The Office Lab

Coffee Kinesiology


In another effort to boost quality, Starbucks (SBUX) confirmed earlier this month that its baristas would soon be preparing fewer drinks simultaneously. The news sent shock and fear throughout white-collar culture—longer lines are coming to a world in which queuing up at Starbucks is already a daily ritual.

Waiting for coffee isn't merely a hassle: It's a revealing pastime. "When we go in a Starbucks, we're in charge," says Patti Wood, author of Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language. "Our $5.50 makes us kings and queens of our destiny." As a result, Starbucks lines often showcase postures of excitement, Wood says. A coffee break is also a "transition from one focal point of professionalism to another," says Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language.

Just how professional? About 2 percent of the more than 11,000 Starbucks stores are in Manhattan—and one proved a perfect laboratory for Bloomberg Businessweek to study hundreds of people on a weekday. What follows is a taxonomy of the 10 most common Starbucks waiting-line stances, as analyzed by a panel of behavioral experts: Wood; Reiman; Marilyn Puder-York, author of The Office Survival Guide; Don Norman, author of Living with Complexity; and Dario Maestripieri, author of the forthcoming The Biology of Everyday Life. Next time, don't forget the tip jar. We're watching you.


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