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    Starbucks Employees Are Getting Real About The Company's Decision To "Automate" Their Drink Stations, And It's Sparking A Major Conversation

    "Why not just ask the employees if this is even something that they want? If you look at all the employee comments on that video, I dare you to find even five good ones."

    Last week, the Starbucks Partners TikTok account β€” the company's official account dedicated to employees, who are officially referred to as "partners" β€” revealed an early prototype model of its Siren System Cold Bar.

    starbucks barista pouring frappuccino into cup with arrow pointing to new siren system cold bar in cabinet

    In the video, a Starbucks partner demonstrates the process of making a Frappuccino with this automated system.

    barista explaining the process, saying "first i'm gonna grab my cup, and then i'm going to grab my ice," with automated ice dispenser

    Several steps in the process are done entirely through automated dispensers placed within cabinets. To measure and add ingredients like ice and milk, the only action required by the partner is to slide the blender underneath the cabinet, choose the appropriate drink type and size, and wait while the machine dispenses ingredients in corresponding quantities.

    the machine dispenses the exact amount of milk required for the frappuccino

    While the top comments I saw on the video (all of which were responded to and/or pinned by the official account) suggest excitement, scrolling beyond those comments reveals an entirely different reaction from many Starbucks partners.

    various positive tiktok comments that were either pinned by starbucks or responded to by them, like "this is so cool can't wait" and "why can't i have this at my store"

    When comparing the overall engagement between the positive and negative responses, it appears that more viewers had a bone to pick with the proposed system than not.

    various negative comments with thousands of hearts

    People were vocal about how busy locations would likely need multiple Siren System Cold Bars to keep up with demand β€” especially during peak hours.

    comment saying that busier locations will need 3 or more

    Others noted that the automated system's limited functionality would make drink customizations difficult. (And with two in three drinks requiring customizations these days, according to Starbucks, it's an important critique.)

    comments saying it'll be slow, remove customization, and require more maintenance

    And more than a handful of partners expressed frustration with the company's decision to tentatively spend millions of dollars on the system while effectively ignoring partners' growing unionization efforts.

    comment stating that starbucks is implementing these instead of paying living wages, with multiple commenters agreeing

    According to a September press release from the company, the proprietary Siren System Cold Bar β€” which is just one part of Starbucks' massive reinvention plan β€” was intended to alleviate many of the daily struggles their partners face when making beverages. The system would "ease congestion" in crowded, busy spaces. Starbucks even claims that certain drinks could be made with fewer steps (and, in some cases, in half the time). But partners fear that the system would actually slow them down, increase wait times, and further complicate their inherently stressful workflows.

    siren system cold bar press shot at corporate location

    To get to the bottom of why this proposed system could make partner and customer experiences worse, BuzzFeed spoke with multiple former and current Starbucks partners for their direct perspective.

    "The new system seemingly eliminates any chance of people blending the same drinks at the same time, since all the components are separated," former partner Bina told BuzzFeed. Blending multiple orders of the same drink simultaneously is internally referred to as batching, and though it's technically against company standards, it's still frequently utilized by partners during peak hours to cut down on already-lengthy wait times.

    comments saying that lines are about to get longer, and they're preventing batching, while pointing out large size of original blender

    "When you're put on Cold Bar and all you have are Frappuccinos, making them one at a time becomes nearly impossible," Bina said, "especially when you have 10 drinks lined up and only two blenders." Even while operating at full speed, batching drinks is often the only way Starbucks partners can keep up with a barrage of orders, and with the new smaller blenders, batching drinks would be physically impossible for the first time.

    arrow pointing to new blender that significantly smaller and only blends one drink at a time

    Another unexpected red flag? Having more (and more complicated) equipment that runs the risk of breaking down. "A lot of people don't know this, but Starbucks equipment tends to break down...a lot," Bina said. Other partners we spoke with shared the same sentiments. A shift supervisor of a California location added: "When things break, it takes multiple calls to get someone out there to fix it, and sometimes they have to order brand-new parts, which delays things even further. Our nitro cold brew machine broke one time, and it took over a week and a half to get someone in to fix it."

    commenters saying that they're worried about machines breaking down, and that getting a frap will be as difficult as getting ice cream at mcdonalds

    This shift supervisor also pointed out the contradictory nature of Starbucks serving "handcrafted beverages" (which is allegedly one of the reasons why beverages shouldn't be batched in the first place) yet opting to implement their first-ever fully automated process. "Many partners I've talked to argued that this prototype takes away from the handcrafted beverage experience," the shift supervisor told BuzzFeed. "Partners have compared it to a McDonald's kind of beverage routine, which the company has always tried to stray away from."

    commenter saying it's giving mccafe vibes

    When asked for comment, a Starbucks representative told BuzzFeed that the innovations were conceived "with partner feedback at the center." They added that the corporate headquarters' Tryer Lab (where the official TikTok video was filmed) is where the new Cold Bar was first created and tested by two dozen Seattle baristas.

    shot of the starbucks corporate office in seattle

    Still, for a concept that was allegedly born out of partner feedback, the partners we spoke with can't help but notice that the vast majority of comments on TikTok skew negative. "Why not just ask the partners if this is even something that they want?" former partner Bina told BuzzFeed. "If you look at all the employee comments on that video, I dare you to find even five good ones."

    press image of barista utilizing the new system

    If you're a Starbucks partner, do you think this new Cold Bar will make your workflow easier or just further complicate things? Tell us what you think in the comments below. πŸ‘‡