We All Somehow Survived The 5-Hour Starbucks Register Outage

On Friday, people across the United States and Canada banded together to get through a crisis. Payment systems at corporate-owned Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada went down, leaving about 8,000 stores unable to collect money in exchange for food and beverages. While the crisis only lasted for one afternoon and evening, Starbucks managed to thrill customers by giving food and drinks away instead…and raised a lot of questions about the flaws in modern payment systems.

While some stores closed early to deal with the problem, others stayed open and gave food away instead. “Imagine all the customers we’ve surprised and delighted – those customer will be loyal to Starbucks,” one employee explained to unofficial fan blogger StarbucksMelody. That’s true, but Melody also points out that much of the food given away would have been donated or thrown away if the stores had simply closed their doors for the rest of the day instead.

About 60% of stores were part of the outage, as well as a few Teavana tea bars. Teavana mall stores use a different register system and weren’t affected. Computerized point-of-sale systems are essential in the modern food business: they don’t just validate credit cards and keep track of customers’ loyalty points, but they collect data about what’s currently selling in a given geographic location at a given time of day.

This outage shows how vulnerable a chain can be to glitches in the system, though: while Starbucks might have bought some customer goodwill with free drinks and snacks at some locations, they also lost what must have been millions of dollars in revenue.

Starbucks breakdown shows how registers have evolved [Associated Press]