What does Red Cup Day mean at Starbucks?

Bruno Cooke November 17, 2022
What does Red Cup Day mean at Starbucks?
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images


Since 1997, Starbucks has rolled out its annual Red Cup Day, meaning anyone who orders the right drink from the right store can get a free reusable cup.

To be clear, customers have to order a handcrafted holiday/fall beverage from a participating US store in order to be eligible to receive a limited-edition reusable 16oz red cup. 

But what does the giveaway mean? What is its purpose, besides promoting the brand?

Here’s a little look at how Starbucks has framed its Red Cup Day promotions in the past, and what it tells us about what it’s supposed to mean.

Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

What does Red Cup Day mean at Starbucks?

“Ring in the holidays,” reads the official Starbucks Red Cup Day announcement for 2022.

But the holidays haven’t begun yet. We are approaching Thanksgiving, however, and Black Friday. And Christmas is (sort of) right around the corner.

The combination of Starbucks’ festive lexicon in promoting its Red Cup Day and the very obvious redness of its limited-edition reusable red cups certainly suggests the company means to make its customers feel festive. Christmassy. Spirited.

Also, customers can only get the red cups if they order a holiday (or fall) beverage, such as a chestnut praline latte or peppermint mocha. And the cups have snowflake graphics on them. So at least part of the meaning behind Red Cup Day is about celebrating the festive season.

“Our gift to you,” said the corporation to its customers.

But there is another meaning behind Starbucks’ Red Cup Day

Starbucks’ 2021 press release regarding its red cup giveaway that year stresses that promoting reusability is “a key part of Starbucks’ ongoing commitment to reduce single use cup waste.”

The company’s goal inapparently to “reduce waste by 50 percent by 2030.”

Clearly, the way to reduce single use cup waste would be to not offer single use cups. Then, Starbucks could instantly eliminate its single use cup waste, by as much as 100%. Single use cup waste only exists because of companies like Starbucks making single use cups so readily available to customers. 

It is, in other words, a corporate choice. But so is giving away free reusable cups. Starbucks even claims that, for 2022, the red cups it gives away as part of Red Cup Day consist of 50% recycled material.

The Wonder | Official Trailer | Netflix

The Wonder | Official Trailer | Netflix

How big are Starbucks’ reusable red cups? Size and capacity explored

The size of a Starbucks 2022 limited-edition reusable red cup is 16oz.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the Role Models scene in which Paul Rudd fumes at a barista for telling him “‘venti’ means large,” 16oz is the size of a ‘grande’ drink at Starbucks.

And, for those predisposed to metric measurements, 16oz is 473ml, or just under half a litre.

“Yeah,” Rudd seethes in the movie. It’s a comedy. “‘Large’ is large. In fact, ‘tall’ is large, and ‘grande’ is Spanish for large. ‘Venti’ is the only one that doesn’t mean large. It’s also the only one that’s Italian. Congratulations! You’re stupid in three languages.”

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What drinks do you have to order to get a free red cup?

The full list is as follows: apple crisp oat milk macchiato, caramel brûlée latte, chestnut praline latte, hot chocolate, Irish cream cold brew, peppermint hot chocolate, peppermint mocha, peppermint white hot chocolate, pumpkin cream cold brew, pumpkin spice latte, sugar cookie almond milk latte, toasted white hot chocolate, toasted white chocolate mocha, and white hot chocolate.

Starbucks has assured customers they can get their Red Cup Day cups “however you order,” meaning you can celebrate even by ordering via your smartphone. 

The Christmas blend brewed coffee and Christmas Starbucks reserve aren’t eligible for the promotion.

For a final note on what this year’s Red Cup Day means for Starbucks as a brand, the 2022 collectible cup comes with a “special message to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Starbucks holiday cups.”

So shoppers are celebrating three things: Christmas, sustainability, and… Starbucks promotions. See all of Starbucks’ previous holiday cups here.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.