts! I live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and we have around 7 stores that are within easy reach. All the advertising within the UK states that the barrista will ask for your name. My experience is very hit and miss. In the same store some barristas will ask for your name and others will not. In fact I was in with my partner today. He was asked for his name and I wasn’t asked for mine! Go figure!

    I happened to be in London this week and i called in to the Conduit Street ‘Concept’ store which is the flagship store and noticed that the barrista didn’t ask for my name there but they did in another store I went into later in the day.

  • Valerie

    I don’t care for the name in cups if that Starbucks new policy. How is it a connection when most if the time the person at the register just looks at me when I walk up to order. I sometimes give it a few seconds to see if they ask: what can I get for you?, but that rarely occurs and I kill a few seconds looking dumb expecting customer service, yet they need to “make a connection”. Besides, in this hyper connected environment that we now surround ourselves with, can’t I just have this little moment of anonymity? And baristas, when I decline to have my name put on a up, that will most likely be incorrectly spelled, please loose the attitude- it’s just coffee, please don’t take it personnel. I know Howard Shultz has made this his newest mission to be rolled out by his “partners” so you little do gooders, let me stick it to the man and drink my coffee nameless please and thank you.

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