In an apparent effort to encourage more coffee consumption, Starbucks has eliminated “tall” (12 oz.) and “short” (8 oz.) cup sizes from its drive-through menus. Rather, drivers are now instructed to order a “grande” (16 oz.) or “venti” (20 oz.) drink.
The coffee giant swears that customers can still order the smaller sizes when driving up – but only if they know to request a “tall” or “short.”
The move isn’t totally out of the blue: the company has received a slew of complaints that its drive-through menu has too many food and beverage options, all written in too-small font. As a result, Starbucks has been condensing its menu over the past year from 70 items to about 25. Deb Trevino, a brand spokesperson, said, “We [eliminated small sizes] because our customers were frustrated with the difficulty of reading our drive-through menus. We have to make choices about what we put on our menus so that customers can get through as quickly as possible.”
Allie Townsend of TIME questioned the real intent behind the “tall” coffee elimination, writing, “Since when does customer friendly translate into a watered down listing of only your higher-priced items? Note: Next time, just try making the entire board larger.”
But Walletpop’s Sarah Gilbert brought up a counterpoint: “Those who drive through the Starbucks window in the first place may not be overly concerned with frugality.” In fact, it appears that the coffee giant is banking on the idea that consumers willing to pay upwards of $4 for a coffee won’t care about the restricted options and higher prices.
Starbucks insiders acknowledged the backlash and tweeted in response, saying that stores will update their menus to alert drivers that “tall” cups are still available. The company also issued the following statement: “While the Tall size has always been available at Drive Thru, along with every item on Starbucks full menu, we want to clear up any confusion and ensure our menu reflects a range of price points. We listened to feedback and starting Thursday the 16th, stores will be updating their Drive Thru menu boards, highlighting that Tall size is available. A simple solution would be to put it back on the menu.”
In Starbucks’s defense, we can see at least one valid reason for the menu-shortening: drive-through customers are by definition in a car, and are therefore less equipped to read a detailed menu and make decisions about what to purchase. But eliminating smaller sizes doesn’t do all that much to reduce menu crowding — and as such, it leaves customers feeling like they’re being manipulated.