Fix the Refill Policy.
Starbucks, fix the refill policy. I sort of swore to myself I’d never write about it again but it seems to be one of the more confused areas of Starbucks.
If you need a reminder of what the current refill policy looks like, read this blog post here. The refill policy causes confusion on both sides of the counter. I’ve seen confused partners. I’ve seen confused customers.
The fewer things that baristas have to police, the better. This is crucial. Just as police officers make mistakes in writing citations and making arrests, mistakes can made in enforcing the refill policy. And when baristas are completely in the right, sometimes they cause hard feelings in the customers who don’t understand the refill policy. (And why would they understand it? Most customers don’t spend time outside of Starbucks studying Starbucks policies.)
Within one week, I saw two episodes that reminded me that refill policy needs to be fixed. About one week ago, I walked into the Columbia Center Starbucks, ordered a beverage, and hung out for a few minutes awaiting my drink. As I waited, a colleague from my office came in, saw me, and we chatted for a moment before he ordered. I waited, planning to walk back to my office with my colleague. He approached the register. I was nearby. And I heard him say that he wanted a black tea refill. My ears piqued and I heard Maria, a partner who’s been at that store for years, politely tell my colleague, “I’m sorry that’s not a refill. Refills are for same store visits.” My colleague began to push back, “But I always get a refill in the afternoon…” I was nearby and so I spoke up, “Hey” I said, addressing my friend, “Maria is right. A Starbucks refill really is for same store visits.” The colleague knows my interest in Starbucks, and so he quieted and just paid for his black tea.
A few days ago, I was at a Starbucks in the downtown retail core of Seattle and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a customer clearly chewing out the store manager. I wasn’t close enough to hear what was going on, but I saw her pointing at her phone and squawking, “If I’m supposed to have a receipt, why wasn’t one sent to my phone?” Later, I learned from a friend that the conversation had been about the refill policy and the store had recently tried to implement the idea that a customer would have to have a receipt to receive a refill.
I like the current refill policy in terms of its generosity. But I completely support change too. If Starbucks wants to change the rules for the refill policy, I”ll go with the flow.
My proposal: Baristas shouldn’t have to be sheriffs of the refill policy. Often times, the baristas are right when they say, “That’s not a refill” but that confrontation never enhances the Starbucks experience. Your card should know when you qualify for a refill. Put a time limit on it (there isn’t one now) and tie it to the Starbucks card. Starbucks boasts billions loaded on that card and a significant portion of the transactions are via either the Starbucks card or mobile phone app payment. Maybe if the refill policy required the card, even more people would sign up.
All I know is that the refill policy could use some improvement. I’m not married to any one particular way how it should be fixed but I’m game to tie it strictly to the Starbucks card. I just know that the more things have a clean answer with a swipe of a card, and the fewer things policed by partners, the better. Howard just announced that he stepped into a role to work on digital innovation. I’m crossing my fingers that he and others at the headquarters have already rolled up their sleeves and started working on this.
Starbucks, please fix this. I assume that these kinds of scenarios described above, happen every where, not just in downtown Seattle.
A free refill requires that a customer use a registered Starbucks card at the green level (or higher) of MyStarbucksRewards benefit.
A refill where the customer pays 54 cents (or some number close to that, depending on local tax) does not require any card.
This is one more area of confusion. Make it so you have to have the Starbucks card.
My husband I had a long conversation about this whole thread. His idea is you only refill the china cups. Since those don’t go outside the store, there is no question about coming and going. Just another opinion in our whole “stew!”
I’ve been a gold-level Sbux member for years and was very vaguely aware that that qualified me for free refills, but I had no idea about the specifics of the perk until coming across this blog because I always order my drinks to go. My interest now piqued, I decided to request my very first (and possibly last) refill ever yesterday during a trip to a Sbux I rarely visit just to see what would happen. Sure enough, after ordering my tall beverage and enjoying it in the cafe as I sat at a table for about 15 minutes, the employee gave me much grief and attitude (including rolled eyes and a death glare, for goodness sake) and tried to overcharge me three different ways when I politely asked for a free same-sized refill that was hot instead of cold like my original drink. What an eye opener. She ended up charging me 50 cents plus tax for the beverage, which did not default to zero after swiping my registered MSR card, but I won’t complain about that since I at least got an extra star out of the ordeal. I applaud all customers who continue to request deserved refills in spite of surly and/or misinformed Sbux employees — I don’t think I could repeatedly stomach the unpleasant confrontation, and it would definitely lower my opinion of Starbucks and ruin my enjoyment of my purchase, just as this recent negative visit did.
Reason 54: 😉
Today I was sitting in a store I go to weekly, enjoying my Clover’d Yirgacheffe in my tumbler. I went to get a refill when the partner asked if I had been sitting inside. I pointed to my table and said yes, and that I purchased my coffee through another partner (and gave his name). I’ve never been asked this ever/anywhere, although other people have on this blog. I know she must’ve been doing her job, but not sure if I was singled out. I would understand if I had come in from outside. Makes me want to avoid this location.
We have a huge problem with this at my store. They’ve been letting people only pay refill prices, even when it wasn’t an Instore visit, that now when we try to implement the actual policy, customers are refusing to pay anything but 50 cents. They will yell at you and it’s such a hassle. Even after we show and explain to them that the former manager wasn’t applying policy.
I have a problem with the same visit/same store rule. I’m at gold status and I shouldn’t have to hassle about whether I qualify for a free refill. At gold status I’ve spent enough money to get a refill. When we are talking about refills we are talking brewed coffee and iced tea. The cost of this is negligible in the scheme of a store (I brought my cup back – no cost there). I frequently get an iced tea at the start of my commute then get a refill when I get to work. That seems reasonable and not an abuse.
Laura- I see your side of this but at the same time, you have people who make that impossible by coming in literally 15 times a day and trying to pay refill prices to fill up their coffee. It’s not fair and this is a business after all.
Patrick - Coffee Master
Ya know…..I started with Starbucks in 2000 and this old 1970’s refill thing has gotten REALLY exhausted! We should just have an “open policy” and rename it a GENEROSITY FILL any Partner (serving La Boulange will know where I’m coming from. 🙂 I’ve been a manager and I realize this is a business and with that in mind in the last 14 years we as a company didn’t go out of business giving refills to people with cups from yesterday or even a personal tumbler masquerading as a refill and even now with the $1.00 reusable cup that apparently people feel they can skip the first step cup-10-cent-discount part and move forward to a refill. I’ll just ask a customer once if they lie, they lie. I don’t have time to keep walking over to my Baristas registers to explain the policy because the guest wants a Manager and I do this at least 5 times a shift.
On another note 10 cent cup discount…..how 70’s it 2014 how ’bout 50 cent discount
Until corporate decides to change it, I’m not going to lose my job over giving every don and sue coming in a refill price because they think they should have it. Policies are in place for a reason. If a customer gets visibly upset over it then I’ll give them a recovery certificate and fix the issue at hand, but if it’s not a problem, I’m following policy.
Another thing to keep in mind is how things operate at a licensed location – Barns & Noble, Target, some grocery stores, and others. There are certain things that can only be done at a corporate Starbucks (standalone) store.
For example, a gold card’s free drink. Licensed stores don’t have the functionality to remove that drink from your card. You have to go to a corporate store for that. Most places don’t have a system where they can type in a redemption code for an emailed promotion. Their computer systems won’t recognize it, and Starbucks won’t reimburse them if they honor it with a manual coupon (meaning that the employee will get in trouble for providing you with an offer that they shouldn’t have).
It’s well and good to be informed about Starbucks policies, but please remember that in some places it simply doesn’t apply. Is it a shame? Certainly, but think about it this way, Starbucks would rather you go to their corporate stores instead of the licensed ones. They make some money off the name being used elsewhere, but they make more when you are in their stores.
You know, some Starbucks are drive thru only. the primary one I went to in Portland was like that. Unless you want to sit on the one bench in the rain, there is no same store visit. Wonder what they do. Haven’t been there in a year.
It’s funny how many are ignoring Patricks very sound advice. Look how many unhappy customers you have. It costs essentially nothing for those refills. There is a reason for the always right philosophy. It’s what makes customers like/love you. It’s a real eye opener when you first go to starbucks and something goes wrong and they just start handing you free item coupons. Not every business is like that. This policy is not like that and it’s not making any friends. I can’t go there anymore. Three years ago I became a regular having not been a coffee drinker most of my life. I really liked it. I enthusiastically earned that Gold Card with my name on it and went every day, 7 days a week. Once in the morning and once when I could get away from work for the refill after a workout or whatever. It was fantastic, no problems, spent tons of money on food. Then the policy rears it’s head. What’s this? This doesn’t seem very good. Awkward conversation. Not fun. Stop going. Make my own now. If you want to lose customers, turn great into mediocre. I guess you won’t be fired and we wont “take advantage” of the policy. 15 cups a day, sure sure. Everyone has time to come in 15 times.
Patrick - Coffee Master
Thank You very much @Kevin I love Starbucks so much it literally saved my life 14 years ago and all I want to do is inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Not be the enforcer or the refill police.
I really hate how entitled are people around here.
A coffee is roughly 2.25 a cup. You want it? Pay it. I am pretty sure you can afford it.
Starbucks is a generous company, want to genuinely take advantage of the refill policy? Stay at the cafe and get your refill.
Saying a cup of coffee is negligable is the same as saying a cup of milk is. Coffee shops are not just about supplies its about a delicatessen, and its about affording it.
If you think partners need to make blind eye to the policy just so you are a happy customer, well shame on you and the kind of customer you are.
I know that customers should not get refills above and beyond what’s in black and white in the refill policy. In store only. Regardless of original beverage. I 100% agree on that. I also know that when partner’s sound as if they’re giving themselves high blood pressure over the refill policy, something is amiss. If we spend our time wagging our fingers at each other, we’re missing out on a more positive way to treat other and still get the same message across. Here in Seattle, if you go to Specialty’s with your own cup, a cup of coffee is always 99 cents. And Diva Espresso really will let you leave and come back with one of their cups. I can understand confusion. I think we should assume a good intent in one another, teach customers the right refill policy (you have to stay in the store), and avoid throwing around angry terminology.
Maybe I should just close this thread.
just for sale of clarity. I was not talking about Melody but some other people that has this big sense of entitlement. Sorry if sound rude towards you Melody.
Melody, don’t close the thread. Refill has to be most confusing thing in recent times at Starbucks and your post provides discussion on the issue. From what I can see most stores (not Tbux, Safeways or airports) are getting it now and are doing the right thing. I visit a few Starbucks per week.
I don’t know. The whole idea of free refills came about the time when Starbucks was really trying to get more people to sit down and stay, just around the same time they did away with the 2-hour free Wi-Fi limit.
It used to be that refills were 50 cents and only within 60 minutes of the same-store visit. That was already hard on employees especially at busy locations.
One good improvement that they can do is to use the label on the cup which already has a time stamp and store number.
But ultimately, this is really about good customer service and customer loyalty retention. Trying to “fix” it probably will backfire. Personally, I appreciate free refills a lot because actually it saves money. A venti drip coffee is $2.20 here in Oregon (no sales tax!) but a tall drip is $1.75. With free refill I get more than a venti (24 fl oz, whereas venti is 20) for a price of tall. Starbucks isn’t doing this to pinch pennies or it wouldn’t be doing it at all. For those on the lower end of income scale, this little gesture keeps them from choosing lower-end competitors (including heaven forbid 7-Eleven, whose coffee used to be nasty but is rapidly improving in recent years), however.
Starbucks, like most other coffee houses, has a policy of dumping and replacing stale drip coffee in 90 minutes or less. So a lot of already made coffee goes to waste anyway, so probably it is an issue of some employees not being too anal retentive about this. It’s not worth them going to fight to defend it.
Yup. Refill policy makes for an unpleasant experience.
Will write off Starbucks for a while, til the bitter taste dissipates.
On the bright side, I have noticed friends are quite happy to receive other kinds of gift cards, and it’s easy to take my custom elsewhere.
I am a gold card member and the first and last time I ever tried to get my free in-store refill, the barista charged me the $.56. She was the manager, and I was in no mood to argue, so I just paid and left.
I have had my gold card status since 2009 and I get free refills several times a week. I’ve never had problems except at two locations, both of which are in downtown Portland, extremely high-traffic locations with 6 to 8 baristas working in some shifts. They also are in the area where they tend to have various “homeless problems.” I can see how the employees get all demoralized and overworked over this. Each of these incidents I had reported to Starbucks corporate and each of which occasions I received *five* recovery coupons (I also noted that the problem employees in question seem to have been reassigned to other locations or different shifts shortly thereafter).
But I understand the unique challenges they face. I stay away from these locations these days, just go to ones in a more residential part of town where all employees seem to know regulars by name and they are never overly busy.
Can we get refills on a passion tea lemonade if we pay for the lemonade?
You know, if I had enough money where I could sit around in a Starbucks all day drinking coffee so I could get my refills…. I wouldnt actually need the FREE refill. I drink Starbucks because I like it, i’ve been a gold card member for the last four years it’s not like I haven’t paid for my share of coffee. Am I entitled…no, nobody is but I don’t believe it is that much of a burden on a company such as Starbucks to give free refills to gold card members. Even of they leave for an hour. Normally it’s not a problem but a few shops and a few uppity baristas make it so.
Okay, I’m no Mensa member, but I’m no dull knife either… I’ve been looking at different blogs, articles, and the starbucks official policy for about an hour now and I’m still confused. I am a gold rewards member, I haven’t left the starbucks, and every time I get a refill I get charged $0.54. This happens all the time multiple locations. What am I missing? Do I actually need a physical gold card?
And the day I pay Full price for a refill within 15 mins of visiting differring Starbucks within 1/4 mile of each other, especially after spending approx 25 bucks a week, is the day I dump my coffee in the trash. I would then boldly follow their policy, use my GOLD card and received my Free refill. Let the manager, employees, use their own discretion. They know. Pay for your own and stop worrying a bout other folks.
This morning I bought an Americano and added $5 to my gold card. After 15-20 minutes I go for a refill, different barista. She looks at my cup and asks me if I was here earlier. “Yes, I was right over there”. This encounter embittered me a bit. The store was not even busy yet. She was yapping with a customer prior to my refill request so of course she did not notice me. I was offended. Made me feel like a liar, and a bum.
I have met a few overzealous Starbucks baristas that check and police their refill policy so closely that I want to comment that I had offered to provide reference to work in contract security to do access control as they are focused and far more vigilant than the guards that I work with at my site. They are paid $16 an hour and while this is not a fortune it is still a step up from working at Starbucks as a barista.
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@Kei Sakura YAY! I’m not the only one. When I was managing a neighborhood store. I made them promise me they wouldn’t try this in other stores. I think Starbucks forgets how they DON’T just have, like, four stores in Washington anymore.