10 Truths About Working for Starbucks

In August 2013, I got hired for my first official retail job: being a sales associate for Teavana, at the time part of the Starbucks franchise. By January 2017, my location had officially closed, and I became a Starbucks barista.

Let me start this off by saying I never had any intention of working for Starbucks. I loved my tea job. I loved being “the leading authority on tea” as it required me to continuously learn about the product I was selling. I had customers ranging from little leagers who wanted a healthier alternative to juice to women going through chemotherapy. It was a rewarding job, and the only skill that I could use from my four years at Teavana was my customer service. I didn’t know anything about the difference between a latte and a cappuccino; I was going in a completely naïve individual who just needed a job. I didn’t realize I’d be here nearly two years later with a completely different skillset.

Working at Starbucks is, arguably, simple. You take orders, and you make the drinks. This is what I assume most people believe to be the only thing we do. Not one week into my Starbucks career did I realize that making a drink for someone could either make or break their day. Again, arguably, there are some things that our customers should understand that will make our day a little easier. By “easier” I don’t mean simple, but a kind customer with a complicated order is very different from a rude customer with a simple order. Please take some of these statements into consideration the next time you visit your local cafe.

**These are not universal. I will not jump to conclusions about every barista feeling this way. This might apply for non-Starbucks baristas, but these are statements I’ve derived from my personal experience.

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  1. Part of our job mission is to make Starbucks your “third home.”

The “third home” is something Starbucks makes sure their employees are aware of. The third home is the place away from work and home where a customer can feel comfortable and welcomed by familiar faces with the promise of good service and a good conversation.

It’s very noticeable when our customers are having a bad day, so please excuse us if we seem “overly friendly.” It’s part of our job. We don’t want to give you any reason to think we’re contributing to the Monday blues. Yes, we ask a lot of questions, and we try our best to smile as much as possible. We might ask you how your day is going or if you have any plans, but trust me, it’s what we’re told to do.

The degree of customer service is very subjective to where you are. For example, a café in Greenwich Village will not have the same kind of customer interactions as a café in Chesapeake. We will cater to our customers’ attitudes and the kind of interactions they might expect based on the attitude of the surrounding area.

I’ve heard customers belittle my coworkers for being “too nice too early in the morning.” Believe me, we’d rather be as grumpy as you’d expect us to be, but this is our job.

  1. A customer only becomes difficult when they forget that they aren’t the only one ordering.

Hypothetically, any drink can be made with ease. When we have the time to process what’s in a complicated order, it might take us a moment, but we can accommodate the numerous modifications people make to their beverages. The moment the café gets crowded, we’re suddenly faced with twenty orders and over a dozen people staring at us in the hopes that it will make us move faster.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

The entire gimmick behind Starbucks is that you’re getting high quality hand-crafted beverages. The concept of “hand-crafted” alone should insinuate that this takes a reasonable amount of time to create something. We’re held to a standard, so that even if you go to the Starbucks a hundred miles away, your caramel macchiato will surely taste the same as it did when you visited my location. In order to adhere to this standard and ensure that we are making your drinks correctly, you need to allow us a reasonable amount of time to make sure we’re doing our job correctly. If I mess up your drink, I’m going to remake it. I’d rather make sure this beverage is perfect than have you leave feeling like I did a half-assed job.

  1. We love it when customers are familiar with us.

The first time I realized that I’d been making the same drinks for the same people every morning was when a customer, Amy, looked up from her phone call and said “Girl, you need a vacation.”

From that point on, whenever Amy came in, we spoke about different drinks she should try and what modifications she can make to her drink that would work well with her health goals. Aside from Amy, there’s Raven with her grande Starbucks Doubleshot on Ice with eight pumps of white mocha and cream and James with his iced grande nonfat triple white mocha with no whipped cream.

We get to know you whether you’re aware of it or not. If you’re a regular, at some point we realize that we’ve become part of your daily routine, and we’re okay with that. With the familiarity, we’re able to recognize when you’re in a good mood and when you’ve had a terrible day. It’s like seeing a therapist; we’re that completely uninvolved third party you can speak to without any bias. I’m just the barista who makes your drinks, but now I’m also the familiar friendly face you can count on to give you the drink you crave every morning.

These customers are actually integral to us having a good shift. The kindness goes both ways. I can expect one customer to joke with me about how we’re fans of rival baseball teams, and I can expect another to ask about my day and genuinely care about my response. Regardless of how difficult some other customers can be, we look forward to these regulars to make the day go by smoothly.

We can’t expect you to treat us with kindness or with the intention of friendship, but a small interaction of genuine concern and care is enough to ease the stress of the job and get us through the day.

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  1. Yes, we get frustrated, and it’s because of the job.

So again, this job is, arguably, fairly easy. See a sticker, make a drink, call out the name, and repeat. In theory, this is simple.

Now let’s factor in the actual job.

This mostly applies to Drive-Thru Starbucks locations, but we are held to a different standard that our customers often aren’t aware of unless they’ve also worked in food service. What you don’t see when you’re in the window is a monitor above us that counts how long you’ve been in the window, and the success of our business lies entirely in the concept that we’re getting someone’s drink and breakfast out that window in under 40 seconds* (this varies depending on the area).

The only part of this that we can control is the speed at which we can get your drink started and completed by the time you drive from the speaker box to the window.

A simple mistake of not being ready with your payment on time or adding two more drinks at the window can make or break our day – but in the eyes of our superiors, this is not seen as your fault but ours. While we would never tell you to hurry up or to be more prepared next time, we can’t help but be frustrated because we’re being graded based on factors that we can’t control.

That small pressure of knowing that I have to greet you, take your payment, and give you your order without seeming hurried or rude all within a short window time can definitely incite some pressure and frustration on us.

Every Starbucks café is a well-oiled machine, and one hiccup in the routine can set us back in a way that can only be voiced out through our frustration. We try our hardest not to let this affect our work, but, hey, a lot of us are young and can only handle so much.

  1. We know you’re in a hurry – but so are they.

Yes, we see you standing there with the scowl and your arms crossed over your chest.

Yes, we know you’ve been waiting a few minutes for your drink.

No, you don’t realize that there are ten people waiting in front of you. Please be aware that we make our drinks in order. Your schedule is no more important than the person in front of you. We have to treat all of our customers equally, and if that means you needing to wait behind a few other people, then that is what will happen.

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  1. We are very familiar with our menu and its recipes, but are you?

Between the no foam cappuccinos and the hot chocolates with no mocha and no vanilla, we get a lot of orders than seem very odd, but we still make them based off what your order is telling us.

Now, I can’t type up an entire article over the difference between a latte and a Frappuccino or give you the anatomy of a cappuccino versus a flat white, so we’ll just leave it with this simple plea.

If your order is not what you expected because you were genuinely confused and just made a bunch of modifications to a drink which resulted in a beverage that is the opposite of what you wanted, please talk to us first.

We have no problem educating you on our beverages. We don’t expect you to know everything, but when you pick up your drink that was made based on what you told us to do, do not respond with insults and raised voices. We literally did what you told us to do – you just asked for the wrong things. That isn’t our fault. In a way, it isn’t yours because you didn’t know any better. However, we’d rather you drop your pride a little by asking us to explain things to you. It won’t deter from our jobs to tell you why a drink is made the way it is.

Over a week ago, I got my first bad Yelp review because a woman didn’t like her drink. She said that her venti iced caramel macchiato had “too much milk” even though the anatomy of the Starbucks caramel macchiato is 70% milk. She used her review to call me and my coworkers “entitled” and followed up with how our entitlement makes us purposely give people the wrong beverages.

If your drink is not what you expected, tell me.

If you don’t like the drink you thought you’d enjoy, tell me.

If you thought that this drink was something else, please tell me.

I will remake your drink for free, and I will tell you what is in a drink so this will never happen again. Let’s skip the degrading comments, so I can help you be familiar with our drinks. I would gladly hold a seminar to explain what’s in every single drink on our menu, but it’s not my responsibility to tell you any of this unless you ask me first.

  1. We make mistakes.

Just as every repetitive action can call for one or two mistakes along the way, we, too, make mistakes.

Please remember that a lot of the people who work for Starbucks are young. Some are in high school, and some have never worked in this industry before. While we do our best to make sure that we do everything to standard, sometimes we can slip and make mistakes.

Again, please respond kindly. We don’t know why people respond to us with anger when a drink can easily be remade.

  1. We appreciate the creativity.

That being said… the Secret Menu is not real. Stop treating it like it’s real.

To all those wonderful social media platforms, to the TikTok users, to readers of those compilation blogs: please stop telling your fans and your readers that people can order these drinks.

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The humorous part of these articles is that they acknowledge that baristas get frustrated when people order Secret Menu drinks. Ever wonder why? We don’t get frustrated for our health, it’s actually for a very simple reason.

We have no idea what you’re talking about.

Jack Skellington Frappuccino? Maleficent Frappuccino? Wonderful movies, but did anyone ever stop to think that there’s no way a huge coffee conglomerate like Starbucks would ever go through all the legal channels to make a drink in collaboration with a huge movie franchise? No, these are not real.

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For arguments sake, yes, we know, we can easily make them.

Yes, we know that these are very well our ingredients. Yes, we know that we gave people the ability to add modifications to their drinks. Thank you. We are very aware of these things.

Secret Menu drinks are literally called such – not because it’s not on the menu – but because, quite frankly, they’re a secret to us, too. It’s a secret because someone somewhere put some bullshit together and added a theme to it.

I will gladly make your caramel Frappuccino with half a pump of hazelnut and mocha drizzle.

But the moment you start belittling me because I don’t know what the heck a “Willy Wonka” Frappuccino is, I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to stop you right there. It is not in my training to be aware of every secret menu drink in the world because these drinks are not formally recognized as official Starbucks beverages.

To clarify again, we can make these drinks! But do not expect us to know what it is simply because there’s some Instagram user somewhere who came up with a Friends Frappuccino. Sorry, we are not omniscient.

If you are going to order a Secret Menu beverage, we ask that you look for a café location (not a drive thru), bring the recipe, and have a picture ready to show your barista. Choose a café location because they don’t have to worry about drive-thru times so they can make your drink more thoroughly. Bring the recipe because some drinks have different variations depending on who you ask, and have a picture ready because if you’re only getting this drink to show off to your followers, we need to make sure we’re not blending a bunch of bullshit together but creating something worthy of a picture.

  1. There’s a reason why we work here even though it can get difficult.

How many non-Starbucks employees actually know that Starbucks will pay for a college degree? How many of you know that you can start your 401k or apply for health insurance? There are other reasons to keep pushing through. We can quit at any time. Starbucks employees are highly sought after for retail jobs because the company has such high standards for their operations.

I might complain about the customers, I might get frustrated with my coworkers, I might not understand anything that’s going on with corporate, but the benefits outweigh the stress.

  1. This job has taught me how to treat people properly.

We see a lot of odd people throughout the day.

We see mothers yelling at their children, and we see children yelling at their parents. We see businessmen who treat us like we’re nothing while we treat them with respect. We’ve seen our tip jars get stolen, and we can’t do anything about it. We’ve seen practically everything.

To anyone who says that this job is easy and we chose to work here, yes, you are right. I won’t argue with how simple this job can be at times.

But I was hired to do a job. I was hired to treat people with the utmost respect and to put my biases aside to ensure the comfort of my customers. I was hired to contribute to a small part of someone’s day.

I was not hired to be belittled. I was not hired to baby you along the way. I was not hired to be the doormat to the start of your morning.

Despite all the benefits of this job, the disrespect we get from our customers can be unbearable at times. There’s no reason to throw racial slurs around. There’s no justification for calling my LGBTQ+ coworkers a derogatory term. We hire all walks of life just as we cater to all walks of life.

Please remember that this job only exists because you need your coffee. All the complaints, all the “controversies” – remember that you do not have to come here. There are hundreds and thousands of coffee shops in your neighborhood, and they would gladly accept your business. You can’t insult the business that feeds your addiction because at the end of the day, you’re funding this industry, and it’ll only cease to exist when you stop buying into it.

Treat your baristas with respect like it’s your job. One day, I’ll be gone from this café forever, but I’ll still treat people like they’re my customers. No, you aren’t always right, but I will happily show you what I know if it makes your day a little better.

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