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Starbuck’s barista heuristics

I just came across (via Megan McArdle) this piece by Gregor Hohpe from 2004 that analyzes Starbuck’s way of queuing orders — the cashier writes your order on a cup that gets filled asynchronously by the coffee-machine oeprator — in computer processing terms. Fascinating.

Clearly, a computer program could do a better job of optimizing for the most rapid throughput, while minimizing customer delay and keeping customer orders batched together successfully. So, you can imagine the cashier inputting the order electronically, and the barista working from a properly queued list put together by the computer.

Unfortunately, this is one of those places where the real world seems to prevent proper algorithmic optimization. What do you do about the cup of coffee that has to be remade because the customer wanted a double half skim double latte, not a half double double skim latte? What do you do about the cup that spills on its way to the customer’s hands? What do you do about the customer with the spilled coffee on her hands demanding that you top it up while she calls her lawyer?

If only life were more like a computer!

7 Responses to “Starbuck’s barista heuristics”

  1. […] Joho the Blog » Starbuck's barista heuristics […]

  2. […] Joho the Blog » Starbuck’s barista heuristics […]

  3. Not surprisingly, baristas do a rather good job of batching orders, particularly because some things (like making foamed milk) that take a bit of time but can result in several completed orders. And what about the displeasure that a customer might feel if they place their order in front of someone who gets served first?

  4. […] could probably be given the same analytical treatment given Starbucks Barista Heuristics, which I have to admit, also shares some beauty in efficiently producing happy […]

  5. As a former barista and caffeine addict myself I can attest to the effectiveness of computers in lubricating the order fulfillment process. At the corporate coffee shop at which I slung beans, a computer printed out order stickers that would be stuck on cups, and pushed to the appropriate station (frozen, hot, non-coffee). We processed dozens of customers an hour that way.

    But the gourmet, no-computer coffee shop at which I pushed the drug definitely had a more personal and handmade feel. Which meant a better product and happier customer (and bigger tips). Given, Starbucks customers aren’t always going there for the atmosphere and warm fuzzies.

  6. […] Joho the Blog » Starbuck’s barista heuristics […]

  7. […] Joho the Blog » Starbuck's barista heuristics […]


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