Starbucks drops small ‘tall’ from drive-through menu

By Emily Bryson York
Posted Sep. 9, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.

Starbucks Corp. said it isn’t just dropping its small-sized drink from its drive-through locations throughout the country, it’s preparing for the future.

In addition to removing the 12-ounce “tall” from its drive-through menus, the Seattle-based coffee chain has added images of some newer items. Starbucks maintains the changes are in response to consumer confusion over its many offerings, from hot chocolate to oatmeal, as well as highly customizable coffee beverages.

But the redesigned drive-through menu also makes room for federally mandated calorie information at chain restaurants, which is expected late next year. The provision was part of the health care reform bill passed last year. Restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to post calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-throughs.

When the regulations go into effect, restaurant chains from McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts may have little choice but to simplify what’s posted on drive-through menus, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a restaurant-industry consultancy.

For the consumer, the result will be a lot more information on menus, and “it’s going to confuse the consumer,” Tristano said. After all, Starbucks cited confusion as the main reason for downsizing the menu. Additional information could make reading menus challenging.

Starbucks spokeswoman Deb Trevino confirmed that the new menu was designed to accommodate the coming national calorie mandates, and in areas where similar laws are already in effect.

Some consumers are wondering whether the coffee chain’s redesigned drive-through menu is part of an effort to push bigger, pricier items. Starbucks points out that the new menu board includes items that range in price.

The menu promotes a variety of food and drinks with pictures, including low-priced snacks like the petite vanilla scone as well as higher-priced items like the pumpkin-spiced latte.

Starbucks has made some bold decisions that led to consumer criticism, but the moves likely helped orchestrate the brand’s turnaround over the last two years:

The chain’s afternoon closure for espresso training among its staff in February 2008 was widely criticized as an event that would push faithful customers to rivals. Experts since have pointed to the event as a turning point in customer service.

In January 2009, the chain also stopped offering decaffeinated and bold-flavored coffee in the afternoon, only brewing pots when a customer ordered one. Starbucks, in an effort to cut costs and reduce its environmental footprint, defended its decision by saying these orders were infrequent in the afternoon. The chain has since turned comparable store sales positive, including a 9 percent gain in the U.S. for the most recent quarter.

At the Starbucks drive-through, meantime, customers still can order tall-sized beverages. They just won’t be listed on the menu. There’s even a smaller-sized “short” drink, too — if you know to ask for it. And that can be frustrating to customers who aren’t regulars.

“The reaction by consumers is appropriate,” Tristano said of the menu-board changes. “They will feel like they’re going to be guided to a higher-priced item.”

Despite the coming mandates, Starbucks maintains that its customers were the primary impetus for change.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our customers that the drive-through menu was hard to read,” Trevino said. So the coffee chain went through an “exercise of looking at the menu,” she said, and trimmed offerings by about two-thirds “based on most-commonly ordered items.”

The changes were completed last month.

Starbucks has drive-throughs in 37 percent of its 11,000 U.S. locations, and they are more likely to be in suburban areas, Trevino said.

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  1. Bocephus Von Williams Sep. 9, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.

    small, medium, and large.

    I encourage everyone who ever goes to Starbucks to order their coffee using normal Uhhhmerican language.

  2. juvi Sep. 9, 2010 at 11:27 a.m.

    Sorry, it’s only medium and large from now on! This blows. I don’t always want anything bigger than a tall. Plus for a lot of these drinks, there are a lot more calories in the larger sizes. So much for addressing the obesity problem in the country.

  3. Hari Sep. 9, 2010 at 11:50 a.m.

    The problem with just ordering a large is that ‘grande’ is spanish for large but it’s the medium size. It’s a plot to make the drinks sound bigger and therefore be less of a ripoff. Of course, giving anyone working there a hard time about it does no good as they are just local workers and have no say in the store’s names, prices, and product line.

  4. C Sep. 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    The other day in a Starbucks I told the worker I don’t speak Esperanto. Then I had to explain what Esperanto is. But as long as they accept my order for “your largest size” tea, which they did, they can call it whatever they want amongst themselves.

    All fast-food outlets should get somebody over 40 to tell them if their wall menu is readable without binoculars. More and more of them are not. If they don’t want to cut down the verbiage, they can print up paper versions.

  5. Ryan Sep. 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    @juvi: It clearly says you can still order the Tall…it’s just not on the menu.

  6. billyjoe Sep. 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    A lot of folks really love to hate on Starbucks, and this article just added fuel to the fire.

  7. Steve Sep. 9, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    This is the biggest crock of cappola I’ve ever heard. The menu’s too hard to read so let’s drop the small portion??? What a scam to get you to buy and pay more.

    How about dropping the fancy names like extra-hot, skinny, light whip, caramel macchiatto? (Not to mention, you’re only lying to yourself about it being “skinny”).

    I agree. Small, medium and large.

  8. Al Sep. 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Again, to Steve, it clearly says, if you read the article, that you can STILL order a tall.

  9. Jed Sep. 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Uh oh, Trixies and Chads are going to flip out over this move. Envision the Volkswagen Jettas crashing through Starbux front windows in protest…look out!

  10. Spike Sep. 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    As if any of you haters would ever go to Starbucks anyway. We know you drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I’m sure you can walk into a Dunkin Donuts in your stretch sweatpants and ask for a large.

    If you really have such an issue with using the words tall, grande and venti, then you have only your poor public school education to blame. For those of us who are educated and can read, write and think for ourselves, we would NEVER have a problem with words that small!

  11. j33 Sep. 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    About 20 years ago I worked in a Starbucks to help pay for college (it wasn’t a bad place to work). Back then, the small was a ’short’, which is rarely seen these days, but still available if asked. I regularly order the ‘tall’ when I go in for a coffee (I’m mainly a black coffee sort of person) and I find it odd that the ‘medium’ of 20 years ago is going the way of the ’short’. I suppose they’ll have to come up with something larger than a ‘Venti’ now, and I shudder to think what that is.

  12. James Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    If you really have such an issue with using the words tall, grande and venti, then you have only your poor public school education to blame. For those of us who are educated and can read, write and think for ourselves, we would NEVER have a problem with words that small!

    I have no doubt you think ONLY of yourself but if you are fool enough to pay $4 for a cup of hot water you definitely can’t think FOR yourself.

  13. txpilot Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Starbuck seem to be so environmentaly sound. Why don’t they shut down the drive thru windows. Eliminate the carbon footprint of all those vehicle idleing in the drive thru line.

  14. Jeeper Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Next, they will come up with a new size called Trenta-Due, to match 7-11’s Big Gulp size.

  15. Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I guess now I will have to go inside when Gabby wants her tall drink from starbucks………..

  16. Patrick Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I always just ask for the Elvis size. Gets a laugh, sometimes. Sometimes I say “that’s the later, bloated Elvis, not the younger, svelte Elvis”. Of course, all I ever order is black coffee, in which I put some cinnamon but no sugar or dairy or nondairy, so I get the same number of calories as if I ordered a “tall” – zero. Plus, I get even more of those lovely antioxidants and the caffeine I need to get me through the day.

  17. SPIN DOCTOR Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    What is it: 1-2 shots of espresso with steamed milk.
    Calories: Small, 200; large, 341.
    Fat: Small, 10.6g (6.6 saturated); large, 17.9g (11.2 saturated).
    Verdict: Surprisingly unhealthy. A large latte contains almost one third of the daily recommended fat intake for women. Add a vanilla shot and you 380 calories and 14.5g of fat in each large cup. This is equivalent to ten rashers of bacon.

  18. SPIN DOCTOR Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    What is it: A mix of steamed and foamed milk added to an espresso shot.
    Calories: Small, 122; large, 207.
    Fat: Small, 6.4g (4g saturated); large, 10.7g (6.7g saturated).
    Verdict: Better than lattes. But, with 6.7g of arteryclogging saturated fat in a large mug, it’s hardly healthy.

  19. Ex-Starbucks Partner Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I worked at Starbucks around 12 years ago. When they first introduced the “Venti” size, we had some really interesting pronunciations for the first few months. My favorite was a lady who came in every day and always ordered a “Verde Latte” and from the first day forward it was always a”Verde.” Everyone was too embarrassed to correct her. That was about the only funny memory I have of that place.

  20. KPO'M Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Does Starbucks still offer the “short” cup that isn’t even listed in the indoor menu?

  21. SPIN DOCTOR Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    What is it: Three-quarters steamed milk, 3-4 pumps of chocolate sauce and 2-3 shots of espresso topped with whipped cream.
    Calories: Small, 255; large, 484.
    Fat: Small, 9.3g (5.4g saturated); large, 25.3g (14.3g saturated).
    Verdict: Very fatty. This is sweetened with a massive 41g of sugar in a large cup. Things could be worse: a large white chocolate mocha with whipped cream contains 628 calories and 28.9g of fat

  22. treat 13 Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Rgeir coffee tins are not cleaned and it tastes worse than ever-like tien. I thought I was safe with espreso but the last 2 were awful as well and tatsted like tin, too? Iget the freeze dried now and buy my own espresso and make at home.

  23. HughG Sep. 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    This is news???? Who really cares???

  24. Spike Sep. 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    @James – I pay for quality. I don’t do it because it’s “cool” or hip, but because $1 coffee doesn’t really float my boat when it tastes like mud, rainwater and something my dog drank out of the toilet.

    Just like I could go to, say, Old Navy to buy clothes….but that $10 shirt falls about the fifth time you wash it.

    @GPerry – As has been mentioned about seventy other times, YOU CAN STILL GET A TALL COFFEE/DRINK FROM THE DRIVE THRU.

    Let me say it again for those for whom Hooked on Phonics did NOT work: YOU CAN STILL GET A TALL COFFEE/DRINK FROM THE DRIVE THRU.

    They just aren’t going to advertise it as a choice on the menu. Because apparently having too many choices confuses simple people….then they get angry at the big words. (And, undoubtedly, find a way to blame Obama for it.)

  25. Melvin Sep. 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    To Spike.

    You sound like one of those guys you see wearing jeans, black shirts and flip flops while they pub craw in Lincoln Park…moron!

  26. Spike Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Melvin – you sound like someone who finished high school with a C average, can’t find a job that pays more than twelve bucks an hour, and HATES anyone who is more successful than him….moron!

  27. Jim Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    If you are in Chicago, go to Intelligentsia instead.

  28. JI Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Half of you mf’s don’t even go to Starbucks….

  29. Pizen Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Who gives a rat’s behind anyway? Get out of the damn car and go get your coffee on foot. And I always tell them the biggest darkest coffee they got; that seems to communicate my desires to staff quite effectively.

  30. Chloe Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Spike and Melvin are crackin’ me up :-)

  31. Pam Sep. 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Just stop making up words and people will understand the universal language: Small, Medium and Large.

  32. Nancy Sep. 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    This was a funny conversation and Spike I guess you have found one thing I can’t blame Obama for. I think when Starbucks was new it was trendy to have tall, grande etc but after time it just became confusing. It would be easier if you could just say small and they know it means tall, etc. I love starbucks coffee and sitting outside – I don’t go as often as I like because it’s expensive and I can’t stand all the foreigners on the patio smoking like mad people!

  33. Harry in Algonquin Sep. 9, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I am confused the tall is the small? Or is it medium? Or is it betweem medium and large? Or is it the smaller medium? Sorry, I am addicted to Starbucks so I do not understand this lingo.

  34. C Sep. 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Spike, I am a college graduate, an English major, can read French, have a large vocabulary of big words every one of which I can spell correctly, and an IQ higher than yours. And I have little patience with companies that feel they must use confusing jargon to seem cool, especially if their redefinitions of perfectly serviceable English words remind me of Newspeak. (You are familiar with Orwell, right?) So, since I’m the customer, I’ll ask for what I want in normal English and let them do the translating. And since they know I’m the customer, they cooperate. This seems to work fine for me and them–how come you have a problem with it?

  35. Tina Sep. 9, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    God to the idiot saying people are uneducated if they don’t want to call a SMALL drink a tall or a medium GRANDE etc..really when was anything tall actually small..get out your dictionary and come to the realization that those words have nothing to do with one another..and furthermore stuck up snobby wealthy people will defend starbucks to the end..Well I am well educated and well off however I will not ever refer to anything small as being tall!
    Say it with me SMALL- MEDIUM- LARGE

  36. Lynn Sep. 10, 2010 at 7:47 a.m.

    –Spike, I’m on your side but this is a losing battle.

    –C, Do you really speak to service industry workers like that? You are either a pretentious bag of douche or you really want to be one. Please feel free to pop an extra high bloodpressure pill.

    To everyone else, if you are really tongue tied and on the verge of stroking out over the size issue DON’T GO THERE! and let the rest of us enjoy our drinks in peace.
    –To the ones who neglected to read the article carefully, All the same sizes are still there. Order them. It’s just easier to list the sizes that would have the highest amount of calories and fat and yes, maybe they want the mony. Who cares, it’s a business not a not for profit organization.
    P.s. — I never say venti but instead order a large coffee and have never gotten any grief over it. The baristas aren’t morons, stop acting like they are.

  37. C Sep. 10, 2010 at 11:32 a.m.

    Lynn, You say you order a large instead of using the V-word and didn’t get grief. That’s pretty much how my conversation went–it was perfectly cordial, I got what I wanted and since the guy asked me a question he learned a useful bit of information. Starbucks workers are trained to engage with a customer on the customer’s terms and that is why the customers keep coming back. What is your fixation on blood pressure and strokes all about? Mr. Spike should maybe listen a little more instead of acting like he’s the only one with an education, which is what is pretentious. I was merely pointing out to him that not agreeing with him is not a sign of ignorance or stupidity.

  38. zenboy Sep. 11, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Yes, we all know you could still get the “tall” size in the drive-thru, but who the hell knows what size of coffee available from a store? That is why they should put it on the menu for everyone to see. Not everyone are frequent Starbuck’s customers and might not know about the size available at this store.
    Let get some common sense into this. The reason Starbuck does not want to put the damn word, “tall”, on the menu because Starbuck wants people to think there is only 2 choices of size; grande or Venti.
    They couldn’t come up with a better explanation for the omitted ‘tall’ size on the new menu than to see that the wording is confusing.
    I think the whole stupid ‘Tall-Grande-Venti’ label is misleading and confusing for the Americans.