Make it a Game: how Starbucks made learning fun

(originally published to the Business Owner Tide Chart newsletter - October 2019)


After graduating college, before I figured out what I wanted to do with my life (at least for a little while) I worked for Starbucks.  I still didn’t know where I wanted to live so I actually ended up working for three different stores in Ohio and Massachusetts.  Despite my indecisive and transient nature, Starbucks was consistent and they were consistent about learning! 



New products rolled out seasonally, different coffee roasts were introduced and we had to be an expert on all of it.  Every other week we were tasting coffee.  This wasn’t a big mug of fresh brew to start your day and then filled with cream and sugar.  This was a French press of a new roast that was sipped, sniffed, and slowly enjoyed to note the subtleties of the coffee.  We drank it black and paired it with a food offering.  Sounds a bit like wine tasting doesn’t it? This is how I learned the difference in a light roast and a dark roast.  It’s how I started to notice chocolate flavors and spices in a coffee roast. 

We also got to play games. 

Yes, learning can be fun! 

If you’ve been to Starbucks you know ordering a drink entails a whole list of details; hot or cold, tall or venti, latte, cappuccino, skim milk, whole milk, whip cream, pumps of syrup…you get the idea.  But did you know there is a specific order they should be ordered in? 


When I worked for Starbucks we still called the drink to the barista, no fancy stickers on the cup.  So calling the drink in the right order was important.  To learn this we played a game with a set of dice.  The dice listed various features of a Starbucks drink.  You would roll the dice and have to call the drink in the right order. Venti, caramel, skim, extra foam, latte!  


This game made learning fun.  We could play it sporadically in the moments when business was slow. Learning doesn’t have to be a set aside, large chunk of time.  It can be quick and intermittent.  It can be a game!  I haven’t worked for Starbucks for over a decade but I can still call a drink pretty darn well.  When learning is fun, it sticks!

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