Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Sunday At Starbucks

on 20 June 2010

It all started with getting up at 8:30 am on Father’s Day. Wait, let’s have a little more background first.

I’m not an overly complicated person; I simply know how I like things. Sometimes this means that I do things myself, so that they are done correctly. Other times, it means that I have to leave my final destination in the hands of others and navigate them as clearly and simply as is humanly possible.

Too, I’d like to preface my remarks with the acknowledgement that Sunday mornings at Starbucks can be horrendous. I’m aware of this fact, and always adjust my expectations accordingly. However, I’m also a good judge of what is busy, normal, and slow. Just so we’re clear.

Now, let’s try this again:

It all started with getting up at 8:30 am on Father’s Day. Dad’s choice for lunch was Olive Garden, which opens at 11 am. Thus, in order to get in at the first seating, we had to go to early service. (To be honest, Dad is an early bird who would always prefer to go to 9 am church. Mum and I are night owls. We compromise. Late service it is! But I digress….) So, I’m up early, dressed, make-up on, and I think I even found my right mind! It was a little Father’s Day miracle.

Church was wonderful. The great news is that we were finished with service by 10:15. The bad news is that we were done by 10:15. Olive Garden, if you remember, opens at 11. What to do, what to do?

Oh. How about running to Starbucks?

Hurt me.

So, off we toddle to the nearest Starbucks. Allow me to stress that THIS IS NOT MY STARBUCKS. We good? Okay!

Three of us have traditional orders: Iced Grande Sweetened Green Tea. Tall Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. Iced Venti No Classic Dark Cherry Green Tea Lemonade (it sounds harder than it is). Only one order requires any sort of special attention, so we started there. I needed to mark out 1/2 pound of Three Region Coffee before my benefit expired Sunday night. I’m here, let’s do it now. So, I grab my 1/2 pound and join my family in line.

Okay, this is not my Starbucks. However, I’m in here enough that all the baristas are (or should be, at least) familiar with me. Besides, my family is standing together as a group. Four of us. Just keep that in mind for later.

It’s our turn to order, and I take the ordering/paying lead for several reasons:

1. I’m the barista; it’s literally my job.

2. I’ve got the discount numbers.

3. It’s Father’s Day- no way Dad is paying for our drinks!

First things first. I hand my 1/2 pound to the barista (after smiling and saying hi), and tell her that it’s my markout. Once that’s taken care of, I ask her if she’d be willing to grind it (which they should offer anyway), and if she would brew me a pourover- tall in a grande cup.

For future reference, I’m looking to receive the middle-sized cup containing only the amount of liquid that would fit in the cup to the left. That’s what “tall in a grande” means. The cup to the right is called “venti.” There’s your barista lesson for the day! Oh, and remember what a venti looks like, okay?

Here’s where the visit begins to go awry:

Snag 1: This barista’s worked for the company longer than I have, and she looked at me blankly. Pour over? How does that go again? She looks at her shift, and asks him how to grind and measure for a pour over.

Snag 2: He looks at her as if she’s grown 3 heads. Pour over? Paper filter?

At this point I jump in: you grind for a cone filter. Ahhhhhhh; faces clear up, concern vanishes- this is doable!

Snag 3: Barista comes back. Do I know how much coffee to use? But of course.

Then she disappears. The shift disappears. She reappears. My coffee (bag and brewed) does not. Okay, we’ll give it some time. She hits total. I say I have more drinks. She takes my first drink order. She hits total. I tell her there are more drinks. She takes my next drink order. She hits total. I tell her there’s another drink order (anyone else remember that my family of four was with me? Okay, good.). She disappears. Shift reappears. Other baristas are bustling around. New barista comes on to the floor. My barista is still missing. Customers look at me like I’m the reason the line isn’t moving. I’ve my money in hand; where’s my barista?

Finally, she returns with cups. Crisis averted; I pay.

Vanilla Bean Frappuccino up!

Iced Sweetened Green Tea up!

Iced Dark Cherry Green Tea Lemonade up!

….

….

….

….

….

No 3 Region- bag or brew. Shift won’t make eye contact. Register barista won’t make eye contact.

….

….

….

….

….

I mozy to the other end of the bar, and visually locate their pour over. There’s the 3 Region; it’s done brewing, all ready to go. Two steps behind the counter, and it could be mine! But I’m nicer than that. I continue to wait for my coffee.

….

….

….

….

….

….

Now, granted there was a steady stream of customers, but nothing this store can’t handle. For goodness sake, our store could handle this level of business with 2 people, and they have 6!

Still, I wait patiently (in view of the baristas in hopes of giving a visual cue to them.)

….

….

….

….

….

….

I finally give up. I go over to the family’s table, slump over, and beg Dad to go ask for the brewed coffee. He comes back with….

….

….

….

….

a full Venti. Pop quiz: does anyone here remember what I requested? Yes, that’s right; a tall in a grande cup.

*facepalm*

I’m angry at this point. Incensed. All I wanted was a little bit of coffee brewed, coffee which I provided. Did they listen? They did not.

I still don’t have my 1/2 pound of coffee back.

We sit for a while in the cafe, because believe it or not we did still have a bit of time left to kill. As we left, I went over (business is dead now), and asked the barista if I could get the rest of my markout that they didn’t brew. She blinks; she doesn’t know where it went.

I ask the shift; he looks at me like I’m trying to cheat the company. Ummm, he guesses that would be okay. (Remember, this is MY coffee benefit that I earned, paid for with MY numbers. I’m really not cheating at all- the coffee belongs to ME.) He pours the ground coffee into my bag, and I finally escape.

Annoyed.

Very, very annoyed.

This is the kind of Starbucks experience that gives Starbucks a bad name; this is what some people think of when they hear the word “barista.”

It’s sad, to say the least. No star skills were showing ; there wasn’t even the common courtesy of assuming that a fellow partner knows what she’s talking about when she asks for a certain brew. Lest you all think that I was being a pain, allow me to remind you that nothing here was complicated: they chose to make it complicated. I think I was nice too; I waited patiently, I tipped them, and I used my best manners. I even complimented them on their hand-drawn signage.

So, sheesh.

I’d like to take a minute to personally apologise to anyone for whom this is a “typical” Starbucks experience. If I found it frustrating (and I understand Starbucks), how much more maddening must it be for you all?

There’s a simple solution here: everyone in the world should come to my Starbucks when I’m working. I’ll treat you all correctly!

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13 responses to “Sunday At Starbucks

  1. Melody says:

    I just read this whole blog post. What an annoying experience. At a coffeehouse, the enthusiasm and understanding for a “pour over” should be part of the conversation always. It’s not Starbucks Donut and Venti Sugar Company. E, as an aside, I think you’d be amazed at working here in Seattle. I wish you were here. Hopefully Starbucks can do something to hard reset customer service. I heard a barista tell me last night that Starbucks offers too much customer service – Maybe at one time the service was like that (if that is even possible) but now the pendulum has swung the other way, and there is a sizeable group of baristas (*not the majority*) who only view customers as somehow trying to scam a few pennies from Starbucks (like as if 4 cents in product makes a difference). I’m really rambling now, but I relate to this blog post and understand it.

    • First off, Melody, thanks so much for reading this whole post! It was long. I hope to make it to Seattle sometime in the not too distant future- if not to work, at least to visit!

      My store has a reputation as the friendliest in the area, so sometimes I forget that other places aren’t like us. Customer service (no matter who the customer) has to come first, otherwise you lose what made Starbucks so different from other companies.

      I do agree that customers sometimes abuse this though. We have one customer, for example, who orders a $10 drink, but refuses to pay more that $4 for it. Another customer regularly orders 3 venti drinks, sips one, declares them “wrong”, gets them ALL remade, and walks off with all 6 drinks. Is this fair? No. Does this mean that I’m going to assume that every customer is trying to scam the company? No. If baristas operate under this assumption, then my experience today is in danger of becoming the norm.

      Oh, and I love the title “Starbucks Donut and Venti Sugar Company!” That’s what we feel like sometimes! :)

  2. Carl says:

    I feel your pain as a partner who has gone to another store and been highly disappointed at the experience! I’ve been around two years and can say this has happened to me a couple times over that time.

    Here’s the part where I’m going to challenge you to BE INVOLVED! I am a store manager and I have an intense need for feedback. If something awesome happens in my store, I want to hear about it. If something awful happens, you’d best be damn sure I want to know about that too. Please, please, please take the time to call or e-mail the store manager of this store!

    If you’re not satisfied that the store manager took you seriously, talk to your store manager about getting in touch with the other store or DM. Don’t let another store’s bad behavior be acceptable! You owe it to every partner who puts on the green apron to make sure this isn’t what customers experience.

    As a side note, please feel free to ask for a green apron card while you’re visiting another store. You have to be willing to recognize the excellent if you’re going to truly be involved.

    Maybe post how it goes?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Carl!

      I agree totally with being involved. I happen to get on well with this store’s manager, and none of this would happen on his watch. I may mention it to him if I’ve a chance, but I hate giving negative feedback. I love being able to give him good news- the new cafe pictures are great, the floor looks more organised, etc. He just took over the store 2 months ago, and is doing his best to win over a team way too devoted to the old manager for their own good.

      But I do also agree that I owe it to their customers to do something, rather than nothing. I’ll try to work out a plan this week and if there’s any progress I will definitely post it here. I love this company, and hate having negative things to blog. I’ve two happier posts in the works that I can’t wait to post!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! -MissW

  3. Fox says:

    Firstly, I would like to say I miss Starbucks.

    Secondly, that horrid experience is far from the norm in my area — though the baristas at our Starbucks (read: 17 miles away) are generally uni students that would rather be chugging a 6-pack to impress the drunken jockocracy (read: frat boys). Our Starbucks at the uni isn’t *bad* but it’s not what *I* consider to be good customer service either. It’s nice to see I’m not the only one to hold such standards. I feel like these standards are no longer on a sliding slope but are screaming down a cliff. :/

    Lastly, as a result of the baristas that really aren’t baristas at our Starbucks, I have taken to attending Cafe Amadeus. They have antique sofas, play Mozart softly, and the Boss-Barista (as I call her) is a wonderful Hungarian lady that has told me which cafes to visit for amazing coffee in at least 15 cities around the globe. How can I resist this?! I get a pot of tea on a silver tray with porcelain cups!

    And I still miss Starbucks… I can’t wait until I move to Vancouver. I’m told there’s virtually a Starbucks on every corner! HEAVEN! AT LAST! :D

    • I now want to go Cafe Amadeus. Like, right now! How lovely that experience must be; I must admit that I do wish we had enough control over our music to put on classical. My coworker and I nearly wore out the one classical CD we received last year.

      Standards are slipping. Some of it is because we (the baristas) are worn out. Mostly though, it’s because people don’t feel that this can be a “real” job; ergo, they don’t take it seriously. It’s really more than coffee, it’s about affecting people’s lives. If you aren’t doing that at Starbucks, then you need to move on.

      Yay for Canada; yay for being near more Starbucks! Thanks for stopping by. :) -MissW

  4. culledthoughts says:

    Right Brain says he will tag along next time and get your coffee for you lickity split! =)

  5. […] Sunday At Starbucks « Miss Woodhouse's Musings […]

  6. Fox says:

    BY GEORGE I’VE GOT IT! (or I remembered it…) The real issue at hand is not bad customer service. That’s a symptom of a greater disease. You hit on it with your reply to my comment. The real disease is apathy. I was raised with very strong work ethics and have had trouble finding the same in others of my own generation (I’m 33 for those that don’t know). It’s not to say that younger generations have no work ethics. Clearly they do. But I do mean to say that we appear to be leaking work ethics like a BP well in the Gulf. You dig? (errmm.. ignore that “dig” comment. that was so not politically correct with that previous comparrison.)

    Perhaps Melody said it best when she made the pendulum comment. People in nearly any position that isn’t a dream job just don’t care anymore. Fortunately, as we all know, pendulums swing both ways. It will come back in our direction. Until then we are a rare breed, I think.

    • Heh; I just pictured 100K barrels of work ethic spilling out across the country everyday- not a pretty picture! :)

      I love the word “apathy.” That so accurately describes the feeling; not actively hating work, but not actively caring about anything either. So frustrating.

      The pendulum will swing back one day. It simply must. However, I’ve a real suspicion that it’s going to get much, much worse before it get better, simply because it will take a massive round of slaps upside people’s heads to start effecting change. Unfortunately, those of us who do care about our job are also going to get caught up in the head-slapping, so it won’t be a pretty picture.

      However, it’s got to happen, and soon. Even my little friendly store is starting to slip…ack!

  7. I got to this point in your blog, and I just had to comment. This honestly sounds like every Starbucks I’ve ever visited, (not sure about the exact situation, as that’s one I’ve never been in before) unfortunately. While I love that I know exactly what is going into my coffee and that I can control just about every aspect of it, that’s about where it ends. I really hope that one day I can visit your Starbucks while you’re working, maybe it would make a world of difference.

    • That frustrates me to hear! My Starbucks should be the norm, not this experience. It makes me so sad for customers who spend their hard-earned money for a treat, only to be treated like they are less than deserving. Not cool at all. :(

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