STARBUCKS The addiction and the denial, an NRA story. By Chuck Wheeler

I love Starbucks. I mean really, truly, love them. I spend a significant amount of money every year on this company’s products. I am hopelessly addicted to good coffee. Hold your tongue about your favorite local micro-roasting-super-pour-over joint. I, too, succumb to these craft brew joints and their wares, but I am talking about mass market, find it when I need it (and when I don’t) green mermaid logo’d goodness. I think the BUX (as I call it) is at the top of their game, their customer service is stellar, at least in my experience, they have a great product, and they always make it right, which is the second best option to perfection.

The only thing I never cared for was waiting in the line to order and pay. I don’t think I am unusual when I say that I really loath standing in lines for anything. I might stand in line for a movie premier, but never alone so that part is a community thing. In fact, more times than I can remember, I have had to bail on a long line at Starbucks because it would have killed my commute, or something similar.

I am hopelessly addicted to good coffee

Stop. Let’s rewind the clock, oh, say… 12 years or so… Enter into my life, Tommy Woycik, longtime friend and business partner. As we both were looking for the next big thing to put our minds to, we saw a huge opportunity in the food service and restaurant industries: the elimination of lines. At first, we drew our inspiration from our own impatience as customers. No one ever said they liked standing in line, waiting to order, or worse, standing behind someone who waited just as long, then acted like they just thought about ordering when they get to the cashier/barista.

This is how NEXTEP SYSTEMS was conceived. Two really smart guys (and me), went on a quest to change the way the world ordered and paid for food and beverages. We succeeded in creating an amazing company, with amazing team members and an incredible product. But, not everyone was excited about self order at the time.

Now mind you, 10 years ago, Starbucks was on a tear, growing from 8,500 stores to 15,000 stores. Their technology team wasn’t really keen on talking to us about adding more technology to the stores in the form of self order. What did they tell us? “Self order doesn’t fit our culture”
This was actually said to us by members of the Starbucks management team during our discussions with them at several industry trade shows (NRA and FSTEC).

The word “disappointed” doesn’t do the feeling justice. We so desperately wanted to work with Starbucks on what we knew was a revolutionary customer service breakthrough, self order kiosks and mobile ordering. But after hearing how the Starbucks customer relished the interaction with the baristas and relaxed atmosphere, we assumed that they really meant it. “It will impersonalize the guest experience” This was the end of the conversation…except we were wrong. Starbucks started to build drive thru stores, a lot of them – 60+% of all new Starbucks locations will be drive thru. Yes, drive thru impersonalizes the guest experience somewhat, but guests will gladly trade even a positive traditional experience for the speed of service inherent with the drive thru. Starbucks also implemented self order (with the Starbucks app), this anti-culture tech, that would keep people from chatting with baristas and relaxing in the café – It’s now a major part of Starbucks customer experience strategy.

I look forward to my self order specials in my email each week

Are we upset that Starbucks chose to do self order? No way. Are we angry that they attempted a self order strategy without us? Not a chance. Starbucks discovered what we have been preaching for a long time, self order is the only way to speed up service, shorten, or practically eliminate lines, and drive check averages up 15+%. Just about every other operational idea has been tried, perfected, and exhausted.

When companies the size of Starbucks, Panera, and McDonald’s institute major self order initiatives, they are more than proving our point, that it is a winning idea, a game changer. Speed of service shrinks to nothing, revenues and profits soar, customers (the ones like Tommy and myself) are ecstatic about the improved experience.

It’s simply the best marketing we could imagine. Dozens of large corporations are utilizing our self order, POS, and mobile ordering platform and reaping the same benefits. A mature product with hundreds of field tested features and enhancements, and a user experience that will take home-grown teams a decade to figure out (yes, it took us that long to perfect our solution).

If your Fast Casual or Fast Food restaurant chain wants to implement self order and mobile strategies to change the way your guests order and pay for food, but you want to do it with a time tested, rock solid solution set, from the leader in self order, you should contact NEXTEP today. We will show you how your guests can Order Food Faster, and have you “live” in weeks rather than years.

In the meantime, I will enjoy another double tall, sugar free vanilla, brevé latte with the “order & pay” feature.

Thanks, Starbucks!


Chuck Wheeler, Vice President of Marketing and UX


want to hear more about this story and countless others from the leader in self order technologies?

Come visit us at the National Restaurant Association Show | May 21-24 2016 | Booth #6654

Liah Luther