What It's Like Working at Starbucks

The benefits and job security are great, but the pay and career potential aren't so hot, according to employee reviews of working at Starbucks.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. But what might surprise the coffee giant's customers is that working there isn't as easy as you'd think. Just make a pot of coffee and pour it, right? Or mix in a few shots of this and that, and it's ready to go. Not necessarily, according to interviews with former employees.

And if you get a "partner" making your drink while they're having a bad day at work, beware the warm whipped cream that has been left out all day and can ruin your drink.

But more on the hidden side of Starbucks later. First, it's good to have an idea of what you're up against when you walk into a Starbucks. I've always felt like a fool not knowing the lingo when ordering at a Starbucks, and don't think ordering something to drink should be more complicated than ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant.

-- See hourly rates for Starbucks employees.

Many people don't realize that half of a cappuccino is foam, and that the drink can't be ordered cold, former Starbucks employee Jennifer Guild of Richmond, Va., told me in an e-mail. " I was always happy to help a customer understand how the drinks were made so they could ask for extra pumps of vanilla or less foam or 140 degrees, " Guild wrote -- but don't ask the cashier to spend five minutes describing how every drink on the menu board is made at 7AM on a Friday.

Instead, she recommends coming in at 3PM Wednesday to ask about drinks when the store isn't so busy. "Sometimes they might even have something that they can let you taste so you can see the differences in the drinks they are telling you about. I would say that there are no real trade secrets at Starbucks – it is just learning how a drink is constructed so the customer can ask for and get exactly what they want."

Consistency is key

That's the point of going to Starbucks or any other chain -- it tastes the same at every Starbucks you go to. Just as a Big Mac is the same at every McDonald's restaurant. It's also that precision that can make working there difficult for people who think making coffee is easy.

Guild said employees must like working in a fast-paced environment that can be stressful and physically demanding, such as standing on their feet for hours at a time.

"We had a retired lawyer who was a regular customer (so you would think he saw how busy we were and how much stress there could be) who wanted a part-time job just to stay busy after he retired," Guild wrote. "He started at Starbucks and lasted less than two weeks. He said he had no idea how much it took to be a good employee. I also had another guy who I trained for weeks and weeks and he just wasn't getting it. He felt like I was being too hard on him but he just couldn't grasp the basics. After about three months he left the company. He said he thought it would be easy to sling coffee, but at Starbucks all the rules made it very hard. But, looking back, I think it is important that Starbucks has so many rules -- that way you can get the same-tasting drink (hopefully) from any store in the country."

- See hourly rates for a retail store manager, a retail store assistant manager, and a retail sales associate.

Some 'dirty' little secrets

As with anyplace where food or drink is served, there are some things customers may not want to know. Here are some from Kelly, a New York resident who didn't want her full name used, and worked at Starbucks for several years on the East Coast:

  • The coffee is not always fresh. Often, employees start a new urn on top of the remains of the cold coffee, so the new stuff mixes with the old. There may not be a freshly done urn all day.

  • Not everyone keeps track of regular or decaf. Many times, she said, she found regular coffee in the decaf hopper or vice-versa.

  • If the coffee is bitter, it is often because the urns are not cleaned at all or not cleaned properly. Clean urns are the key to good coffee. Employees clean them infrequently or don't clean them thoroughly, leaving residue behind. Sometimes there is no urn cleaner (a powder called Urnex) for weeks because the manager has not ordered it.

  • There are good employees and bad employees. Bad employees, if they are at the bar making drinks, can easily screw up your drink. Employees don't always follow the recipe, so they might put in the wrong amount of syrup. Or they are careless with the frappuccino and give you light rather than regular or vice versa. They keep the whipped cream out, letting it get warm, which wrecks it.

  • You will be told the store is out of an item, but it is actually in the back stockroom or the employee is too lazy to look for it.
  • When we run out of vanilla syrup, we substitute sugar-free vanilla (which does not taste the same at all).

  • Often if the drink is bitter it is because the espresso machine has not been cleaned or maintained properly. It might have coffee residue or the wrong temperature. The shots are not timed properly. (Most customers do not complain, however.)

  • The carafe/Thermos jug at the condiment station may be labeled wrong. In my store, if we ran out of half-and-half, people would make it by mixing heavy cream with skim milk. This doesn't work because it separates.

We should point out that these issues should not be assumed to be common at all Starbucks, and are only the opinion of one former employee.

Next: Trade Secrets from a Waitress >>

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October 11 2011 at 5:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People, as much as you don't want to believe in it, this is standard at many, if not all starbucks. Actually, this isn't BAD. Bad is when people don't label the ingredients properly (expired products), don't clean the pumps for the sauces (rotten mocha/chai anyone?), and there are rodents in the traps. Somehow that passes health inspections. I work at a starbucks...

August 19 2011 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you had read the article with intelligence, it said this did NOT apply
to all Starbucks.....duh.

February 08 2011 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Seems like the slams against the company were from disgruntled employees who had no work ethic. All of these "problems" appear to be laziness on the part of the employees reporting them for the article! Why didn't YOU change the decaf to regular when you noticed someone screwed it up? Also, so what if Starbucks or Seattle's Best charge more? They started the companies to SPECIALIZE in coffee-making, not churn out crap (i.e. Dunkin Donuts, McD's). Who's REALLY getting ripped off? LOL

July 29 2010 at 8:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love my starbucks. Easily the best job I've had. Sorry, but there are "bad apples" at EVERY restaurant who give the whole company a bad name. Case in point: my last job was McDonalds (overnights.) The gentleman working grill dropped a chicken patty on the floor, picked it up, and put it right back on the sandwich IN FRONT OF THE MANAGER. My job before that? Panera. Don't get me started on that disaster. Managers often left coffee sit out for 5+ hours, half and half and skim bullets sat for 12 hrs @ room temp, etc. In my training @ Starbucks, all rules have been very strictly enforced, and the partners LOVE their jobs. Customers are regulars mostly, and the partners know their name and regular drink by heart. I adore this job, and kudos to starbucks for giving me the opportunity when the economy right now is not favorable to job seekers.

June 23 2010 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Starbucks was the worst job I ever had. The employees at these stores all have a chip on their shoulder and the management just feeds you lines of useless garbage. Getting a bad "partner" to do the right thing is near impossible. You are just expected to pick up the slack where others leave off and not bring the attention of the managers to bad workers or slow/sloppy workers. Working for this company is a joke and I have no idea how they make any money. I guess it's just like apple. A bad product with a great advertising campaign. Sigh... Lie to your employees and they will lie to your customers.

June 21 2010 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"When we run out of vanilla syrup, we substitute sugar-free vanilla (which does not taste the same at all)."

And does the Starbucks that does this know that there are people who have major physical problems with artificial sweetners? What are they thinking???

Sigh....can I trust that this is not done in other Starbucks?
I am afraid that for now...until Starbucks can reassure the public that their employees do the right thing with their products, going to Starbucks is out for me.

June 20 2010 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If the Starbucks was that dirty and bad that you worked in, and it bothered you... why didn't you clean something? I work in a store and we clean and we maintain cleanliness and we are proud of our work and our drinks. If your store was such a poor store, why didn't you either do something or quit sooner because obviously it didn't bother you to work for a manager that allowed a store to serve bad drinks and poor working conditions.

June 20 2010 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with other reader's posts - this is a list of the worst possible things that a store could do. If Aaron's store did all of these things, then its an awful store and someone should look into it. I worked at Starbucks and I know that we never did any of this horrible stuff. The company has specific rules regarding the quality of products and anyone taking part in the things mentioned in this article is violating procedure. Rest assured Starbucks lovers, these things are probably not happening to your coffee!

June 20 2010 at 10:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think most people who are bashing starbucks don't really understand coffee AND are just satisfied buying their folgers at home coffee. that's fine, but i do believe what starbucks was built on still stands true. they try VERY hard to perfect their coffee and provide customers with the best of the best. If you go into Pete's or Caribou, its the same price. thats typical prices for todays world. I went to mcD's to try their espresso bevs one time and i KNOW they don't time their shots. Their employees are not trained on these machines and if you want to have poor quality coffee for less, do it. But starbucks has had workshops after hours on how to perfectly steam milk, how to pull the perfect shot, etc. They closed all the stores down at one point just to do re-train everyone so we were all on the same page. Now, managers sometimes can suck, and their employees are the result of it. if youre going to a bad store, its poorly managed. all of my stores have had very hard working managers and they took pride in what they did. this article is sad.

June 20 2010 at 10:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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