Don’t Order a Starbucks Secret Menu Item During Rush Hour

Here’s what a former barista really wants you to know before you ask for an off-menu drink.

September 15, 2020
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Photo by: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Ah, Starbucks, what would we do without you? For starters, we’d spend our days tired, cranky and incredibly unproductive. Ever since it first opened its doors in 1971, Starbucks has always had a way of making us excited about coffee. (We mean, what other company could make pumpkin spice lattes synonymous with fall?) But Starbucks’ crop of mysterious beverages might have you switching up your go-to order.

That’s right, we’re talking about Starbucks’ viral secret menu. Over the past few years, social media has opened our eyes to a new assortment of colorful and tasty beverages. The catch? Since none of these beverages are on Starbucks’ official menu, you have to be, ahem, in the know to order them in the first place.

But while Starbucks’ secret menu might be a godsend for its loyal customers, it’s not all pink drinks and cookie Frappuccinos for the people who make them. What do Starbucks baristas really think of the secret menu? We talked to Vera*, a former Starbucks employee, about what baristas really want you to know about this viral sensation.

Secret Menu Items Have Been Around for a Long Time

Vera worked as a Starbucks barista for a year and half and by the time she left the company in August 2020, almost all of her secret menu requests came from social media. The apps might’ve put Starbucks’ secret menu on the map, but they’ve been around for a while.

“Secret drinks have always been a thing before TikTok came around, but they werent as popular until TikTok,” she explains. “Instead people would just pull up the recipes from food bloggers and now they just follow a TikTok video.”

But, before blogs and social media made them virtual sensations, secret, off-menu drinks were a fun way for baristas to pass the time.

“Baristas have always been coming up with their own recipes for drinks,” Vera explains. “Nothing you could order because it would be like blending a brownie or cookie into a Frapp, which can’t be rung up on the register. I had a coworker who came up with the best recipes like a Frapp with cold brew and java chips. I don't remember entirely but I enjoyed it.”

One of Vera’s personal favorites was mixing a mango-dragon fruit base with black tea.

“That was refreshing and I would recommend it to customers sometimes,” she adds. “It can easily be rang up on the register and easily made.”

They’re Annoying to Make

Imagine: You’re having an incredibly busy day at work. Somewhere between meetings, deadlines and answering emails, your boss asks you to stop what you’re doing and fix a printer’s paper jam. Ugh. Not only will this time-consuming chore throw a wrench into your day, but it’s also annoying. Well, that’s exactly how baristas feel when customers ask them to make a secret drink.

“It’s usually a burden on the baristas when customers order a secret drink,” Vera shares. “Its time-consuming and a recipe we dont know by heart like our on-menu drinks, so it takes time.”

As a barista, Vera would try her best to create positive experiences for all her customers; however, it’s hard to do so in a hectic and fast-paced environment.

“It would be hard to put on a smile when you’re under-staffed, have a line wrapped around the store, required to give out lunch breaks and have to maintain the drive-thru times.”

Yes, that’s before you even factor in the secret menu. We know secret drinks are super fun and photogenic, but you might want to think twice about your order if your barista seems a little overwhelmed.

Have Your Recipe Ready

This might come as a shock to you, but Starbucks’ baristas don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the secret menu. In fact, some viral beverages are completely made-up. If you’re going to order something that’s off the menu, have your recipe ready.

“Customers think the baristas are knowledgeable of the ‘secret’ menu, but they aren’t,” Vera says, “Please, please, please have the recipe or else you aren’t getting your drink.”

So, what would Vera do if she received an order for something like, say, a Twix Frapp? She would ask the customer for more information.

“I would respond, ‘Thats an item we dont have on the menu, do you have the recipe so I can make it for you?’ Usually, it would be children and teenagers that dont have the recipe on hand. I understand – theyre kids. So, if they couldnt find the recipe, I would try my best to make something up for them or give another suggestion.”

At the end of the day, your barista wants to make sure you walk out of Starbucks with something delicious and refreshing. So, why not help them out by having your recipe ready and raring to go?

Try the Frapps

A Starbucks barista may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of secret beverages, but you can bet they’ve tasted some delicious recipes in their day. According to Vera, you can’t go wrong with the Frappuccinos.

“I’m lactose intolerant, so whenever I heard of a secret drink that was interesting, I would try substituting with non-dairy ingredients,” she explains. “The last one I remember was this girl with her family ordering an ‘Ube Frapp’ … Luckily this girl came when it wasnt busy so I made myself a non-dairy version after making hers. It did in fact taste like Ube!”

*Name has been changed at the interviewee’s request.

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