Starbucks Mobile Ordering Is The Enemy

Most days of the week I will take a break from watching shows, being depressed and working a day job (the three things most common among self-described “comedians”) to go to my local Starbucks for a reading break (which now also doubles as a “listen to 4 or 5 people watch and listen to things on their phones without earphones” break).  My order is pretty consistent (green tea and either a croissant or a cookie) and even if it wasn’t, they would know me by the fact that I am super tall and in there about 5.5x a week.  But as I have had plenty of time to observe how Starbucks works, I must say that one true enemy has emerged: mobile ordering.  Child trafficking, Trump and climate change are all bad, but I don’t think modernity’s problems can be so succinctly summarized as they are in Starbucks mobile ordering.


I often find myself harmlessly jealous of the comradery that the employees at my NJ Starbucks display.  As a comedian I work alone and travel alone and can assure you I am horrible company and a horrible co-worker for myself.  But the workers at my Starbucks seem to treat each other well and be friendly with each other, which I would guess, in the absence of union protections, is a reflection of their manager.  Obviously one of the benefits of unionization would be not having to depend on the variances in franchise leadership for a solid work environment, but in the case of mine, her style and leadership seem to be working.  But mobile ordering cannot be fixed by a local manager.

I have joked on my podcast, Rain on Your Parade, that Starbucks baristas have basically become bartenders that we pay like Wal-Mart greeters. Now I know the pay is better, joke killers, but the volume of orders that flood in on the mobile system are absurd sometimes.  Whereas, a line would keep the pace manageable, and sometimes discourage people who don’t want to wait 20 minutes for a coffee or a milkshake masquerading as a coffee, mobile order allows you to make a wish like Aladdin, as if it is consequence and labor free.

One diabetesappuccino please!

I do not know the numbers, and I am too lazy to google them right now, but I am sure that the volume of increased orders thanks to mobile ordering is outpacing the increase in pay and benefits to workers at Starbucks.  So, just like corporate greed squeezing more out of less, Starbucks is likely doing the same and we are the sole driver of it.  I have never ordered something mobile and never will and that brings me to the next point.

Social Interaction

I like talking to people.  I also like ordering something from a human and being able to hold them accountable if and when they fu*k it up!  But just like remote work (which is a forthcoming topic on the aforementioned Rain on Your Parade podcast), I am a fan of person-to-person interaction.  For all the wonders that technology has given us, the idea that person-to-person interaction is unnecessary or weird or “ok boomer” is just not true. It is part of us as human beings.  People will simultaneously decry the uselessness of in person work or communication or interaction, while lamenting the depression and loneliness of large segments of the population and not see a connection.  From dating to work, the avoidance of in person interaction is detrimental to society and individuals.

I quote this from Gary Gulman’s special The Great Depresh often, but he said that small, pleasant interactions boost serotonin. Yet we seem determined to avoid something that our bodies biologically tell us is good for us.

But J-L, what if they suck and you don’t want to deal with shitty people???

Oh STFU! As someone who often rubs people the wrong way, only assholes presume that their Starbucks interaction will suck.  Sure there are plenty of bad employees in lots of places, but Starbucks is closer to Chick Fil A than the DMV when it comes to solid interpersonal exchanges.  That is excuse making for the fact that society is in an interpersonal death spiral where the first wave were the socially awkward and emotionally crippled, but then the apps and “convenience” (the most harmful concept to our planet’s well-being) started to turn the normal into the dependent.  You can see this during a rain storm in Manhattan when people are not hailing a cab driving right by them because their app-brain tells them to wait 10 minutes for an Uber. Instead of the blind leading the blind, society is now the app-dependent leading the app-obsessed.  Of course dating is more difficult for people who find ordering a coffee with eye contact and voice as too personal.

I’m sorry, but I am not used to having to speak to a human while at a coffee shop

Hidden Costs of Convenience

As alluded to before, like so many things in our society, Starbucks mobile ordering makes very immediate the idea that we don’t care how the beyond sausage egg sandwich gets made.  I walked into my Starbucks last week and saw 1 person on line and over 20 people waiting for the mobile orders.  And that one person was going to be last to be taken care of, despite having the (courage? if not now, we are a few years away from face to face communication being deemed brave by default) decency to order their beverage in real time and not in some digital fantasy where workers whose workload you do not know, and definitely do not care about, have to make complicated drinks (as I have said, if your coffee order has more than two instructions, you don’t like coffee, you like giving orders) at breakneck speed because they are no longer just handling orders, they are handling whims.  And that is what our society has become – a place of wish fulfillment on the backs of increasingly burdened service workers with absolutely no connection or interest in how the things get made by those requesting them.

On my most recent visit to Starbucks, the place was about half full and only 2 people in line, and then in walked an entire high school girls’ team (couldn’t tell what sport because I only acknowledge Caitlin Clark and Simon Biles when it comes to women’s sports). Now I don’t mean to damage the feminist movement or Title IX, but I am guessing that post game on a Saturday afternoon in a ritzy NJ town (I cross town borders to go to my Starbucks, like Billy Joel wooing Christie Brinkley in the Uptown Girl video) the girls could have just come in and ordered their drinks. But instead, in a basic combination of all three of my complaints, they came in with 12 simultaneous orders.  As has happened to me, I can be the only person in line and still have to wait 10 minutes for a cookie because everyone else cannot wait.

I would suggest charging extra for mobile orders, but that won’t work because it might cost Starbucks money if enough coffee warriors “boycotted” because they did not want to be charged for the extra workload they were creating. But even if it did get instituted, and it made extra money to be split between the store and the workers, it would still never happen because it would only improve the ordering experience for the most thoughtful and considerate customers – LIKE ME.

Confusing Convenience with Goodness

Like so many things I joke, speak and write about, I do not think this will get better and I don’t think it will stop. The things in our society seem designed to make us more awkward, less social, more consumerist and less connected. But the reason we let those things happen is because they all come with that magical word “convenient.”  We, as a society have confused convenience with goodness.  We have confused convenience with efficiency. And we have confused convenience with importance.  And as long as we keep doing that (and I don’t see how or why we won’t) we will all become either the overworked barista or the consumer who cannot make eye contact.

  • GreenHeart Gardener

    I agree with all of your points. Customer Service has died. Killed off by the very people who complain about it. Mobile orders…convenience. Ha!

  • Justyn

    I share your disquiet at the depersonalisation of society in the name of ‘convenience’. Just read another article in a similar vein which might interest you…

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