There are three Starbucks policies which appear to create problems and challenges inside stores.  I say that from what I’ve seen in emails to me, what I’ve seen on social media sites, and what people are reading heavily on my site.

(As always, this is just Melody’s opinion of what policies cause tension and confusion).

1. The Refill Policy – Once you leave the store, it is NOT a refill.  If you stay inside the store, you can get free refills, as much as you like, regardless of the original beverage.  However, the only items that can be offered to you at the refill price are as follows: Iced Coffee, Brewed Coffee (such as the coffee of the day, such as Pike Place Roast – not a Clover-brewed coffee), Iced Tea, and hot tea.  Yes, you can get a new tea bag.  The minute you walk out the front door of the store, all refill perks come to an end.  There is never a refill perk when using the drive-thru.  Here’s my old article on the Refill Policy – it is – by far – the most read article on this site, and readers spend over ten minutes reading it, on average.  There have been way over 100,000 page views of that article since the day I published it.  Yes, you can buy a Grande Cool Lime Refresher, and ask for a Iced Passion Tea in that cup as a refill.  I was at the Corson & Michigan Starbucks about one week ago, and did just that.  A Starbucks barista (Hannah?) said “yes” without any wincing, questioning, or anything at all.  It should be that way everywhere.

2. The Photo Policy – You can take photos inside of a Starbucks.  No partners should be hassling customers who are showing off pretty stores, drinks or whatever.  Customers should, however, ask permission to “feature” a specific partner in a photo.  (There isn’t an absolute right to privacy – once you’re outside of your home, you may find yourself incidentally in photos.)  The best statement of the Starbucks photo policy comes from Corey DuBrowa, Starbucks EVP of Global Communications, in a news article in  Here’s what he said:  “Personal photography is allowed in stores,” says spokesman Corey duBrowa. “All other filming and video needs to be approved prior. This is a standard policy year round and not convention-specific.”  From what I know, Starbucks Customer Service should also be aware of this policy, and if a store creates tension by telling a customer, “put away that camera” you can reach out to Starbucks Customer Service too.

3. The Personal Cup Discount – You get a ten cent discount when you bring your own cup, mug, or tumbler to Starbucks.  Sometimes customers get mad when they don’t get it for using a for-here Starbucks store mug.  Sorry, the policy doesn’t allow for a discount for using the Starbucks store for-here ware.  The exact details of the personal cup discount are here.

These policies create emails to me, and give me a little gray hair now and then.  I don’t mean to sound harsh at either partners or customers, but I repeat this type of content because I hope someday we’ll all be on the same page.

Edit on December 30, 2013: After reading through the comments, I realized that a better pick for the #3 problem policy at Starbucks might have been the “4 ounces of cold soy milk” rule.  If you are adding soy milk to your coffee as a creamer, and using less than four ounces, the customer should not be charged.  Yet somehow that does cause confusion at the registers too.