Brief - The Hustle

Starbucks baristas vs. TikTok

Written by Juliet Bennett Rylah | Jun 1, 2021 8:14:15 AM

Barista by day and TikTok influencer… also by day (Source: TikTok / BuzzFeed)

It wasn’t too long ago — circa fall 2020 — that TikTok was facing a permanent ban from the United States.

Having survived that corporate scare, the video-sharing platform is facing a new antagonist: Starbucks baristas say TikTok is driving them “insane.”

Why? The rise of the ‘Appuccino’

A TikTok trend is to share off-menu recipes — AKA “Appuccinos” — and how to order them. For example, get a strawberry frap with vanilla bean powder and white mocha and cinnamon dolce syrups for a “Strawberry Cheesecake Frappuccino.”

Recipes go viral, thanks to influencers and even experimental Starbucks employees with their own fan bases.

However, some of these drinks are pretty elaborate, take a long time to make, disrupt the shop’s usual rhythm, and use up ingredients.

But for all the baristas’ complaints…

… Starbucks’ business is increasingly going digital. According to BuzzFeed:

  • From January to March 2021, 26% of orders were mobile (up from 18% in the previous year)
  • The # of stores where mobile orders accounted for 20%+ of orders at the peak grew from 4.6k to 7.2k

It’s not just the volume of orders, either. The Starbucks app lets you add sauces, syrups, and toppings galore. The coffee chain has also added “secret menu” drinks before (e.g., Pink Drink, Medicine Ball).

Starbucks says it’s fine with these orders and — terrifyingly for baristas — estimates there are 170k+ ways to customize a drink.