COVID shortages have taken away our Starbucks

Customers have been complaining that they can’t get their favorite drinks.

a sign at a starbucks
Photo: Nathan Stirk (Getty Images)

A Starbucks shortage seems like the definition of a first-world problem, but hey, it’s been a hard year. There’s a particular reassurance in getting your favorite drink exactly how you like it exactly when you want it, and that’s what Starbucks has always provided, even if your favorite drink is something as batshit crazy as the Edward.

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Up till now, Starbucks has weathered the pandemic amazingly well—even during quarantine, drive-thrus and pick-up orders arranged through an app insured that everyone was still getting their coffee. But now it seems like it may be suffering through the global supply shortages.

Starbucks locations are short of everything, The New York Times reports, not just cups and lids and paper sleeves, but also pastries, sandwiches, syrups and fruit juices and non-dairy milk. The only thing that they seem to have enough of is coffee beans. (Iced and cold brew coffee are also in short supply.)

The Times collected tales of woe from disappointed Starbucks customers throughout the country. One Atlanta woman told the Times about her journey to four different Starbucks in search of iced peach green-tea lemonade. “I said to them, ‘This is the Peach State, right?’” In the end she had to settle for the same drink made with guava juice. A man in New Jersey couldn’t find his daughter’s favorite breakfast sandwich and resorted to taking her to Chick-fil-A.

Starbucks workers are also frustrated and have found catharsis on TikTok.

Starbucks issued a statement that reassured the Times (and, by extension, its customers) that the shortages were only temporary and that the chain was working with its suppliers to restock missing items as soon as possible. The cost of these supply chain issues would not be passed on to customers.

Some people, however, are wondering if Starbucks won’t use the shortages to its own advantage. “I’m sure there are a lot of heated conversations in Seattle right now about the supply-chain issues, but someone on the branding side is going to be chirping in that the scarcity may not be a bad thing,” said Bryant Simon, a history professor at Temple University and the author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks.

Simon explained to the Times that while things like apps and expansion and drive-thru have made Starbucks more widely accessible, it has, in the process lost a bit of its mystique. A Starbucks cup used to signal that you were a person of taste and discernment who could afford to spend $5 on coffee. Now, with the shortages, it can show that your special drink means so much to you that you will drive to three different locations to find it? Starbucks is rare and precious again!

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Starbucks is also experiencing a labor shortage: The Wall Street Journal reported that one Wisconsin location is offering its baristas a $200 bonus if they refer someone to work there. (Or maybe it’s just that Starbucks is not a great place to work.)

Strangely, the Times article did not mention the thousands and thousands of other coffee shops around the country, many of which serve drinks that are extremely similar to those at Starbucks. But, dear readers, know that they are out there! It’s all right to ignore the call of the siren.

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Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

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Janet

I definitely seen that here. I’m not a regular Starbucks customer. There were years I never went, but when I have a headache I just can’t shake, a latte usually does it. The one nearest my home has been randomly shut at various times and not taking app orders even when open. I assume it’s COVID staffing issues. The one near where I work was out of the peach green tea lemonade when I remembered it existed last month. Oh well, saves me money on impulse buys.