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Venti Skim Latte — Stat!

In business, food on August 5, 2009 at 8:08 am

coffeeDon’t bend, kids!

That’s a 120-year-old idea, Taylorism aka Fordism — the Ford who figured out how to most efficiently use human labor on his car assembly lines —  that Starbucks has now decided to resurrect in its efforts to make service faster and more efficient. Turns out all that “moving, bending and reaching”, as those who prepare and serve your coffee and pastries now do it, is leaching profit. Seems that their old-fashioned ways, (maybe the way people prefer it, the one they built their brand on) are just too slow for today’s consumers. Not to mention expensive, with 24 percent of the company’s costs squandered on all those goateed, tattooed baristas. You know, the ones who remember your order and smile and know your name.

Now, it’s all about the lean thinking.

Writes Julie Jargon in The Wall Street Journal:

Pushing Starbucks’s drive is Scott Heydon, the company’s “vice president of lean thinking,” and a student of the Toyota production system, where lean manufacturing got its start. He and a 10-person “lean team” have been going from region to region armed with a stopwatch and a Mr. Potato Head toy that they challenge managers to put together and re-box in less than 45 seconds.

Mr. Heydon says reducing waste will free up time for baristas — or “partners,” as the company calls them — to interact with customers and improve the Starbucks experience. “Motion and work are two different things. Thirty percent of the partners’ time is motion; the walking, reaching, bending,” he says. He wants to lower that.

Yeah, fewer “partners” moving with the grace and economy of freaking robots.

Sounds like a great idea. Not.


  1. They better be careful–part of the reason people are willing fork over the dough for Starbucks is the service and the atmosphere. McDonald’s actually makes a good cup these days . . .

  2. Gosh, this is straight out of Office Space. Assemble Mr. Potato Head in 45 seconds? How about the consultants answer the question, “How many years do I have to work as a barista before I get Starbucks stock options?”

  3. I always thought moving a real waste of energy myself.

  4. I can still remember having a cuppa in a coffeehouse in Vienna – an old guy in a tux brought each of our cups one at a time.

    Efficiency is the enemy of good living.

  5. Partners beware! First comes greater efficiency. Lower headcount usually follows.

  6. If they want to rationalize something, they should start with hiring. Hire some baristas who actually know how to pull a proper shot and don’t treat me like an interloper who blundered into the wrong living room and they can move any way they want.

  7. …There’s no denying, however, that “Robot Baristas” would be an awesome name for a band.

  8. Lean makes people more efficient – not robot like. In fact the beauty of Lean is you don’t have to work any faster – you just have to make sure all your efforts aren’t wasteful. Moving product around, people moving around, waiting, all these things are wasted time (and effort).
    If all the tools necessary to do your job are right at your finger tips, you will be able to do your job in a shorter period of time without breaking a sweat. It is a shame that far too many people who comment on Lean don’t actually understand Lean principals. I recently “Leaned” a blind workshop. The workers made more and higher quality product a day, yet they didn’t perform any specific task any faster. They really liked the Lean set up. It made their jobs easier to do and they were proud of their improved productivity.
    I totally – Robot Baristas would be a rocking name for a band.

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