Not really, but I did learn some valuable lessons while schlepping espresso drinks as a barista and shift supervisor during college in the 90s.
1. Some people in this world are nuts. You must learn to be patient. Back before baristas were allowed to write names on cups, patrons would try to trip you up. I’ll have an extra hot triple grande 1 ½ squirt valencia ½ squirt mocha nonfat no whip mocha valencia, please. I felt like a dancing monkey stumbling my way through repeating an order like that. One woman used to come in with her own thermometer just to be sure the barista steamed her cappuccino to a steamy 165 degrees. I learned that patience is key in life full of nut jobs. Otherwise you become one of them.
2. Treat people with respect. Stand up for others and yourself. Starbucks protocol required you placed a lid on a drink before handing it to a customer so he or she didn’t spill it and sue the corporation. One day a female customer screamed at the barista working at the bar next to me. A barrage of expletives hurled out of her mouth at the poor barista for putting a cap on her beverage and squashing the foam on her cappuccino. Sometimes the customer is not always right. I marched over to the woman and said, “Look, lady. Do you realize you’re screaming at her over a $3.00 cup of coffee? If it’s that upsetting to you, we can make you a new one. But if you ever talk to an employee like that here again, you will never set foot in this Starbucks again.” It’s important to treat people with dignity and respect.
3. Just because you have money or power, doesn’t mean you deserve special treatment. Stay humble. I worked in downtown Santa Barbara a few blocks from the beach. Many celebrities frequented the place. I won’t name names, but there were some cocky arrogant patrons. One evening a well-known actor banged furiously on the door after we had been closed for a good thirty minutes. I refused to open the doors for him just because he was a celebrity. Nothing is more tasteless than a person who thinks he or she deserves special treatment because of his or her fame. Stay humble.
4. Never date someone at work. If you do, be professional about it. When preparing the daily deposit in the office upstairs one afternoon, I heard screaming and the sounds of whipped cream chargers. A barista couple got into a lovers’ quarrel when there was a line of customers spilling outside the door. They screamed and sprayed each other with whipped cream. It was all over the shop and the stairs. It was the first time I fired someone. Leave your baggage outside of the work place.
5. Your health should always come first. One busy Saturday evening I was working the bar. I had two piping hot Americanos in both hands when another barista slammed into me. The beverages tumbled down my shirt, scalding me. There was no time for modesty. I threw my shirt off, rushed to the sink and let the water run down my bra and chest in front of a packed store for a good 15 minutes. I had first and second degree burns and ended up driving myself to the emergency room with dirty damp bar towels pressed against my chest. But putting my health first, saved me from some nasty scars down my neck and chest.
6. Always be prepared. Starbucks spies showed up unannounced from time to time. You never knew whom they were, but you would get a report card in the mail for your customer service. You shouldn’t just be your best when you know someone is watching. Always be your best to the best of your ability.
7. Life is twisted sometimes. You just got to laugh it off. Crazy things happened all the time in the shop. One day I noticed a woman had been in the bathroom for a good 30 minutes. Being the only female barista on the floor, my coworkers appointed me to check in on her. I knocked. No answer. I knocked again. Still no answer. I tried the door. It was unlocked. There stood the woman dancing naked in the middle of the bathroom with simple syrup dripping all over her. I slammed said door and called the police. Life is twisted. Enjoy the ride.
8. The early bird gets the worm. I have always been an early riser. You can get so much more accomplished in life that way. The best summers of my life were spent opening the shop at dawn. By early afternoon I punched out and walked four blocks to the beach to sunbathe. A few hours later I would go to happy hour at El Paseo, my favorite Mexican restaurant, and repeat the process all over again the next day. I miss those summers. Early to bed, early to rise means a paycheck, sunshine and fun.
9. Be creative. Think outside of the box. Starbucks had such stringent recipes, but the best drinks were always those created by the employees. We used to fill whipped cream chargers with syrups and mix all the ingredients into our own concoctions. It was far more fun to be creative than stick to the rules sometimes.
10. Give back to the community. A little goes a long way. Say what you will about a monster corporation like Starbucks, but they do give back. If you worked just 20 hours a week, you earned full health insurance benefits, a pound of coffee a week and discounts on retail. Plus we used to donate all the pastries to a local homeless shelter at the end of every night. We donated coffee to charity and community events on a daily basis. Employees were rewarded and encouraged to complete community service. One of my favorite community service acts was painting lines on a playground and walls inside the local Boys and Girls Club.
My undergraduate years were tough. I went to school full-time and worked forty hours a week. I used to not sleep one night a week (not recommended) just to get all of my school work done. I also drank up to eight shots of espresso a day by the end of my barista career. But I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. I learned a lot of life lessons working at Starbucks, which I still carry with me today.