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Teens love Starbucks for these 4 reasons

Grace Dean   

Teens love Starbucks for these 4 reasons
  • American teens have an enduring love for Starbucks.
  • The coffee chain has consistently ranked high in a semiannual survey of teens' favorite brands.

American teens can't get enough of Starbucks.

The coffee chain was ranked the top restaurant brand of teens, behind just Chick-fil-A, in a recent survey released by investment bank Piper Sandler in which it has consistently ranked high over the years.

"We continue to view Starbucks' brand equity as relevant social currency," Brian Mullan, a senior research analyst at Piper Sandler, wrote in the report. "Starbucks gaining slightly among upper income and all teens points to its grasp on teen consumer trends."

Starbucks is notably more popular among wealthy teens, of which 16% ranked it as their favorite, but 12% of average-income teens also told Piper Sandler it was their preferred restaurant chain.

Piper Sandler surveyed 9,193 US teens for the report. The respondents had an average age of 15.7 years.

So what do young Americans love so much about this chain?

The new mall

Firstly, it's become as much of a place for young people to socialize as a place to grab a coffee. Over the years it's replaced the mall as their preferred hangout location, with teenagers choosing to splash out on fancy beverages and pastries. Starbucks has spent years trying to cultivate its image as the "third place," envisaging itself as a separate place for people to gather and spend time beyond work or school and home.

But the teens hanging out at Starbucks aren't all buying hot coffee. In fact, part of the appeal of this chain is its wide-ranging menu of alternative drinks such as Frappucinos, Refreshers, iced coffees, and other cold and frozen beverages.

"The younger you go, the colder the beverage," Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer told investors in November 2022.

These teens also crave customization – something Starbucks offers in abundance with its assortments of modifications that cost up to $1.25 each and generate higher revenues for the chain.

Brewer told investors in November that many customers, especially younger ones, opt to customize their cold drinks and add plant-based milk.

The TikTok frenzy

Part of the demand for modifications may be because younger people generally favor individualism, experts say. However, cold drinks with a long list of customizations are also more Instagram-worth for this social-media generation, with their clear plastic cups showing off the drinks' layers, creams, syrups, drizzles, and toppings.

Sometimes these attractive drinks can go viral – the TikTok-inspired iced white mocha, for example, which comes with vanilla sweet cream cold foam and extra caramel drizzle and saw baristas inundated with orders for $7 drinks.

But the appeal of Starbucks doesn't stop there. The chain has changed its strategy to meet the changing needs of a tech-savvy generation by focusing on speed and convenience in ordering. Mobile orders, drive-thru, and delivery accounted for 74% of its second-quarter revenue for US company-owned stores this year.

Still, while Starbucks HQ might cherish teen spending at the chain, their TikTok-inspired drink orders have become a source of contention for staff.

Starbucks baristas previously told Insider that these take longer to prepare and have led to some customers being rude or abusive because their heavily customized drinks didn't look or taste like they expected.

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