They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but one in four Americans skip it. Of those, no small number are passing up a bite in the morning for the most common of stimulants: coffee. And when you have a go-to source for that caffeine fix, any disruption to the routine can be an enormous shock.
Enter Dunkin’, the donuts and coffee chain that has 8,500 locations spread over the country and serves millions their morning joe every day. The brand isn’t just popular but symbolic of regional and working-class pride, especially beloved in New England (where it was founded) and for its no-frills approach amid more bourgeois cafés. That famous millionaires like Ben Affleck are still hooked on this cheap coffee — the actor has been photographed carrying huge cups of the stuff enough times to basically be the face of Dunkin’ at this point — grants the beverages something like meme status.
Allegiance, however, can only be stretched so far.
Dunkin’ last week announced a revamp for its loyalty program of eight years, DD Perks, which has now become Dunkin’ Rewards. Among the changes touted are that members will earn points faster and need fewer in order to start claiming rewards. Customers who visit 12 times a month are to enjoy a “Boost Mode” loyalty tier with additional benefits for the following three months.
Company president Scott Murphy said in a press release that they hoped to persuade more people to start collecting points. He also claimed that they’d made changes to incorporate feedback while “introducing new and expansive ways to continue to thank our longstanding loyalty members.” It’s rather an odd statement, since those members are actually pissed, and venting their wrath across social media. A tweet asking that all of us “collectively manifest the downfall” of the updated app summarized the mood.
The r/DunkinDonuts subreddit has been in turmoil, rocked by the realization that the new system is not so favorable to customers as the old. “As someone who almost exclusively orders cold brew at Dunkin, I find that my free drink goes from 200 points to 700 points,” griped user u/arjen4life, who said they would now save $300 a month by ditching the chain altogether. Redditor u/waldesnachtbrahms observed that under the new rules, Dunkin’ no longer offers a free birthday drink (as rival Starbucks still does). “I did that math,” wrote user u/Quack-Zack, of an advertisement promising better value with Dunkin’ Rewards. “I’m making LESS points and unlocking LESS rewards thanks to this new stingy system.”
At a time when an overwhelming portion of the country is wracked by financial anxiety and “recession fatigue,” it appears that losing the daily advantages of DD Perks to a corporate maneuver is the plastic straw that breaks the camel’s back. At the same time, Dunkin’ — which recently lost the edge it had over Starbucks during the pandemic thanks to its plentiful drive-thrus — must have noticed the pinch from all those giveaways. The result is a retail standoff for the ages.
In private messages, u/Quack-Zack explains to Rolling Stone that the frustrations are varied, first and foremost being tweaks to beverage rewards. Before, he says, you would spend $40 and “automatically receive a coupon that could be redeemed for a drink of any size available on the menu, minus luxury additions like whip cream or cold foam.” With Dunkin’ Rewards, he says, you have to spend $70 for a free espresso or cold brew, and a whopping $90 to earn a signature latte. Dunkin’ did introduce the option of redeeming your points for food items, yet this is meager consolation for the many customers who often just buy coffee. As an irate loyalty member put it, Dunkin’ Rewards would be “the reason I start hard drugs.”
Raza, a 30-year-old in New York, tells Rolling Stone in a private Twitter message that he’s definitely a Dunkin’ “loyalist” and “unfortunately won’t be much longer” thanks to the rewards reboot. He “used to go to Dunkin between two to four times a weeks, 90 percent for drinks,” he says, exemplifying the issue with lackluster beverage rewards. He figures he’ll switch to “Starbucks, outside carts,” or “might also just buy a Keurig.” He adds that he’ll miss Dunkin’s iced latte, as well as the brand’s “quickness and simplicity.”
Grant Goodman, an actor known for his role as Freak in the fourth season of Stranger Things, remarks in a private message that his office in Atlanta is “done” with Dunkin’, where someone had routinely run out to buy four large coffees a day. Although the local Starbucks is equally convenient they’ve opted for a more extreme solution: “We’ve started ordering Red Bull in bulk from Staples,” he reveals. Will he pine for any Dunkin’ specialties after making the break? “Iced chai latte and grilled cheese,” he says.
Dunkin’ devotees are angry not only at the overhaul but what they see as the franchise trying to pull a fast one with misleading figures. “They truly must think all DD customers are math challenged,” redditor u/ychuck46 concluded on a thread about the devaluation of the company’s “Mobile Mondays” promotion. Amanda, a 41-year-old in suburban Chicago, says in a Twitter DM, “It just feels insulting how they’re making the rewards out to be something great when anyone who actually does the math can see it’s not.” She started going to Dunkin’ in March 2020, when Starbucks was shuttered by the pandemic, and “stuck around because the perks program was so good!“ Now she’ll either go back to Starbucks “because I can at least get whatever drink I want for 150 pts ($75 bucks in orders),” or make her own coffee. She’ll mourn the loss of Dunkin’s “avocado toast with tomatoes on it,” which is “better than you expect.”
Although Dunkin’ has been directly berated on their social channels of late, the company did not immediately offer a comment on the backlash when contacted by Rolling Stone. (A publicity rep for Ben Affleck did promise to ask for his take.)
A few, meanwhile, don’t understand the outrage over Dunkin’ Rewards. On r/DunkinDonuts, redditor u/Getsuga__tenshou quickly grew annoyed with all the posts threatening boycotts and predicted that the loudest critics would be “back soon anyways.” In messages with Rolling Stone, they argue that the adjustments to the app were inevitable, because “it was easy to rack up points and get a free drink, but it was too easy. Dunkin’ was losing out on too much. With inflation, product shortages, supply issues, and hour cuts, I knew something would be done,” they say.
There’s truth in that, of course. But it’s still a bitter brew to swallow.