Instructional Design at the Coffee Shop

“A good plan is like a road map; it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there”.  –H. Stanley Judd

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. –Benjamin Franklin

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow”. –George S. Patton

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else”. –Yogi Berra

Platitudes such as these extolling the virtues of planning and warning of the pitfalls of not planning are littered throughout our culture.  For example, banking commercials encourage us to start planning and saving for retirement or a child’s education.  Travel companies suggest we plan for a vacation.  Colleges, universities, and vocational schools coax us to earn a degree and/or training toward a new career and a brighter future.  Children’s stories such as “The Little Red Hen” celebrate deliberate planning and execution, while even the Judeo-Christian Bible inspires readers to “write the vision (i.e. plan) and make it plain”.

In education, planning has become a major component of instructor workload.  In addition to preparing weekly lesson plans, teachers meet with colleagues regularly to plan curriculum and ensure vertical alignment of learning objectives.  Teachers also meet with administrators to plan goals for professional development and performance evaluation.  Finally, teachers collaborate with students, parents, and other stakeholders on 504 plans, IEP (Individualized Education Program) plans, and behavior management plans.

Central to educational planning is the idea of instructional design.  Instructional design is defined loosely as “a process for helping you to create effective training in an effective manner” (Piskurich, 2015).  Or more specifically,

“Instructional design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure quality of instruction.  It is the entire process of analysis of learning needs and goals and the development of a delivery system to meet those needs.  It includes development of instructional materials and activities; and tryout and evaluation of all instruction and learner activities” (Berger & Kam, 1996).

What is important to note, however, is that instruction is not something that is limited to a traditional classroom; rather, instruction is employed wherever and whenever an idea, process, or procedure must be conveyed.  As such, instructional design is everywhere: at the mall, at the grocery store, and even at your local coffee shop.

Starbucks Coffee is the largest player in the coffee industry, controlling nearly 60% of national market share (Team, 2016).  This is due in no small part to its customer experience, which CEO Howard Schultz says aims to create a personal experience that comes to life for the customer (Allen, 2017).  Instructional design is central to achieving this vision; from the moment you walk in the door, you are being instructed how to have the Starbucks customer experience.  Examples of this include:

  1. The physical layout of store itself –nonverbally directs patrons where to line up and order, where to pay, where to pick up their order, and where to get supplies (napkins, straws, stirring sticks, sugar, etc.)
  2. The menu – provides instruction on how to order, including name of product, sizes with proprietary terminology (tall, grande, vente), options for customization, and calorie counts
  3. Product placement –provides all necessary equipment and supplies, encouraging and equipping customers to continue the Starbucks experience at home
  4. Trash/recycling receptacles –labeled with both words and pictures to instruct customers on how to responsibly dispose of waste
  5. Other signage –placards use pictures to remind customers about the option to place their order ahead of time using a mobile device. Store hours are posted on the door to let the customer know when/how long they can experience Starbucks.  Step-by-step instructions with words and pictures in the restroom instruct customers and employees on proper hand washing technique, as well as send a message to the customer that cleanliness is valued.

Through execution of these and other best practices, Starbucks has become a model that organizations try to emulate.  Three major takeaways for instructional designers in all fields are:

  1. No detail is too small or should be overlooked. The more detailed your plan, the better the chance of your objectives being achieved.
  2. Use non-verbal cues and instructions whenever possible. Minimize instructor-led learning, instead empowering the learner to take the lead.
  3. Make learning an experience that the learner will want to return to again and again.



Allen, S. (2017, Jan 27).  15 insights from a customer experience master Howard Schultz/Starbucks. Retrieved from

Berger, C. & Kam, R. (1996). Definitions of instructional design.       Retrieved from

Piskurich, G. (2015). Rapid instructional design. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Team, T. (2016, Oct 13).  Starbucks is maintaining its competitive edge. Forbes. Retrieved from

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