Has Starbucks Ended The Era Of Free Drink Coupons?

Since the dawn of man — or at least as long as I can remember going to Starbucks — the coffee colossus has given employees the discretion of handing out handwritten free drink coupons. Some customers took this vague offer of hospitality as a chance to push the limits of caffeine delivery. But this informal orgy of free coffee may be entering a more conservative era.

Last week, StarbucksMelody.com reported that everyone’s corner coffee shop is doing away with the system of handwritten “next drink’s on us” cards and replacing them with plastic Customer Service Recovery Cards worth a maximum of $4, which certainly won’t get you this $61 sexagintuple Frappuccino.

While this makes the cards a lot less fun than they had been, the change does ultimately make good business sense for Starbucks. Four dollars is either enough to cover a customer’s next not-outrageous drink, or enough of a discount that they’ll be fine with paying for the remainder.

It also will likely have the effect of limiting the frequency with which employees hand out these cards. Some employees and stores were particularly carefree with their use of the handwritten notes; I once had a co-worker who went more than two weeks without having to pay for his Starbucks coffee because he was friendly with a barista. I don’t see how this could happen with the new system.

And, like other gift cards, Starbucks’ ultimate hope is likely that customers will be encouraged to spend freely when they have a $4 discount to play with. So instead of just offering them offering them a free next drink, they can use the card to buy a snack or merchandise that they wouldn’t have purchased otherwise.

We’ve asked Starbucks to confirm that the reports of the free beverage coupon are true. If we hear anything back, we’ll let you know.

[via Eater.com]