Home Feature Do you speak the “Starbucks” language?

Do you speak the “Starbucks” language?

by Sofia Navarro
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An iced tall latte with pumpkin cream and chai tea, please” is an order that will soon become a common sight at Starbucks stores nationwide. As we enter the holiday drink season, lengthy Starbucks orders with brand-specific vocabulary will soon grace our ears as we sip our 7 a.m. cups of coffee. The classic “small black coffee” is an order reserved for other cafes. But it wasn’t always this way.

When Starbucks was founded in 1971, customers would walk in and order plain coffee beans: no modifications or refreshments. At that time, coffee sales were declining, according to Charles Lindsey, a Marketing professor at the University of Buffalo.

“Coffee was only seen as a drink for breakfast,” says Lindsey. “Then Starbucks came along and turned the model around.”

Everything changed when Howard Schultz joined the company in 1982 as Director of Operations and Marketing. The following year, he traveled to Italy, where he became “captivated” by Italian cafes and was inspired to bring cafe culture to the United States through Starbucks, explains Megan Adams, a company spokesperson.

A few years after returning to the United States, Schultz left Starbucks to found a new coffee company, Il Giornale, inspired by Italian cafes.

The shop offered a menu with the “Starbucks language” that customers know today, including drinks like espressos and lattes. After a few years leading Il Giornale, Schultz acquired Starbucks and operated under the name Starbucks, maintaining Il Giornale’s Italian-style menu.

“If you like a good macchiato, a cortado, a latte, or a cappuccino, Starbucks did a lot to popularize those drinks,” says Lindsey.

With the new drinks came the sizes we’re so familiar with: “short,” “tall,” “venti,” “grande,” and “trenta.” Venti and trenta in Italian mean “twenty” and “thirty,” respectively, referring to the number of ounces in each drink. Grande means “large” in Italian. Short and tall are other terms associated with the Italian cafe concept, used to describe the size of the drink. Tall was initially a medium-sized drink until Schultz decided the menu was too cluttered. Short was removed and only offered for hot drinks upon request. Now tall is known as the smallest size.

Then came the other component of creating the cafe experience, the social component, which took shape in customizing each drink order. This includes the customer’s name written on each cup with a marker and the order in which the customer indicates their drink preferences, such as temperature, size, and other modifications.

“Our customers love coming to Starbucks because they can order the perfect drink. They can get a drink made exactly how they want it and personalized to fit their preferences perfectly,” says Adams.

However, not everyone has embraced the Starbucks language. Even today, many customers have expressed frustration with the sizing system and have turned to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to share their complaints.

Despite some criticism, the impact the language has had on brand perception cannot be denied.

While other brands may try to copy Starbucks’ language and model, according to Lindsey, it’s difficult for them to succeed because consumers already mentally associate size and drink types with Starbucks. The language has become ingrained in consumers’ minds as a Starbucks staple.

It’s a branding technique consumers often encounter.

The brand marketing, which includes the unique language and “authentic cafe culture,” is a major driver of the chain’s success, explains Lindsey.

As the world enters the Pumpkin Spice Latte season, customers should prepare for more requests for “iced tall pumpkin cream lattes and chai teas.” At least for now, the Starbucks language is here to stay.

TYT Newsroom

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