Starbucks's iOS app now lets you order ahead and skip the line

Thanks to your iPhone, you can step right up to the counter and be on your way faster than you can say Java Chip Frappuccino.

starbucks ordering iphone
Derek Walter

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Starbucks orders can get complicated: Getting an upside-down, two pump, nonfat Caramel Macchiato with light ice often requires yelling over the espresso machine and the person in line next to you.

If you have an iPhone, there’s a better way to place your drink order. You can do it all from the Starbucks app—complete with all of those customizations—and then pick up your beverage right at the counter. You pay for it in advance, too, so no need to even talk to the barista (besides saying “thank you,” of course).

I took the app for a few trial runs at nearby Starbucks coffeehouses and came away largely impressed. In fact, Apple could study what Starbucks has built here as a way to inject some smarts into Apple Pay and its upcoming Wallet feature in iOS 9. 

Some hits and misses compared to Apple Pay

Since Starbucks has decided to forego jumping on the Apple Pay bandwagon for in-store purchases, it needed to offer a good solution. (You can use Apple Pay within the app to reload your Starbucks reward card, however.)

In general, it succeeds. Paying with the Starbucks app is a great experience—if you already have an account with a Starbucks rewards card or credit card linked, it’s faster than pulling a card out of your wallet or entering in your PIN. You just indicate what you’d like to order in the app, and tap to checkout. You have to turn location services on and allow Starbucks to access that info—the Order screen will only pop up in your app if you’re within range of a Starbucks location that supports mobile ordering. Also, you have to have a Starbucks rewards card linked, because that’s how you’ll complete your checkout.

starbucks order ready

The app will tell you when and where your drink will be ready.

But the ordering process still feels like it needs to be streamlined in a few places. For example, when sorting through your order, you’d better pick the size of your drink first—changing your beverage size removes all of your customizations. It’s an annoying quirk, and one that Starbucks should fix with future iterations of its app.

Also, you can only look through the details of a drink—like the ingredients and calorie intake—after you’ve added it to the order. I wish you could look at these details first, and then place your order. If you’re a Starbucks regular and you know what you want, you likely won’t have a problem with this missing feature, but it’s just not a helpful browsing tool.

Overall, however, the Starbucks payment experience is vastly superior to the likes of Apple Pay and Google Wallet register systems. With these, you still have to interact with the payment terminal by entering your PIN or signing a receipt, depending on the retailer. I’ve often left wondering why I even bothered to use a smartphone payment when a traditional card would have been just as fast. 

Apple Pay die-hards can still technically use Apple Pay, too. Just checkout with Apple Pay when reloading your Starbucks card before placing your mobile order. That way, you can access Apple Pay’s encryption benefits while still racking up Starbucks rewards points. 

starbucks confirm order

Pay for your drink and find out when it will be ready with the Starbucks app for iPhone.

Of course, this experience should improve with time. And Apple likely has a lot of plans to provide incentives and other types of hooks to get you to pull out your iPhone (or Apple Watch) more often when you come to the register. The slick experience provided by the Starbucks app is definitely a place to get some inspiration.

There’s more to come

The Starbucks’ app payment function is still in Beta, so look for Starbucks to continuously tweak it over time. It also isn’t yet available in all stores—check out their store locator to find a participating store near you. Starbucks also says in its in-store literature that the pay-in-advance feature will eventually come to the Android app.

starbucks past order

Find previous orders or browse through the menu of Starbucks food and beverages.

While there aren’t any statistics available about how often the order-ahead feature is used, every barista I chatted with said they find a lot of people use the feature throughout the day. And I don’t live in Silicon Valley, so it’s a good barometer that many who aren’t tech-obsessed have latched on to this feature. If you haven’t given it a go, it’s worth trying—especially during those times when the line is long and the people are restless.

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