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Originally published February 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 12, 2008 at 11:52 AM

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Starbucks stores to shut 3 hours on Feb. 26 for retraining baristas

Starbucks will close 7,100 stores nationwide for three hours on the evening of Feb. 26 to retrain about 135,000 in-store employees and people...

Seattle Times business reporter

Starbucks will close 7,100 stores nationwide for three hours on the evening of Feb. 26 to retrain about 135,000 in-store employees and people who oversee the stores.

"We will have all new standards for how we create the drinks," said spokeswoman Valerie O'Neil. "They will be trained in creating the perfect shot, steaming the milk and all the pieces that come together in a drink."

Some people have speculated Starbucks will return to manual espresso machines, but O'Neil said the espresso-making equipment will be the same. "It's really about ensuring that the customer experience that we provide is the best that it can be."

Starbucks began informing workers over the past couple of days. It will close company-operated stores from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. local time Feb. 26.

There are also some 4,000 U.S. stores licensed to do business with Starbucks in supermarkets, airports and elsewhere. Workers in those stores will be retrained at about the same time but not necessarily on the same day, O'Neil said.

The retraining is part of Starbucks' plan to revive its brand and sales growth, which by one measure sank to an all-time low last quarter. Chairman Howard Schultz last month returned as chief executive to oversee the turnaround.

Starbucks already has said it will slow U.S. expansion, grow faster in foreign countries and stop selling warmed sandwiches.

Monday, it announced a switch in wireless Internet providers and said it will offer two hours a day of free Wi-Fi to certain customers.

More changes are expected to be unveiled at the company's annual meeting March 19.

In an interview last month, Schultz said he was committed to "reinvent and reinvest in training the likes of which we have not done."

"I think our people are the reason we've been successful," he said.

"The equity of the brand is based on the experience they create, and we want to unleash that creativity and that passion. They have it. We just have to give them the tools and the resources for it to come out."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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