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09/04/2014 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Your Coffee Order at Starbucks May Say About You

This question originally appeared on Quora:What insights do baristas get into customers based on their coffee orders?

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Answer by Alecia Li Morgan, Coffee enthusiast, former Starbucks partner

Lots of fun ones, ranging from light to more deep:

  • Some customers just like to have really complicated drinks for fun and would ask us how they could "fill every box" - some of them just thought it was fun to be seen as high maintenance or in-the-know, some were a bit OCD (they would normally order something that had all but one or two boxes filled and wanted to even it out), and some just liked the extra attention.
  • Certain drinks signaled to us that the drinker didn't necessarily like the taste of coffee, but did like the caffeine or the social status of drinking coffee or the green logoed cup. Single grande or venti anythings generally flagged this for us (the "normal" espresso beverage at starbucks - excluding iced drinks or americanos - had two shots for grande and venti sizes). White mochas signaled this to us (white mocha was, to our minds, the sweetest and most "disguising" syrup/sauce option). Any frappuccino order would get this kind of perception, with the exclusion of those who added a shot to theirs or ordered espresso frappuccinos. No judgement there (half my baristas didn't care much for coffee either!), it was just a common perception.
  • Certain customers were, at best, troublesome, but because they were regulars, and because we were professionals committed to delivering the Starbucks Experience, we never, ever even hinted that we felt this way. Plus, as I often emphasized to my partners at our store meetings, sometimes, these customers were the most unhappy or perhaps lacked control of their lives or other outlets for their frustrations. Some of them wanted to push a barista over the edge to see what happened (I'm convinced). But probably, the most clear case of this to me was one customer I had at one of my stores who came through the drive thru two, three, sometimes four times a day. This customer would order an iced venti extra extra caramel caramel macchiato or a venti caramel frappuccino with extra extra caramel sauce. And by extra extra, you needed to literally *coat* the inside of the cup so that the drink was viewed through a warm caramelly tint. Despite everyone at the store knowing her drink and doing it well, I'd say at least 1 out of 4 times, she had an issue, whether she thought maybe we had used the wrong milk or didn't have enough shots or had too much ice. We'd apologize, remake it, give her extra attention and care in the meanwhile, and she'd go on. After a year of this, one day, one of my partners came in (small town) and told us some really disturbing news about her life situation, and suddenly, things kind of clicked. It was apparent that we might be her only positive daily interaction, and that the extra attention, especially that when she had a complaint, really might have meant a lot to her personally, giving her some modicum of control in her life and also a feeling of importance. We'd never let our service waver and we were very glad.
  • Sometimes, our drip coffee customers didn't feel as loved or as special. We took extra care to know their names (if they seemed amenable to that) and to start pouring their coffee as soon as we saw them and got a confirmation nod. We never wanted them to feel like second class citizens to the espresso customers. We also made sure that they got a complimentary cup now and again, too.
  • We could always tell the people who had been in service industry jobs before. They ranged in how they treated us, from those who felt that they'd done their time and expected top service (and knew how to work the system) to the median ones who were patient and understanding of tough days or a "suggestive selling" technique on to the ones who would smile and laugh and joke with us, or sometimes would offer up a kind word after overhearing a tough customer or observing a tough situation (like the one day both our bar machines went down and my team and I were pulling shots and steaming milk on one of the Rialto espresso machines at the store!). There was just this air of "been there, done that." I still believe spending some time in the service industry of some sort is good for people - all people - to at least experience.
  • Some customers wanted to be healthy, but also really wanted the whipped cream. If they didn't specify no whip, but ordered a nonfat or sugar free modification, we learned not to say something assuming no whip ("No whipped cream on that, right?"), but rather to say something more enabling ("is whipped cream okay on that still?" "can we still put the whipped cream on that for you?"). This way, the ones who really didn't want it would still be able to say no (and feel good for having done so!), but the ones who wanted it but didn't want to say it felt okay giving in ("Well, okay, sure, go for it!" or "Light whip would be great!"). Let's face it. Our espresso beverages are a luxury for many people. We wanted them to enjoy their drinks without feeling guilty. Some people would have felt awful asking for whipped cream or embarrassed. For them, legendary service was helping them get what they wanted without making them feel guilty or embarrassed.
  • Some customers did *not* want their orders written on their cups (especially those who had intricate orders or lots of syrups, etc). We figured they were embarrassed to have it on there at work. They'd often request we just write L (latte) or leave it blank. One woman even always ordered her grande frappuccino put into a venti hot cup, so she could hide the fact that she wasn't drinking "real" coffee (her words). These people were the ones who wanted to appear as put together and suave as possible, but still loved their little luxuries and indulgences.

Oh man. I'll put more as I think of them. I just want to say, as I'm writing this, that in the end, it doesn't MATTER what your barista thinks of you or your order. For one thing, generally we're only speculating to keep our minds busy when we're doing tasks that have become second nature to us. For another - we're there to serve you, and that's that. What you want, you deserve to get. So order your half caff, triple tall, toffee nut, nonfat, extra whipped cream, extra hot mocha. You deserve it!

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