Improving Point of Use Lid Storage at Starbucks

By Ron Pereira Updated on October 11th, 2022

On a recent visit to a Starbucks inside the San Francisco airport, I snapped a picture of their cup lid dispenser.

Starbucks lids in a dispenser

As you can see they store lids in this unit and present it close to where the “final assembly” Barista does their work.

I liked that.  No walking and limited reaching meaning the waste of motion is minimal.

What I didn’t like was how the lids in the highest section were almost empty.

As such, reaching these lids would be harder since they are much deeper inside the storage unit.  I couldn’t tell if there were different sizes of lids in each section.  Perhaps there were.

What would you do to improve this?

If Starbucks hired you to help improve this particular point-of-use lid storage unit what changes would you make if any?

  1. Gabe

    January 31, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    I’d spring load each area so lids were always presented on top. Also need some sort of signal to reload before they run out. Maybe different colored lid like Kleenex does.

  2. rbmckenz13

    February 1, 2012 - 7:17 am

    Similar to Gabe. Rather than the lids being retrieved from the top, how about flipping it such that the lid is pulled from the bottom. Might need a flapper of some sort to keep all of the lids from falling out. Like a Pez dispenser! Also, put a kanban in there like Gabe suggests. A trigger to go and get another stack of lids.

  3. Phillip Martin

    February 1, 2012 - 7:30 am

    I agree with Gabe, to an extent. The spring loading was my first thought also. Then I noticed that the lids are much smaller than the holder tops, so spring loading would accomplish as much as inverting it, they wouldn’t stay in the holder. I also noticed that the dispenser is wedged between a pane of glass and the machine, this has got to make it difficult to get the lids once they get so low. I also noticed that there are 3 slots and the lids you do see are in fact two different sizes.

    If the lid dispenser would not be too tall if set on top of the counter on this side of the pane of glass, that would the most viable solution. However, you would still be left with having to reach deeper once the lid quantities got so low. So assuming the dispenser fits on the counter and doesn’t make the openings too high to comfortably or easily reach, I would use two dispensers and plug the bottoms. When one gets empty pull from the other and let someone else know you need a refill yourself between rushes.

    The other solution would be to purchase a dispenser that is either spring loaded or is inverted gravity fed. You would still probably want two dispenser slots per lid size (six total) to serve as a kanban. Those are my ideas for what I can see in the picture. Thank you!


  4. Phillip Martin

    February 1, 2012 - 7:48 am


    I apologize! When I was writing my response, your comments were not visible to me. Maybe they would have been if I would have refreshed my page before replying to the question. So apparently, when you go to view the webpage, if any comments are made while you are there, you would have to refresh to view them. I do like that we had some of the same points. Just wanted you to know why I did not reference your post in my orignial reply. Thank you!


    • Ron Pereira

      February 1, 2012 - 8:18 am

      Hi Phil, to fight spam and any inappropriate statements we approve comments which is why you didn’t see the others right away. Sorry about that!

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Phillip Martin

    February 1, 2012 - 7:50 am

    An inverted gravity feeder would allow FIFO if you loaded from the top and dispensed from the bottom.

  6. Todd Pait

    February 1, 2012 - 8:57 am

    I like some of the ideas that are being presented and are worthy of testing. Maybe consider grouping the different cup sizes with their corresponding lid (i.e. a stack of tall cups with a stack of tall lids, and so on). That way one does not need to make a decision twice regarding size. Otherwise when the loader selects a stack of tall lids, the person completing the drink needs to make the same decision again as to what size lid is needed. Labels are helpful, but if possible eliminate having to make that decision more than once. What do you think?

    • Steve Lewis

      July 5, 2012 - 8:14 am

      Hi Todd, another way to look it it is for SB to reduce the number of lids (choices) to just one by designing the cups to all have the same opening size. I believe the job to be done is to prevent spills (liability for SB), not to have nicely organized lid holders.

  7. CB

    February 1, 2012 - 10:21 am

    One easy option while the more sophisticated spring loaded ideas are tested:

    1) Move the holder so it sits flat on the counter. Cut down the sides of the dispenser. The lids are designed to stack so why have the high sides? Finally, put a label on the slot to indicate 12 oz, 16 oz., etc.

  8. M Thornburg

    February 1, 2012 - 12:43 pm

    @ Gabe, @rbmckenz13 @philp martin
    It was mentioned earlier – an inverted gravity feed system that is fed from the top with the lids up-side-down would be my preference. I would have a slot in the side of it so could see the volume of lids in the dispenser with a refill point marked x/x down the tube. I would have the lids upside down so as a lid is palmed off of dispenser, it ready for immediate application onto the cup. Rather than a flapper, I would simply have a gasket at the bottom to provide a friction feed to hold lids in place. I would make the refill length of the dispenser equivalent to the suppliers package length of lids to minimze handling when refiling.

  9. Anonymous

    February 1, 2012 - 3:21 pm

    Water Spider Standard Work…

  10. K.Crittendon

    February 10, 2012 - 2:28 pm

    I would opt for the brand and style cups that utilize the same rim diameter for all cup sizes so there would only be one lid for all cups. I would go with a single spring loaded tube recessed down into the counter so the top lid is presented at the same height as the tallest size cup. Or I would opt for the bottom feeder mounted above the work surface for FIFO. I would also create a flat surface (beside the recessed tube) or (under the above mounted tube) marked “Place Cup Here to Attach Lid” so there is always a solid clean surface to push against while pressing the lid.

  11. Steve Lewis

    July 5, 2012 - 8:25 am

    Another way SB has leveraged the Lean is to have the customer place the cup into the cardboard protective sleeve. If you remember not too long ago the barista placed the cup in a sleeve. Today, at least in every store I have visited, the barista gives the customer the cup, sans sleeve, and the customer has the tray of sleeves on their side of the counter. This is one less step required of the barista and reduces cycle time for servicing the customer and possibly reduces the number of sleeves used which saves in operating expenses (possibly a favorable unintended consequence). Clever!

  12. Jonathan Kennedy

    August 24, 2012 - 4:30 pm

    I find this interesting as I’ve often wondered why SB or other coffee companies haven’t thought of this area for improvement. I like the concepts of a standard lid for all cups and I like the ideas of staging. This discussion made me think back to one of the best SBs I’ve ever been in which was in NYC and they had actually implemented a solution of sorts for this. Due to space limitations for the store and demand for expedited service they store was very streamlined and a lot of the unnecessary accoutrement was just removed (frankly I don’t want to buy a French press at 6:30 in the morning I just want a cup of coffee). Their solution for the lids was that they were on the employee side of the counter and would be presented for the customer on the rim already (either pressed in place for drinks not requiring additional doctoring or placed askew for those that needed cream, sugar or other additions).

    As a black coffee drinker I was in and out of the store inside of 2 minutes which was a welcome change from my local store where I can expect to wait up to 5 minutes for a cup of black coffee and then waste an additional minute or two looking for the lids and sleeves.

    Great discussion though, this has made me think of how many of our daily experiences I can utilize in my discussions with the group at the office to get them thinking LEAN outside of the office/plant.


    PS – As a long time viewer of Gemba Academy videos I can’t help but hear Ron’s voice in my head when I read his posts.

  13. Bunny Slippers

    October 10, 2022 - 11:37 am

    The ideas are all very thought-provoking and appreciated! As a Starbucks barista, any item on the counter during the busiest times is subject to saturation by syrups, milk products, and coffee. There’s no way around that. Gravity May or may not not allow the barista’s wet, sticky fingers to pull one lid at a time during “splash-pool” peak hours that may stretch into hours, rather than minutes.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.