9 Mistakes Not to Make at Starbucks, According to Baristas

What makes a great Starbucks order? What instructions yield the best drinks? And on the other hand, what really pushes baristas’ buttons and has them rolling their eyes as you leave the store?

The thing about getting creative with your morning beverage is you need to know what you’re doing — or at least have some knowledge of how the Starbucks brand, menu, and drink-making process works.

To tell you everything you need to know about perfecting your Starbucks order, we consulted three of their star baristas working in stores across the country. They shed some light on how to order a great drink and what not to do when ordering. Here are nine dos and don’ts to keep in mind next time you’re at Starbucks.

1. Ordering Off the Secret Menu

Spoiler: The secret menu is not a thing. In fact, it’s created by the customers rather than the brand. “There is no secret menu, we don’t know how to make those drinks or what they’re called,” says Kenny Delgado, a New Jersey-based Starbucks barista.

“We are not taught these recipes, as they are customer created,” adds Washington-based Starbucks barista Veronica Gallagher. “Bring the recipe and a back up plan in case we can’t replicate it.”

Delgado says to make it Instagram worthy, you should bring instructions or even a sample picture.

2. Not Knowing What’s in Your Drink — or How Customizations Might Affect It

If you’re changing a recipe, know what you’re in for — and feel free to ask about customizations to a drink. “When someone orders a drink with four types of flavors, in a grande, that's 16 pumps of sugar going into their drink,” says barista Natalie McInnis. “Then they wonder why it doesn't taste good…”

Understand how milk substitutions impact your drink, too. “Don’t substitute almond milk into your pink drink (it’ll get chunky),” says Delgado. Two other pro-tips he adds: “an extra foam latte is a cappuccino, [and] caramel macchiatos have vanilla in them.”

3. Not Trusting Your Barista

“Talk to us and let us know what you like,” says Delgado. “We taste every item that comes in and we can hook you up with something delicious or we’ll fix it until you think it’s delicious.”

Of course, you have to read the room in terms of asking your barista questions about ingredients, specialty concoctions, and customizations. And practicing patience in the Starbucks line is always appreciated.

“Just be patient, we are friendlier when we are less stressed out from people wanting things instantly,” says McInnis. “We all do our best, we don't want the lines to be there any more than people want to sit in them.”

Barista and bar counter in a Starbucks Reserve coffee shop.

4. Getting Too Attached to Seasonal Drinks

The Starbucks menu changes, and that’s to be expected. “Our seasonal drinks change often, so please do not be upset at us when the promotion ends and we no longer have the product,” says Gallagher. She also reminds customers that menu items that may have been staples five years ago are occasionally phased out, so the staff may no longer know the recipe or have the ingredients to make it for you.

5. Not Knowing the Starbucks Sizes

The equivalent of a small is a tall at Starbucks. A grande is medium. And a venti or trenta is a large. Gallagher says this does create some confusion among customers: “Many people think a ‘tall’ is the largest size, when really [our largest size] is venti or trenta.”

6. Failing to Double Check Your Work

“I highly suggest having your order read back to you, especially in a drive-thru that does not have an order screen,” says Gallagher. And speaking of double checking your work, she reminds customers to always specifically ask for decaf if they want a caffeine-free espresso. Finally, in terms of proceeding with extra caution, she says to “make sure you’re taking your food and drink, not another customer’s” at the pickup counter. It’s as easy as checking the name on the cup!

7. Forgetting There’s a Big Difference Between a Macchiato and a Caramel Macchiato

Gallagher says one of the most common missteps is asking for a macchiato when you actually want a caramel macchiato. If you just ask for a straight macchiato, Gallagher explains that baristas will make an espresso macchiato, which “is just espresso with a light amount of foam on top.”

8. Not Trying a Blonde Espresso

Gallagher points out that Starbucks uses a dark roast espresso for their lattes, while most local shops use a medium roast espresso. She recommends you customize your drink with Starbucks’ blonde espresso if you’re “used to more mom and pop-style cafes and espresso stands.” She says if you tend toward the local, corner coffee shop lattes, Starbucks blonde espresso might be right up your alley.

9. Not Checking the Location on Your Mobile Order

“As the customer, it is your responsibility to ensure you select the correct location,” says Gallagher. She encourages customers to not get upset at the baristas if they don’t have your order, especially if you sent it to the wrong location. But Gallagher also shares a pro-tip: “Our staff is trained to make your order for you if you show a receipt, so keep your phone on you and be kind.”

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