How to Complain.

Let’s pretend you order a drink at Starbucks and it’s not what you expected. Sometimes your experience leaves you hoping for something better. You argued at the register over a refill of iced passion tea after drinking an iced latte inside the store. What do you do?

This is your lesson on how to complain. I operate a Starbucks Facebook page, and two Facebook groups. (Closed StarbucksMelody facebook group and Open StarbucksMelody facebook group). The last thing you should do is voice your complaint in an unofficial group. It’s not that uncommon for customers to take to some form of social media to voice their complaint. I tend to think that social media should be your last resort. That’s why I’m writing this.

Under any circumstances, you can call Starbucks Customer Service: 1-800-782-7282, but let’s a look at a few things you can do:

So what do you do?

FIRST: Talk to the barista.

First and foremost, you should speak up. Let’s imagine that you ordered a hot chocolate. Over the years, you’ve ordered many hot chocolates at Starbucks and usually it has a nice chocolate drizzle atop the whipped cream, but this time there is no chocolate drizzle. You notice that your iced tea doesn’t look shaken. You notice that something is amiss with your drink. Without a doubt, you should say something. It could be simple such as, “Oh hey I thought that there’s chocolate drizzle on the hot chocolate.” or “Would you mind shaking my tea – it tastes great shaken!” The “Barista Promise” is that you’ll love your drink or Starbucks will make it right.

I recommend that you look at your drink before you walk away from the espresso bar pick up area. If you notice right away that your drink isn’t right, it’s easiest to handle that right then and there at the espresso bar. The barista should remake your drink so that it’s perfect.

Pro tip: Look carefully at the cup that you’re grabbing! If you’re Mike, don’t grab Sarah’s cup! If you ordered a hot drink, don’t grab a cold cup. One time I was at a downtown Starbucks, waiting on a breakfast wrap, and a stranger grabbed a pastry bag with “Melody” written on it, reached his hand into it, realized it wasn’t his food, and put it back on the espresso bar pick up shelf!

SECOND: Talk to a manager.

Second, let’s imagine that your problem doesn’t get resolved. Your barista refuses to remake your drink. Of course, in theory this shouldn’t happen, but with more than 100,000 people wearing green aprons, I suppose anything is possible. The harsh reality is that there is no way that Starbucks has 100,000 super star baristas. There will be a tiny percentage who don’t like customer service and/or don’t like retail or for some reason, just don’t want to help you. As I mentioned, this shouldn’t happen, but it could.

Or, you have a concern that can’t be corrected by a drink remake: You had a bad experience and/or were given bad information, or something else that’s not drink related. You may want to speak with a manager. Most Starbucks stores have shift supervisors, an assistant store manager, and a store manager. (There are stores that have shift supervisors and store managers but no assistant store manager).

Some stores will have the business card of the store manager either on the condiment bar or sometimes near the espresso bar drink pick up area. You may have to ask for the store managers name.

2 - 1 - IMAG6890 store manager card 130th and Aurora 2May15(Do NOT flood this store manager with emails that don’t relate to that specific Seattle store!).

So step two is simply this: talk to a manager.

THIRD: Pay attention to your receipt at this point. Special information for licensed stores:

You’ve spoken to the store manager and you have some ongoing concern about the store that is still not resolved. You’ve noticed that most of the baristas are surly and don’t seem to care about customers. Of course, this is going to be very rare, but let’s assume you want to reach someone higher than the store manager.

At this point, there’s a fork in the road with regard to what you should do next depending on whether you’re in a licensed store or a company-operated store.

Look at your receipt and make a mental note if you’re in a licensed Starbucks or a company-operated Starbucks:

If you are in a licensed store:

A licensed store is usually one inside another business. It’s not always obvious (and there are isolated exceptions), but the general rule of thumb is that a free-standing store is company-operated.

Are you at an airport? Contact HMS Host – they operate all the US airport Starbucks locations.

Are you inside a Starbucks inside Target? Contact Target.

Are you at a QFC Starbucks? Contact QFC.

You get the picture. Your first resource for licensed stores is the licensed store operator. There are a few times that it’s hard to tell who operates the Starbucks. I believe in the greater Seattle area, there’s one Barnes & Noble Starbucks that is actually operated by Starbucks. And there’s this Starbucks in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that looks incredibly convincingly like company-operated store, yet it’s not.

If you can’t figure out where to complain, call Starbucks Customer Service. The phone number is 1-800-782-7282. Every licensed Starbucks (in the United States) has a district manager who does work directly for Starbucks. Hopefully your feedback will get passed on to the district manager. You might gently ask that your feedback get back to the district manager.

FOURTH: Information for company-operated Starbucks: Getting to a district manager. A district manager is above the store manager and usually manages store performance for about ten to twelve stores within the same area.

You might look for the “Share Your Thoughts” pamphlets, usually at the condiment bar. There are two versions of “Share Your Thoughts.” Here’s the older version:

2 - 1 - IMAG6888 Share Your Thoughts - old vers - 2May15On the older version, the backside of “Share Your Thoughts” should have the store number and the phone number for Customer Service:

2 - 1 - IMAG6889 Share Your Thoughts - back - old vers - 2May15Here’s what the newer version of what “Share Your Thoughts” looks like:

2 - 1 - IMAG6891 Share Your Thoughts Frontside - new vers - 2May15 - 130th and AuroraThe newer version of “Share Your Thoughts” should have the store’s district manager information pre-printed on the back:

2 - 1 - IMAG6892 share your thoughts - new vers - back - 2May15 130th and AuroraI would note that most stores don’t stock the “Share Your Thoughts” pamphlets. I’m actually a little disappointed by that. I had to check many stores to find the one for this photo.

Feedback is very valuable and research shows that for every person who is vocal, many people walked away silently unhappy. There’s a myth that “people like to complain” but real research flies in the face of that. How many times have you walked from a store because you didn’t want to be ‘that customer’ or you ordered a meal at a restaurant and thought, ‘I really wanted my burger a little more rare,’ yet you just ate it.

Complaints are a gift. Don’t dismiss it – you might not like hearing it, but you may need to. This is true of every business.

In light of the above, I think that Starbucks stores should make it a priority to get those “Share Your Thoughts” pamphlets inside stores. When I ask partners about ordering the “Share Your Thoughts,” I’ve been told things like, “Well, they’re hard to order.” Starbucks, please remedy this.

So here’s where we are in this hierarchy of “How to complain”: You spoke to the barista and it didn’t help. You spoke to the store manager and it didn’t help. Your store had no “Share Your Thoughts” pamphlets.

You’ve got some choices now:

1. Ask the store manager for the district managers phone number and/or email address: I will say that having done this many times, some partners freak out when you ask for a DM email address. This really shouldn’t be the case. If you’re on your game, you should never be afraid of your customer talking a DM. Even more importantly, if you want to give positive feedback to a DM, I’m sure they’d love to hear from you. Sometimes, partners will give you the email address. I can tell you, having done this many times, you’ll get a 1000 varied responses when you ask for a DM email address. There’s no standard answer. Even when I’ve done it to try and get positive feedback to a DM, or discuss a potential article about their store, some baristas will just tell you anything but the DM email address. I don’t know what to say. From a lot of experience, and a bazillion different things said to me, I can say there’s no standard answer to the question, “Hey what’s your district manager’s email address?”

I’ve probably asked for DM email addresses more than the average customer. Some of that has been related to this blog, as I might be looking for answers related to when a store was opened, store design, when the store became an Evenings store, or other information related to research for a potential blog article.

2. You can always contact Customer Service: This where we cycle back to over and over again. It’s one of your main resources at every stage of this process, though I suggest talking to your local store before going to Customer Service.


Your first step is just have a conversation with your barista. Be as specific as possible. It’s going to be hard to work with, “My drink doesn’t taste right.”

And at every step of the way, you can always call Customer Service. Pay special attention to whether you are in a licensed Starbucks or a company-operated Starbucks.

Please remember that you can use Customer Service to get positive feedback to a store!!

Please use the above steps before going to Facebook, posting a photo of your drink, and saying that it wasn’t made right!

That’s your lesson in how to complain (or actually, it’s the same process for how to get praise back to a store.)

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  • m keller

    Time to boycott Starbucks,,,, Hire people here illegally. we will see what happens to your stock. Stupid stance. Help the people here if you want be a rah rah company.. I WILL NEVER DRINK YOUR COFFEE again. Since when does a service company have the right to spout about politics. Hmm read about Santander bank. stock at 44 one day now under 5.00. Good luck morons.

  • John Holmes

    If you don’t want to get sick, or you are highly allergic to dust mites, like I am do not go to Starbucks on Green Lake dr. I have been going there 4 22 years. I doubt the carpet or the drapes have ever been cleaned. I have seen everything you can name spilled, or dropped on the carpet and never wiped up. The staff just lets it dry up, They also have an obsession for sweeping constantly, always kicking up germ filled dust that I have seen rise up to 5 feet into the air. If I stay I have to breath this crap. Some times I have to cover my lap top and leave for a few minutes. Big pain in the ASS!!!!!!!!!!!!! When the staff sweeps they don’t care if they sweep under your table, banging the table with the broom or under you feet. I you leave to go to the rest room and come back your chair has been put back in its place. What the hell is that all about. I find this behavior very odd and totally not -professionable!! This is not what we have to put up with in the restaurants. One guy (won’t) mention his name lives with the broom in hand constantly like it is a pacifier.

  • Andrei Antica

    Hi there,
    As I spent a lot of money buying coffee and other products from this chain I think I want to complain about how I was treated as customer in your shop at Tsawwassen terminal this morning. I tried to buy a grande latte at 5,30 as the schedule on your website shows that store is open for business. I was “welcomed” by Janine who told me that I have to wait because it’s not open yet. I said that the site shows that the store is open. That was infuriating for Janine. She told me that I can go somewhere else to get a coffee or to wait until she is ready. I asked if she enjoys being so “helpful “. She replied saying that I am rude and I should go other places to get the coffee. After she ordered to another barrista to give me the coffee just to see me gone. I have to let you know that I never heard someone else inviting me to go somewhere else. She mentioned that she doesn’t want me to come at that store again and she will call the terminal supervisor to throw me out. I told Jenine that I will complain about the event and she said that she encourage me to do it. The other barrista refused to take the money and I refused to take the coffee. I know how these things works and I don’t expect you to do something. Because I never said anything about the prices, counting on the service, I will spread the word about the “experience ” and I will stay away from you guys. I know that my $10/day it’s not that much but I will ask my wife to cut her $10/day and the same my brother and sister in law plus a few other friends.
    I can’t thank you enough for my good morning.
    Please don’t feel free to contact me. I don’t care about the results of my email as I don’t want to spend more time with you’re “fabulous” customer service .

  • Viki castro

    Hire Veterans”………I. Will no longer be a customer…ceo keep ur opinions out…shame shame

  • Melody

    Hello Viki — First off, I think you might have meant to write in this thread here:
    Your comment is on a thread called “How to Complain” which gives you contact information on how to complain to Starbucks. I am not Starbucks.
    Secondly, you seem to have missed the fact that Starbucks has been on a mission to hire veterans for years and years – and in fact has hired 8,000 veterans since 2013.
    Furthermore, if you actually go back and read what Howard said, he clearly said the company would be hiring the refugees worldwide, across the 75 countries that Starbucks does business in. This means, it is possible only a small percentage will be refugees in the US.
    But when it comes to veterans, Starbucks does a lot. All you have to do is Google “Starbucks veterans donates” and you’ll come up with tons of ways that Starbucks has donated in the range of millions to various organizations that benefit veterans.
    By the way, I write this to you as someone who has served 4 years active duty in the Air Force. I believe in this.

  • Valerie Schonewald

    Thanks for your wonderful reply, Melody. Well thought out and well written.

  • Linda Grabowski

    Hi Melody,

    Here’s a unusual situation: my 20 yr. old son was in our local SB”S and the manager approached him about a job. He did the require paperwork, and waited 2 months for the interview they scheduled and then cancelled 4 times over a 5 week period. They had the interview that lasted 2 hours and when it was time to leave, the manager said the background check was all they needed so it shou,d be about a week..that was almost 4 weeks ago. This manager clearly has no business being a manager. She’s been so incredibly unprofessional (telling him he’s hired, but she has to send in paperwork then apologies because it got away from her, ) etc. In the mean time, our local paper says SB’s is hiring! My question: do we just call customer service, or shou,d we track down HR? What do you think? Thanks.

  • Melody

    This sounds like a great opportunity for your son to gain job-seeking conversation skills. You can’t buy that kind of adulting experience. If I were him, I’d just keep the conversation going with the store manager. If I were the mother, I’d do nothing and say nothingness- I wouldn’t get involved. What a great life’s little lessons chance for him to have difficult conversations. Well, unless your son has a disability, then that might change my thinking.

  • Lydia Kohlhorst

    How can a manager that left and is now coming back. Set and dog another worker to the other workers. And say it’s not going to work .that she is not learning fast enought. She has only worked two weeks there.

  • Abdullah alqah

    If you go to Saudi Arabia specially the capital city Riyadh do not go to Starbucks because the commercial agent make bad image about it first of thing not clean, A lot of drinks not available, I ordered I green tar they don’t give me that . Also, they do not put the how many calories on meals

  • Maribel De Leon

    Poor drive thru service
    I was at the Starbucks at the Coachella, CA
    On Jackson and Ave 44
    We were at the drive thru waiting for over 1/2 and was ridicously long time to wait on the drive thru.

  • Joann Jones

    I purchaset my grande blond every morning at the local Starbuck’s but I don’t know why….again today it was like drinking hot water. The staff is great and I had them give me 2 diff drinks and the Americano hot drink was just as bad. Are they reusing the beans..are they cutting back on the beans? or is it their machines? Please let me know.. I will have to go back to Dunkin Donuts.

  • Grandmother Georgia Mobley Jones

    No pretend to it–Starbucks is virtually running on its’ own at Fifth Ave. and 47 st east in new York city. The employees are squatters and will not acknowledge the owners; do not pay rent and DO NOT WASH HANDS> The staff harasses a girl named Georgia Lynn Jones continuously and slanders her on and on and ridicules her as they slurp free coffee and sneak food to the gangs and other shops such as 49th and Madison. They Do not wash hands. and say so…
    I am offended everytime I try to hear the music of the bigtime Geffens and whenever Cris is not allowed to have his way as son of a beautiful businessman in Manhattan.

  • Don K Johnson

    Complaint refused drink 1050 brandywine Pkwy wilmington delaware 19803

  • Pamela Hawkes

    I purchased a coffee and a slice of red velvet cake. It was delicious but the slice of cake was not wrapped. It was just placed in a paper bag and handed to me. I feel it should have been on a plate and wrapped in plastic wrap.

  • starscollege

    criticism refused drink 1050 brandywine Pkwy wilmington delaware 19803

  • Jose Luis Arias

    It has been severa times that I visit starbucks store and the store does not respect the schedule hours
    For no reason, they close at whatever time they want!
    I’m speaking about the stores king & story as well
    Tully and king, which managers should be fired!
    Today’s date july 15 at 10:00 pm
    Both stores closed already although schedule says 10:30, and the second one 11:00pm
    Whats wrong with you guys?
    Hiring irresponsible management or employees
    This has been at least the third time it happens to me!
    Take a look at how much I spend monthly
    I’m very disappointed of you, and very upset
    I love to take it next level if it makes any difference



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