The Human Tolerance Thresholds for Starbucks Lines in the Morning


As a social researcher, I observe as much of my surroundings as possible.  If I notice a pattern that raises a question in my mind, I start testing it when I have the time.  If my pilot tests begin to pan out, then I spend some intentional time on the same question for a cross-sectional, qualitative investigation.

Such is the case with Starbucks lines in the morning.  Having spent many a day at the back of the line, I’ve been privy to comments such as, “Oh Holy Mother of ____, this line is too long…never mind…” or, “Hey, not bad.  I think I’ve got time to wait.”

Some of the funniest people to me are those whose body language clearly shows conflict between the need for a coffee fix and their next obligation.  I’ve actually seen people almost spin in place – stop, hesitate, mutter to themselves, turn back around…and eventually make a decision.  Sometimes their decision is reversed in the middle of the line.  I’ve even seen a “struggler” decide to stay, then get through half the line, then decide to leave, THEN come back and ask the person she was standing next to if she could have her place back.

Having already observed this line-length tolerance threshold pattern and conducted a few pilot tests, I’ve been using this past two weeks as my actual cross-sectional study.  For this post I’ve included five Starbucks stores in the mornings: 2 in a hotel, 2 in a southern regional airport, and one in a north central regional airport.  Here are my findings:

The range of persons standing in line in these collective sites ranges from 8 to 26.  The shorter lines (8 and 9) were in hotel establishments, the longer lines (15, 19 and 26) were in airport sites.  The tolerance level on length of line seems to be positively correlated with the actual amount of space available.  For example, the areas within the hotels were smaller, one was cramped, and people were in very close proximity.  The line in the Atlanta airport was long, had families and strollers camped out (see my two photos) along the way, and there was no “self-negotiation” going on at the end.  It appeared that people could clearly approach and assess the line, easily leave the line, and had the greatest length-tolerance, perhaps because several of them were waiting for a flight that offered ample time for their coffee.

Therefore, my recommendations would be that if you see a line at a hotel espresso bar with less than 8 persons, you should feel glad about the opportunity to breach the “lower than threshold” opportunity.  If you see an airport line with less than 14 or 15, then you’re also beating the odds.  If you are a “struggler,” my advice for your peace of mind is this: do not approach lines at the airport around the 20-ish mark because you’ll get even more frustrated than you already are.

Finally, if you are one of those fortunate people who usually plans ample time between commitments and doesn’t mind the wait, then none of this information will matter anyway!

Disclaimers: The limitations of this study are obvious, no literature review was conducted, and given the number of Starbucks embedded in hotels and airports across the country, these findings could even be counter-representative to national averages.

Thank you, and have a good latte.




2 thoughts on “The Human Tolerance Thresholds for Starbucks Lines in the Morning”

    1. Hi, Darcie! Are you a “struggler?” Ha! Guess what…I am too!! And since you wrote, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I was the “woman” who asked for her place back!

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