Finally I can stop suffering and write that symphony!

As most of you know, I just quit after two years with Starbucks®.  I want to share this with you, should you or someone you know ever contemplate employment with them, or be you just curious about the inner workings, or by some chance just interested in my experiences. In writing and editing this post over the past month and a half I’ve warred with myself on how negative I wanted to sound. When I had a bad day I’d come home and feel like complaining and when I worked with people I love working with I’d come home and feel guilty for being so ungrateful. Today, almost five weeks since I began this post, the pain has dulled a little and I’m left with this weird hodgepodge from both writing while intensely frustrated and writing with weepy nostalgia. (Just kidding, there has been no weeping.) I’ve tried to tone down the disgruntled notes a little while still being honest about my experience. I hope the majority of this makes sense. Without further ado, I present to you my greatly anticipated (and edited) Starbucks® behind the scenes exposé:

I should (sort of) start (is it too late?) by saying that having a job, especially a decent one, is a major blessing. Lots of people are desperate for a source of income and I mean them no disrespect. So please take my whining with a grain of salt and note that I have acknowledged the irony of complaining about having a job by placing this post in my “first world problems” category.

This year Starbucks® was rated #73 of Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for. Probably because they provide affordable health insurance when you hold full-time status (at least 200 hours a quarter or roughly 20 hours a week) and offer flexible scheduling around students and single parents etc. They also give you a pound of coffee a week which is a lot but has a way of disappearing pretty quickly in the form of gifts. You get some shares of the company, which is why they refer to their employees as partners, but you don’t have access to them for two years, at which point half of the shares vest and you’re able to sell just that portion. Then the next year the next half vests, etc. If you and the company part ways before the vesting date, you forfeit your shares. Coincidentally, my shares vested during my last week. Total coincidence!

As is the case with any workplace, all good things, like enjoyment and job satisfaction, rely pretty heavily on the quality of coworkers and management. I have really enjoyed the partners from each of the stores at which I’ve worked. (Of course there have been the people no one likes I haven’t loved working with, but it would be a pleasure not to dwell on that part of the experience.)

I’ve been a barista off and on with different coffee establishments since 2005. There is something very satisfying in feeling like a master craftsmen in a subject for which there is high demand, but let’s be real; such craftsmen are a dime a dozen these days.

Starbucks and I had a few problems, mostly due to my personality and values that didn’t mesh well with the work environment. Namely introversion, sincerity in personhood, and thriftiness. That might sound silly, and maybe even dumb. But having to engage strangers in shallow and bubbly conversation (as my first manager always tried to force me to do) makes me act fake in an unpleasant and obvious way. I understand that friendliness is next to customerservicelyness, but it’s just not in the cards for me to be best buds with everyone! This is not the fault of Starbucks® but more due to the fact that my personality does not allow for social ease. Fighting your nature 95% of the time does not a happy employee make.

In fact, you will be so surprised to read that I am one of those denigrated introverts. Yet you may be interested to learn that with the rise of “The Internets” there is an evolving school of thought that, similar to how left-handed individuals are no longer considered inferior to their right-handed compatriots, introverts are beginning to be appreciated as functioning members of society. (Although maybe “functioning” and “society” are the wrong words to use.) That’s another post for another time, however.

<end pointless tangent>

My frugal soul also recoils at the amount people spend daily on coffee, which contrary to popular belief is a LUXURY and not a NECESSITY. I’m talking about those regular customers who drop seven bucks a day on a beverage without blinking an eye (or better yet, those people who complain about how expensive it is, like it’s my fault, and yet still continue to pay for it.) Luckily for everyone, it’s none of my business how other individuals use their resources, and spending money promotes the economy and provides jobs for thousands of people around the world. I just can’t get over this: according to consumerist.com the average American worker spends $1029 yearly on coffee. That’s the average, so you know the Starbucks regulars are spending just a tad more yearly. Let’s not even talk about the negative effects excessive caffeine and sugar intake has on the human body. I’ll stick with water, thanks.

water: poor man’s coffee that you can also wash your hands with

Basically, enabling debt and diabetes is not something I want to be privy to.

But you know what has bothered me the most lately? It’s the expectations held for Starbucks partners. The expectations  are insane, if you’ll forgive my strong speaking, when you think about how much said “Perfect Partner” is getting paid. Howard Schultz expects us to speedily make tasty, how-you-ordered-it beverages while providing stellar best-friend-like customer service, sell you coffee beans and other merchandise even though you just came in for a frappuccino, keep the store perfectly clean and stocked (especially in the case of an inspection) all while the manager is trying to cut back on labor costs and keep the bare minimum of employees on the floor at all times. Also we should know everything there is to know about how different growing regions and washing methods and roasting time affect the way coffee tastes. Now throw a few brand new people on the floor (with no coffee experience) to be babysat so they don’t screw anything up, while simultaneously taking orders on the drive-thru headset for six venti caramel frappuccinos with extra extra caramel drizzle or a quad decaf americano with three splendas, steamed breve, whipped cream and caramel on top, more commonly ordered as a “Linda”.  At the front of the store, coffee must be brewed every 8 minutes by the barista who is working at the register and writing those drink cups with all their modifications! This is not hard, if you have a person to do each task, but alas, you often have 3 people when you need 6.

So it just doesn’t add up. Your customers expect perfection from you (just as they’ve been promised: a perfectly made beverage every time) and your manager expects perfection from you but you’re not given the resources to accomplish it!

I realize how I will sound after saying this, but is competitive pay too much to ask for the excellence expected of me? I’m not required to get a college degree before applying, so why should I get paid more? Keep in mind that Costco and In N Out are known for both excellence and decent starting pay for their employees. Not to toot my own horn here, but I do consider myself pretty great at my job. I don’t have a naturally outgoing personality and I don’t put that much effort into up-selling, but I am polite to customers, calm, honest, fast on register, I smile, I run a mean bar during a rush and never have I purposefully given anyone decaf who ordered regular.

But I have to admit to the times I haven’t picked up the slack. The times I’ve stood after a rush and talked instead of immediately starting a cleaning task. Increasingly often towards the end, my attitude dipped like a roller coaster and the people I worked with were sometimes amused when I vented histrionically about my frustrations. That’s something I’m ashamed of, because I used to feel that my good attitude was one of my biggest strengths.

I knew I could have taken their reactions to my anger in either of two directions: be like the fifth grade boy whose friends laugh when he says bad words and continue to go the shock value route, or realize that I’m becoming a total brat and get out (hopefully) before I turn into a really ungrateful monster.

So that’s what I did.

I wrote the majority of this post right before I gave notice, so I’m not referring to a recent store meeting during which my new (and now previous) manager set the bar pretty high. I think high expectations from management can be a good thing, as long as they show themselves to be involved members of the team. There is a permanent store manager there for the first time in 8 months (which is not to say anything bad about our temporary manager whom I really liked but more presents the question, how much did corporate bother their heads about us as a store?) The high expectations that I felt coming from the company are now presented by a real person that works in the store and will be responsible for its successes and failures. I think we were all feeling “set up” on some level: given little direction but still pressured to realize perfection. Like some removed and uninvolved higher power was like, “Here, you better do this, but I don’t want to look at you and I’m certainly not helping you out.” Now that someone has things well in hand, I think as a store they can feel secure and supported enough to become a highly functioning place of business. (Proud of you guys in advance!)

Now back to me.

Just kidding. But anyway, back to me.

My future now includes but is not limited to: moving to Texas to nanny for my nephew and new niece! I’m so excited to be a part of their lives. But first I’ll be moving back to San Diego and taking a short sabbatical from a paying job. I’m telling everyone I plan to focus on my art during that time, although I now realize I’m going to be super busy with traveling and the holidays.

I don’t believe in a communistic approach to money distribution, or that rich people are evil. I don’t think the government should take away the freedom of the individual to do with their finances as they choose (I mean what they do with their money legally) and I would never go to a protest because I’m mad that I make less and some people make quite a lot. I think my problem is that I’ve fallen for the lie that money equals respect. Mr. Schultz, you told me how much you thought I was worth when you assigned me a pay rate. Over time my job became increasingly stressful and I came to feel insulted about how much that was. And the bottom line is, I disagree with you. I know I’m worth more than what you’ve offered for my time and effort, so I’m making the decision to take that time and effort out of your company. Isn’t that why anyone leaves one job for another? When the money is no longer worth the pain and heartache? (I have heard that some people like their jobs.)

Maybe Starbucks, despite their lofty goals, just got too big to cover their butts. (Ew?) I mean, with 19,972 stores (according to wiki.answers.com) and 149,000 employees it has to be really hard to keep everyone accountable. But you know what? That’s their JOB. They wanted to keep expanding, assuming profits would greatly increase year after year; I wish they would have taken the responsibility to hire enough people to get the job done well. I wish it was more about quality and less about the quantity of profits.

Like I kind of said before, any company is a sum of its parts, and individual Starbucks coffee shops differ greatly depending on store and district and regional managers. I guess what bred my distaste for the company as a whole is how far the actuality is from their supposed goals. They so obviously only care about money, and I understand, it’s a business and it’s about making money. But don’t pretend it isn’t! Don’t pretend it’s about giving back to the environment, or helping those poor coffee farmers in Indonesia (cause I’m sure they’re getting real impressive compensation for their product) or providing “a third place” for people to relax between home and work. It’s about providing a third place to squeeze every possible cent out of people between their regular meals. Am I embittered? Sounds like it! This is my opinion and if it’s wrong then I apologize for sharing it. Maybe it’s just me and the fact that I don’t consider money as the end-all be-all, but Starbucks, I don’t think we were meant to be together.

So If you’ve been reading this as a fellow low-income earner, or even a fellow partner of starbucks, I want to encourage you not to draw your worth from how much you make or how much appreciation you get. You are worth infinitely more than that.

If you’re reading this as someone who manages people than I encourage you to invest in your human resources. Make them proud to work for you and they’ll work well. If they are a great asset to your company, give them a bonus or something if that’s in your power, or at least make it clear to them how awesome they are!

If you’re reading this as a starbucks customer, I’m not asking you to feel guilty if you don’t give a tip, because I don’t feel that you have to. I am asking you to feel guilty if you treat your barista like a filthy rag. You might be paying a pretty exorbitant sum for a cup of coffee, so yes, expect it to be good. But don’t expect that your five dollars is more important than the five dollars of the ten people that ordered before you. You haven’t forked out quite enough to act like the other humans in your vicinity are insignificant (and yet, a burden) to you. Maybe if you paid $7,429.99 for your cup of coffee I would be more understanding of your snobbery, although that wouldn’t make me respect you more.

I did say I’d share my opinion of the company in case you ever considered employment with Starbucks, and as a short-term source of income they are a great solution. Although I know your experience will greatly differ from mine in one way or another (since no two stores are the same) I just ask you to choose wisely. Make sure you yelp the Starbucks® in question before applying; if people complain about how busy the store constantly is, the manager is probably really stingy with labor and you’d probably be miserable all the time.

So now, dear reader, I leave you with this: I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I’m not really going “to walk alone” as the song would imply since my parents are letting me move back in until February, but I still feel really cool singing along to that song.

(Disclaimer: all stated opinions are mine, I do not know Howard Schultz and he might be a very nice man, and I will dearly miss many of my coworkers. Lots of starbucks customers are wonderful and sweet people it has been a pleasure to know and anything negative I’ve said does not apply to them. I’m grateful for the people who helped me stick it out this long!)

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4 thoughts on “Finally I can stop suffering and write that symphony!

  1. Stephanie,
    I enjoyed reading this. It is a pleasure to know a person who is interested in a quality product and not just the money. As you say, we need to make a living and a business has to keep growing, but I am with you on lets be honest about it, and lets give the employees the tools they need to attain the perfection you are asking of them. Good luck and may be I will get to see you in Austin in February, your cousin Helen.

  2. I just read this for a second time (I read it back in the day) and I think it is quite introspective and well-written. I do not feel my own blog often achieves this particular depth.

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