Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has become known for its "secret menu" of drinks created by customers and baristas (the people who make the coffee) that are quasi-officially available.
This has happened because the chain allows people to mix and match its ingredients in any manner they want. That means that a customer can order a caramel macchiato with raspberry sauce or a black tea lemonade with whipped cream.
Those are, of course, absurd examples that would not gain traction due to the incompatibility of the drink ingredients, but some consumer- or barista-created beverages have caught on. The company has encouraged this experimentation and has even moved some well-loved secret menu items, like the Cotton Candy Frappuccino, to the official menu as limited-time offerings.
Now, Starbucks has taken things a step further by encouraging its baristas to create their own drinks and sell them this coming weekend. It's a smart play that could ultimately lead to the company's next seasonal hit or even permanent menu addition.
What is Starbucks doing?
From Oct. 20-23, Starbucks locations will feature original drinks created by local baristas. This is the second weekend in the month the company has featured this promotion. Called Barista Originals, these new drinks are made from ingredients already found in stores, but other than being limited to using on-hand items, the drink makers have a free hand.
"At the beginning of the season, we saw a lot of excitement around fall flavors, especially after we introduced Starbucks Almond milk," said Starbucks Marketing Manager Sarah Spencer in a press release. "We wanted to tap into our baristas' beverage artistry by giving them the opportunity to create new fall-inspired drink recipes to share with customers in their stores."
Why is this good business?
Not-so-secret secret menus can give consumers a feeling of being in the know without being overly exclusionary (in many cases, because those being excluded don't know what they are missing). Pushing baristas to create new drinks using existing ingredients serves a number of business purposes.
In addition to the short-term boon of having people visit to try beverages created by their local baristas, the promotion also highlights that the chain will willingly make anything a patron can dream of. That means that someone who might otherwise have passed on getting anything or may have just ordered a simple cup of coffee might order a more expensive beverage because it can be customized.
This promotion also serves as a way for the chain to test hundreds of new beverages in a short period. If any locally created drink proves especially popular, Starbucks could offer it regionally or nationally.
With Barista Originals, Starbucks gets to highlight its menu flexibility while also seeing whether its customers enjoy a whole bunch of new beverages. That may ultimately lead to the discovery of the next Pumpkin Spice Latte, but even if it does not, the promotion pushes a key branding message while also spiking sales for a weekend and perhaps building the relationship between customer and barista.