Starbucks is Under-filling Your Lattes, What a Grande Disappointment.

Have you ever taken your last sip of coffee and thought “that’s it?” That might be because your favorite barista is intentionally under-filling your drink. Two Starbucks regulars in California claim that customers are being cheated by their favorite caffeine provider.

In a class-action lawsuit filed on 16 March 2016, Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles accused Starbucks of purposefully under-filling lattes by at least 25 percent. Srumlauf and Benjamin’s suit claims that this is an intentional act of fraud because Starbucks is cutting costs by serving smaller portions than they lead people to believe.

Through this alleged scam, Starbucks “has saved countless millions of dollars in the cost of edibles sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more product than it delivers,” argues the pair, who say they used to visit Starbucks several times a week.

Approximately 75% of Starbucks’s sales are from coffee drinks. The coffee giant sells almost 4 billion coffee drinks around the world each year. In 2014, there were 21,366 Starbucks stores around the world, up from 19,767 the previous year, which is an increase of 1,599 stores. On average, 2 or 3 new Starbucks coffee shops are opened everyday around the world.

The Starbucks Company continually reports positive growths in sales, despite its high prices and the accusations against it. It’s clear that it takes more than a couple of allegations to pit people against their daily routine of seasonal Frappuccino’s and flavored lattes.

Is this the result of a few stingy baristas or is there really some truth behind these indictments. In order to uncover the truth behind the apparent scam, regular Starbucks customers were approached while they ordered their respective drinks. Before being asked a series of questions, they were given a quick briefing about the situation. Surprisingly enough, not one person was familiar with it.

Pakinam Barawi, a 36 year old daily Starbucks customer, ordered a skinny latte, which according to the Starbucks website is “our dark, rich espresso balanced with steamed milk and a light layer of foam”. Upon removing the lid off the drink Barawi exclaimed: “That’s not a full drink! I didn’t realize there is so much foam. And look, it’s not even filled to the top.”

Standing in line behind Ms. Barawi was Ahmed Sultan, who overheard the commotion and joined in on the conversation. “I usually order an iced caramel macchiato. I know they put more ice than actual milk, which is why I always have to order the bigger size. It’s just a few extra dirhams anyways.”

People around the world have discovered “loop holes” to getting a bigger bang for their buck when it comes to purchasing specialty drinks at coffee shops. Many people are unable to financially support their daily Starbucks runs, which is why they have come up with what are now being called “hacks” such as:

You can order your iced drinks with a cup of ice on the side. Your iced coffee cup isn’t being fully filled with coffee; it’s more like half coffee, half ice. Instead, tell your barista to leave a little room for ice and pour your own ice. This way, your cup is filled with coffee and you can decide how much to remove.

You know how to get caffeinated on the cheap: by ordering espresso shots instead of a latte. Order three shots of espresso either over ice or hot, skip the steamed milk, and just add your own milk afterward. You now have yourself the equivalent of a hot or iced latte for the (cheaper) price of espresso.

You can order a “short” cappuccino. The short cappuccino is a secret size, like the trenta. It has the same amount of caffeine as a tall but is cheaper.

People have been using tricks like these ever since Starbucks began brewing specialty drinks. For now, customers are unable to prove Starbucks is under-filling drinks, or bulking them up with ice for that matter, because Starbucks could defend themselves by saying that your drink missing a little milk is a coincidence.

Rizel, a Starbucks barista at the American University in Dubai, said: “Of course no one told me to put less milk in the cups. But sometimes the drink is so hot I have to put less milk or else the lid won’t stay on and the customer will get burnt. Then I’ll get in trouble.”

On the other hand, is it fair for customers to use “hacks” to get more value out of their drinks? Since Starbucks is all about being able to customize drinks to your liking, some people would say that yes, it is fair.

Kritika Hanadi, an 18-year-old freshman at the American University in Dubai, said: “I think it’s fair if people order drinks the way they want. Starbucks is expensive so I want my drink to be perfect. I always order a white mocha with two pumps of syrup instead of three because it’s too sweet. Technically I’m ordering less syrup but I’m still paying for three but I never really thought about it and it doesn’t bother me.”

A Starbucks spokesperson reached out to the media in defense of the accusations and stated: “We are aware of the plaintiffs’ claims, which we fully believe to be without merit. We are proud to serve our customers high-quality, handcrafted and customized beverages, and we inform customers of the likelihood of variations.”

Of course, if Starbucks did actually start filling its cups up to the brim, the company would likely find itself facing even more hot coffee lawsuits. What’s a coffee barista to do?


  • Feature Picture Source: The FCPA Blog

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