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Starbucks workers say they're worried about the new reusable cup program

Gloria Dawson   

Starbucks workers say they're worried about the new reusable cup program
  • Starbucks now allows customers to bring their own cups for drive-thru and mobile orders.
  • It's part of a companywide effort to reduce waste by half by 2030.

Starbucks is now letting people bring their own cups for mobile and drive-thru orders — and some baristas say they're worried about how it will work.

Starbucks had already allowed customers to bring their cups to the counter for in-person orders. This extension of the program is part of a push to cut the company's waste in half by 2030.

Starbucks baristas have said cutting waste is an admirable goal. Still, some said they're worried about adding a new wrinkle to their increasingly difficult jobs juggling complicated drinks for drive-thru, mobile, delivery, and in-person orders.

"I feel like if it's executed properly, it could go wonderfully," a barista in the Atlanta area told Business Insider. But she worried about how the program would work operationally. "How is this going to play out?" she asked.

For instance, what happens if a customer brings a dirty cup? And will handing over a personal cup at the front of a drive-thru line slow down all the orders behind?

The new program is being rolled out as tensions are heightened between Starbucks corporate and its barista workforce. The company has recently faced some negative publicity and even calls for a boycott for its ongoing dispute with its union as well as its handling of messaging around the Hamas-Israel war.

Business Insider spoke to three Starbucks baristas about the reusable cup program. They asked for anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, but BI has verified their identities. We also reviewed the Starbucks Reddit forum, where the new policy was a hot topic of discussion. In fact, the Atlanta-area barista said she first learned of the policy on Reddit but later had a short company training on the policy.

As part of the new policy, customers can place an order to use their own reusable cups by selecting "personal cup" in the "customization" field on the Starbucks app.

A barista then makes the drink using a different cup — a reusable one that stays behind the counter. That cup has measurement lines for building cold and hot beverages.

Then, the barista pours the drink into the customer's own cup.

Two baristas who spoke to BI noted that their store had only received one cup designed to create drinks for the reusable program. They wondered if that'd be enough if there's a rush of people who bring their own cups to be filled.

"How quickly is this going to catch on?" the Atlanta-area barista asked. "Is it going to cause an issue when we don't have enough?"

A Starbucks representative said each store received two cups for making drinks — and that's because not many customers are bringing their own cups yet, according to Starbucks.

"With 1% of beverages sold in a personal cup in the US last year, we know growth will take time as we continue to unlock customer behavior change," the spokesperson said.

As far as concerns as to whether it'll add more time to drive-thru lines — or create chaos in stores as people pick up their mobile orders — the personal cup program test rolled out smoothly, the Starbucks spokesperson said.

"When we tested personal cup in drive-thru at 200 stores in Colorado last spring, partners who participated in the test shared that when they followed operational processes and procedures for personal cups, it didn't add any more wait time and really pleased customers, too."

Still, three baristas speaking to BI also said they didn't feel they had adequate training.

"Training was one module on the store iPad. It took about five minutes to read through and left more questions than answers," a barista in Texas told BI. For instance, she wondered how baristas should combat misuse of the program, she said.

"How are we going to combat mobile ordering issues like people 'forgetting' their cup just to get the discount?" she asked.

The Starbucks spokesperson said baristas got training on the new personal cup program — including practice time.

Most customers who use the reusable option when ordering will get a 10-cent discount and 25 bonus stars. Stars can be redeemed for free beverages and other Starbucks products.

Posters and commenters on the Starbucks subreddit noted that in the past, customers have tried sneaky ways to earn more stars. The Starbucks spokesperson said if a customer doesn't have a cup for their order, or if the cup is dirty — another concern for baristas — the baristas should pour the drink into a to-go cup. Their stars or discounts would not be docked, the spokesperson said.

Mobile orders seem to be the biggest worry for baristas.

A Reddit poster identifying themselves as a barista anticipated being interrupted during a busy shift — with people coming to "pick up" mobile orders handing over personal cups to be filled.

"This system requires you to speak up and stop the bar baristas in whatever they're doing," the poster wrote.

A Starbucks spokesperson said customers with mobile orders will indeed "connect with their barista" at the pick-up area, where they'll hand over a clean personal cup without a lid.

It seems too good to be true for some baristas — one of whom posed a solution that would defeat the purpose of the whole program.

"If too many people request it at once, we're just going to make them in normal cups, defeating the purpose. I just can't see this working for morning rushes when we get like 30+ mobile orders per half hour."

Do you work for or shop at Starbucks and have a story to share? Contact Gloria Dawson via the encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-516-721-6598) or email ( Check out Insider's source guide for other tips on sharing information securely.

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