Starbucks is exploring delivery-only stores

After testing “virtual” kitchens in China, the Seattle-based coffee giant is looking to bring the model to the U.S.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Starbucks may test delivery-only or “virtual” units in the U.S.—particularly in large metro areas—after experimenting with the model in China, the coffee giant’s CFO said at an investment conference earlier this month.

“It doesn’t really matter where that is prepared,” Starbucks CFO Patrick Grismer said at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Marketplace Conference. “What the consumer cares about is that it is of high quality and that it’s delivered in a timely fashion. … We’re learning from their experience to understand how we might bring a similar model to life in the U.S.”

In China, Starbucks has partnered with major delivery provider Alibaba to create the “hidden kitchen” for delivery orders, Grismer said.

Starbucks did not respond to a request to comment on their delivery-only plans in the U.S. 

Starbucks launched U.S. delivery in the fall via a pilot program in Miami with Uber Eats. Delivery is now available at 1,600 stores across seven cities. With traffic flat at the coffee chain, the company continues to look for ways to grab customers through all available channels.

The virtual kitchen isn’t the only alternative model the company is considering. It’s also mulling a mobile order and pickup location, without a cafe, in New York City, Grismer said.

“We think [it] would have strong appeal in terms of how we can improve throughput, better accommodate demand, reduce the lines and satisfy customers as we go,” he said.

Starbucks is in a fierce battle in China with Beijing-based Luckin Coffee, the country’s second-largest coffee chain. Last month, Luckin raised more than $570 million during its U.S. initial public offering.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Mendocino Farms masters a meaty Philly cheesesteak sandwich—without the meat

Behind the Menu: The fast casual uses a mushroom-based meat alternative for its Philly Shroomsteak Sandwich, a new menu item targeted to flexitarians, not just vegans.


The restaurant of the future will be a platform, not a chain

Tech Check: Multibrand companies like Inspire and the new GoTo Foods are circling the wagons around technology. Here's why that's a smart idea.


Pipedream wants to take restaurant pickup underground

The startup uses robots and tunnels to move food from kitchen to car. It believes it can one day connect entire cities.


More from our partners