Miss Woodhouse's Musings

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

Three Years and Counting

Today is my three year anniversary of working for Starbucks.

It’s hard to believe that three years ago I was sitting in our cafe, filling out tons of paperwork, memorising new policies, and learning how to tidy the condiment bar and the layout of the back room. It was an overwhelming day, but a good day nonetheless.

The last few years certainly were a journey! I’ve had three and a half managers, some good, some bad, and some to be determined; multiple partners floated in and out of our little cafe; customers came and went; babies were born and other dear ones died. I’ve discovered awesome coffees and met great teas.

I’m not saying that things have always been, or will continue to be easy or pleasant. But I do love my job. I love the connecting with the customers, the rhythm and process of making drinks, the rush of creating a drink that makes a customer happy. It’s been a great three years, and I’m hoping to have many more before life sweeps me away from the little green siren.

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”



Bad and Good

As many of you know, I review books for people. Sometimes it is through a random online connection, but most of the time it is through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. This year was very profitable in the book department for me, so I was very excited today when my newest review book showed up in its padded envelope!  So excited, in fact, that I took it with me to work in case I had a few spare minutes.

I didn’t get a chance to start it yet, but already it is sparking some conversations among my coworkers. I should have expected that. After all, here’s what it is:

Oh, loaded title there. Instantly, my coworkers agreed. You see, we live in a very “Christian” community. Just last week someone posted a page out of the Bible on our community board (You’ve got me stumped. There was nothing particularly interesting or evangelical in the posted passage). It’s not uncommon to find tracts in our tip boxes. We know that many of our customers are pastors of local churches.

Unfortunately, some of the people most vocal about being Christians treat us the most poorly. In the interest of fairness, I freely admitted to my coworkers that I was not the best example of a Christian. Being nice, they pointed out that I also don’t try to shove religion down people’s throats while tearing them to shreds at the same time. Valid point, I’ll give them that.

All that to say, I’ve not yet read the book. But the title resonates with people, so I’m opening things up here! If you feel up to it, why not take over my comments box and tell a story of Christians behaving badly? Maybe it happened to you, maybe you were the one misbehaving, but I know we all have these stories and it’s good for us to take a serious look at our behaviour and see where we fall short.

Have at it! In the meantime, I’ll be reading this book. Who knows what it is really about, but so far it has served a good purpose: it got people talking about what is acceptable behaviour, and what is not. In *my* book, that’s a winning result.

Be back with a review soon!

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The Ebb and Flow

I remember last year like it was yesterday. The stress, the uncertainty. Finding out that my Starbucks manager was leaving the store, and wondering who was going to replace her. What would the new manager be like? How would she fit in? What would happen to our amazing, wonderful, top-of-the-district store?

I remember the next months that followed. I remember the stress, the frustration, and the tension that couldn’t hide underneath the surface. There was an adjustment period while she taught us how to work more efficiently, and we tried to teach her how to slow down. Unfortunately, things didn’t always go smoothly. I don’t know that we ever really learned how to talk to each other…I don’t know that we ever could. Too much was different. An uneasy peace finally settled on the store. We all worked hard, but the customers could tell the difference. Too many strangers behind the counter, new faces every week. Drink quality wasn’t as important as cleanliness, so standards slipped. Our customer satisfaction dropped over 30%. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Please don’t get me wrong. I loved the manager we got. She worked hard, and worked with our best interests in mind. But things just didn’t start out well, and there was no recovering.

A month ago, our manager stepped down.

Since then, we’ve been living in limbo. In a perverse way, things got a bit better. We work well as a team, and when there is no manager to mediate differences, then somehow we get along on our own. Tension disappears. We work hard to help each other.

Yet, things still aren’t completely well. We are still too fractured from the effects of the last year. The customer satisfaction keeps slipping. Every week brings a new borrowed partner from one store or another. Every time we think we have a grip on things, everything changes. Our interim manager has been good, but she knows her time is limited. She can’t make certain changes, though I know she’d like to.

Tomorrow, we find out for sure who are new manager will be. The store is holding its breath.

I know who it is…unless the rumours have all been wrong. I’m torn. In a way this will be good for our store: we will be well taken care of, well treated, and our adjustments will be minor. On the other hand, not everyone in the store likes this person. Things may be tense, will be tense. There will be drama.

All we can do is ride out the storm. There has to be peace sometime, there has to be a chance for us to get back on our feet. We are a good store, we can do it! Go team….

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A Starbucks Story

It was the best of closes, it was the worst of closes…actually it was tonight’s close!

We were having a good night. My coworkers were wild and crazy, and there were lots of hugs, jokes, pranks, insults, and songs.

…Justin Bieber songs, but no night is *perfect*.

As much as we hated to do so, shift and I sent our dear singing precloser home a little early to save labour. We were good, we were ahead of the game. We were set to close at 9:30, and get out well before 10.

Then, 9:15 happened. A very, very nice man walked into the store and informed us that he was turning off the water.

Say WHAT?????

I’ve never seen that look of blank shock on my shift’s face before. She just stood there, the Daily Coverage Report about to slide out of her hands. It was…disturbing. So, I jumped in to the situation, chatted with the guy (who was WONDERFULLY understanding), and we negotiated a 10 pm water shut off.

Whew. Disaster averted.

The only problem is that Mr. Water Man wasn’t hopeful that we would have water for open tomorrow. Or for the morning rush. Or, like, until 10-11 am tomorrow morning.

Let’s make a list of why we need water:

Espresso shots

Coffee brewing

Rinsing pitchers

Washing dishes

Washing hands


…just to name a few things.

Oh, and my manager is the opening shift.

So I focus in on dishes. The sooner I could get done, the sooner he could get to work, the sooner we could have water back. Scrub, swish, stack, sanitize, shelve!

It’s now 9:28. Almost there…so close….

…and a guy comes in. Asks if we are open. We say “for a few more minutes” and he says “good, I have a couple of drinks.”

He then proceeds to order:

4 grande caramel frappuccinos

3 grande vanilla lattes

2 strawberries and cream frappuccinos

1 iced grande caramel macchiato

We are down to one espresso machine so I could ensure both got rinse cycles before the drought. We only have out one blender pitcher because we were cleaning the others (see re: coming drought). Oh, and because he is still there, fussing over his order, other orders came in behind him. Somehow, shift and I crank these drinks out in record time, only closing a few minutes after our “shut door” time.

But now we are now *so* behind the power curve.



But there is no recovery. We clock out 10 minutes late, chewing up all the labour we saved earlier by sending Bieber Boy home.


So much promise…so much potential….

Chocolate ice cream? Don’t mind if I do!


Thanks, Dr. Oz….

He is one of those customers. You all know the type- the ones who make you dread coming on shift. The ones who have complicated orders, make unreasonable demands, berate you as you do your job the best you can, put you through the wringer, and then never tip. We have several of those, but one really takes the cake.

He gets a pound of coffee- a specific blend of decaf Sumatra and regular Sumatra. Always. Okay, fine- half-caf, no problem.

In fact, the coffee is the least of the issue.

If you don’t start scooping it before he even walks in the door, he acts as though you are too dense to draw breath. It doesn’t matter if you stand there and recite the order with him- if it’s not ready when he gets to the register, he has to tell you the entire order. EM-PHA-TI-CAL-LY.

He then watches you like a hawk as you walk to the wall, pull the coffee bags (he never brings the coffee to the register himself), and go behind the counter, scoop, measure, weigh, grind, and bag. Then, he…well, wait a moment.

There’s something you all should understand. I’m a closer- I rarely work before 3 pm. When I deal with this customer, it’s at night- like, it’s dark out night. Now, every store has closers like me, and openers who don’t work past noon. Our store has a highly popular opener- he almost never works much past 11 or 12. NEVER at night. Hasn’t for many, many years. Comprende? Bien.

He (the customer) comes in at night. Every night, he asks if this one opener is working. Becomes very upset when he is told that they are not there. Despite our explaining that his favourite barista only works in the mornings, he still comes in late at night for his coffee. Go figure. Apparently, this opener is the “only person” who can get the half-caf right, is the “best employee ever,” and without them working at our location “we wouldn’t stand a chance of staying in business because no one else can do the job as well.”

The first time we dealt with this guy at night, it was me, a shift, and my manager. We all stood there, slightly in shock. The manager tried to laugh it off with the customer… “Yeah, that employee is pretty popular.”

“NO. You all would go under without him.” (EM-PHA-TI-CAL-LY, remember?)

*blink* O-kayyyyy then.

He left at last, his coffee in hand. We stood there, silently looking at each other. Wordlessly, the shift reached over and pulled off three pieces of receipt tape. Scribbling something on each of them, she quietly pinned them to the inside of our green aprons with paper clips. I glanced at what mine said.

Chopped Liver

The three of us burst out laughing. “That’s so we don’t forget what we are without the morning crew.” my shift declared.

This customer has made us feel the same way every visit since that night two years ago. We treat him nicely, but there is still a tenseness to the transaction.

And then, a miracle. They came in the other night, and I immediately started scrambling for the coffee wall to pull the pounds I needed, calling to him as I ran “half-caf, right?”

“No, just regular.”

I swear, I stopped dead in the middle of the café. The shift behind the counter halted too. No? NO? NO!?!?!??!?!

“No,” he continued on. “I was listening to Dr. Oz, and he said that the process used to decaffeinate coffee is worse for you than the extra bit of caffeine. So, it’s just a pound of regular coffee now.”

Do you know how much FASTER his order goes without the measuring and scooping? Without having to assure him that yes, it was the right amount of caf and decaf? Oh, bliss. This is a change we like.

Thank you, Dr. Oz.


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Why We Do What We Do

I am sitting in a Starbucks not my own, watching the dynamics of those around me. This is a young Starbucks…I don’t see or know of a barista working here who is over 30. They get along well with each other, and seem to have a solid customer base.

One if these regular customers is a mentally challenged young man, sitting in the cafe. He knows the baristas and a good many of the customers, and they know him. He wanders for a while, restless. Quiet, unobtrusive, but restless.

Soon, one of the young male baristas comes into the cafe. He takes off his green apron and black hat, and arranges two chairs at a big table. He sits in one, the mentally challenged young man in another. A deck of UNO cards appear, and they play.

For over an hour, they play the game, soft exclamations of UNO punctuating the alternative mix on the radio. This is not the first time I’ve watched this scene play out, and it won’t be the last. It touches my heart- the patience, love, and dedication of time that this barista is willingly making. I leave to run an errand, and come back half an hour later to take drinks to my friends. They are both still there, still playing, still chatting, still smiling.

I would go up and tell this barista how proud I am to have a fellow partner like him, but I wouldn’t interrupt this UNO game for the world.




Doing Shots

There’s very little in life that I love doing more than drinking shots. Espresso shots, that is. My coworkers are almost used to my espresso habits; they only blink a few times when I order my number of shots. Night crew likes to give me a hard time about my espresso habits, but at least I’ve trained the morning crew to understand that without shots I am worthless. When I was working mornings on a more regular basis, the shift would start pulling a quad shot the moment I walked in the door. Even last week- my first morning shift in months- he barely blinked when in the middle of blackout I turned and asked him for a couple of shots whenever he had a second. Moments later, there was a short cup full of espresso sitting by my register. Regulation? No. Did I stop dropping every blessed thing I touched? Oh yes. There is method in my espresso madness.

I’m so used to ordering in a place that understands my need to consume a week’s worth of caffeine in a few sips that I find ordering in other restaurants highly amusing. Like a few months ago. I don’t remember where I was- Panera, Books-a-Million, or some place like that. I had already had a lot of milky drinks earlier that day on shift, so I just ordered a double espresso. The very nice lady behind the counter patronisingly explained to me that “espresso” was a tiny amount of very intense coffee, not a “proper drink.” The look of shock on her face when I simply grinned and said “Yep- that’s what I’m looking for” was priceless. Well, not really. It cost me $1.79, but man was it worth it!

A few weeks ago I went out to see a play with my mum and one of her friends (there’s a write-up coming on that play, just so you know. It was wonderful!). I got a triple tall caramel macchiato before the performance, but by dinner afterwards the caffeine buzz had more than worn off and I was having a hard time not dropping into a carb-induced slumber. (There are way too many places to get great bread around here- that’s all I’m saying.) So, while we poured over the dessert menu, I asked our waiter for a solo espresso to get me through the remainder of the meal. Surprisingly, he didn’t register the shock I’m used to seeing. Maybe he was just well-trained, maybe he saw how exhausted I was, or maybe he’s a closet espresso-addict too. Whatever the case, he brought me my espresso with no to-do. It was my mum’s friend that was thrown for a loop by the cute little chunky demitasse in which our waiter delivered my shot to me. It was a great opportunity to talk about espresso, what it is, what makes  it different from coffee, and why you *really* don’t want to order a regularly-sized coffee cup full of espresso shots.

The most recent incident, and the one that made me sit back and muse over my espresso encounters happened last Friday night. We were having an English Club meeting at a cute little cafe, and I was tired. Exhausted. Worn out. Brain dead. I was the designated driver; I needed caffeine. This particular place used to have a honey latte that was amazing, but I soon discovered that it was no longer on the menu. Not feeling up to anything else, I approached the register to order. Nice young guy- a little baffled by our group, but then again we are an unusual assortment of characters. I asked him if they could do a triple espresso, even though they only listed solo and doubles. He looked at me with a slightly startled expression, but said that he could definitely do it. I said, “Okay, good, let’s make it a quad then.” He stopped ringing. He looked at me. The next words out of  his mouth were “I used to work in a coffee bar, and we were all like that. Couldn’t get enough coffee.” YES! A kindred spirit! I responded with “Yeah, I work at Starbucks.” He nodded, rang up the drink, and that was that. No weird looks, no patronising, no incredulity, just pure understanding. And four shots of espresso.




Hey Soul Sister!

I don’t know how it happened. I mean, I love the song “Hey Soul Sister”- like, realllllly love it. Then one day, I started humming it at work. Once my shift stopped groaning about my choice of music, she looked at me and said, “You know, that song is so you!”

Oh, really? Okay.

Honestly, I thought that it would all fizzle out- I still liked the song, but that was that. Except, that wasn’t that. People started texting me when they heard the song, or messaging me when it came on the radio. It was weird…nice, but weird. To this day, I don’t know what it is about the song that makes people say that it is “me”, but I’m not complaining. It’s a great song, and Train is a great group. Granted, it’s a little weird to get a text that simply says “Your lipstick stains”, but it’s really nice to know that people are thinking about you. Right?

Another random fact about me: I like the Glee covers of songs. Forget the show- the covers rock! I really can’t think of a Glee cover that wasn’t as good as, if not usually better, than the original. So, imagine my surprise and delight when last night I stumbled on the newest Glee cover for this week.

You guessed it! It’s “Hey Soul Sister”!

So, enjoy- I am!


Starbucks Nightmares And A Dream Come True

Every barista will tell you: there’s little worse than the inevitable Starbucks nightmares. Mine started two weeks into my training. Not to be boastful, but I picked up the training very quickly in comparison to the usual course of Barista 101. I attribute this fact to my amazingly dedicated learning coach, and the fact that the whole store jumped whole-heartedly into my training. As a result, I struggled very little with the process.

Except for those Caramel Macchiatos. I just couldn’t get them made correctly. This was ironic, because they have always been my favourite “go-to” drink. Lattes? Perfect. Cappuccinos? Foamy. Mochas? Well stirred. Americanos? Mellow. Caramel Macchiatos? Too heavy or too light. Arg!

As my certification loomed, the nightmares started: night after night I dreamt that I was making a tall Caramel Macchiato, and that it wouldn’t turn out correctly. I’d make them over and over and over and over in my dreams. Even when I mastered the drink in real life, my early struggles would still haunt my dreams. Time and time again the customer would send their Caramel Macchiato back over the bar- too foamy, not sweet enough, too much milk, too much espresso…these nightmare customers were impossible to please.

Finally, they stopped. For two years I’ve not dreamt about Starbucks at all.

That is, until last night.

I didn’t realize just how stressed I’ve been at work lately. Quasa is prowling around my district (for those of you unfamiliar with the company, imagine the harshest, meanest, most stringent health inspection you’ve ever heard of. Then quadruple it. That’s a general idea- it’s really terrifying.), we just totally rearranged our frappuccino station for the millionth time, the new wifi standards have resulted in a full cafe almost all of our open hours, our 1,000 piece weekly roasting plant order is now coming on Friday afternoon instead of Wednesday morning, one of our espresso machines keeps breaking down, our fire exit light is out and they don’t consider fixing that a “priority”, our Siren Sign won’t turn off (which makes it look like we are open all night), we have two new partners in the store, our food and milk delivery comes while we are still open for business, and Simphony continues to kick us in the rear ends. Little things, but taken all together they are super stressful.

The nightmares are weird.

I don’t remember much, but I do remember making frappuccinos on the hood of my car (please don’t ask). Much of the dream centered around unhappy customers, and my attempts to make them “enthusiastically satisfied.” The only thing worse than ornery customers in real life are those dream customers- you just can’t make them happy. In my dream, I was trapped at the bar for hour after hour making drinks, and not getting anything accomplished. Even my drinks were horrible. Silly non-real customers; not that my brain will accept that fact that they are figments of my own imagination….

I woke up as exhausted as if I had worked a six hour shift instead of sleeping safely in my bed for the past six hours. It’s just ridiculous!  My first thought was to have some chamomile tea before bed to calm my brain…but wait! That reminds me of Starbucks. Warm milk? Nope, that brings work to mind as well. Listen to music? No, I’m always haunted by the incessant repetition of our HearNow music selections. So, I’m open to ideas! Send them my way!

Okay, deep seriousity aside…I’ve got AWESOME news!

It’s a dream come true- you can now pay with your Starbucks iPod/iPhone/Blackberry app in corporate stores! Yay! I’ve been waiting over a year and a half for it, and now it’s here! (Still waiting for an Android App, if there happen to be any Starbucks Corporate people reading this. Pretty, pretty please?)

Wait, what?

You don’t know what I’m talking about?

Oh dear, dear….

I’ve only *just* started downloading the Blackberry App, so let’s talk iPod/iPhone. The App is free from the store, and looks like this on your homescreen:

Isn’t it cute? So, you download the app, and then sync it with your Starbucks.com account by signing in. You remember your username and password, right? Good!

Once you sign in, it will sync all the cards and reward information from your account. For example, here’s what my cute little designer minicard looks like on the app:

First off, it looks just like my card!!! *Squee* moment! Okay, coming back down. See my total? If you touch that you can refresh the card’s balance, reload the card, or see transaction history. The other buttons do cool things too, but let’s just focus on the the round button with the blue button that says “Touch to Pay.”

As you might have assumed, you touch this button. The card flips around, and shows you a barcode:

Sorry for the blurring, but I’ve got to protect my card! But you all get the idea. So, here’s how it works. You walk into Starbucks, place your order, and tell the barista you will be paying with a Starbucks card. You can then hold your iPod/iPhone under the scanner. It will beep once, and you’ve paid! Hit the “Touch When Done” button, and it will ditch the barcode, give you your pretty card picture again, and automatically refresh your balance.

You can also see how many stars away you are from your next free drink!

Is that cool or what?!?!?!?!?

Oh, and partners, register your partner card. You can scan it for your discount!

It’s genius!

There you have it: nightmares and dreams come true all in the same week. Here’s hoping for a quiet week- both at work and in my dreams!


Advice For New Baristas

The hiring rush is in full swing at our store. I honestly can’t remember the last time I worked a shift where I didn’t have to deflect the question of if we were hiring, if we had applications, or if I could tell them how to get hired. I’ve even had people who haven’t been bothered to speak to me in years ask if I would put in a good word for them. Um, sorry, no. I only do that for people I like (you know who you are!).

However, it’s inevitable that we will be hiring new people soon. We’ve already had a new partner join us this month, and with two others leaving *sob* we’ll need another new person soon. Additionally, my two year anniversary with Starbucks was 3 weeks ago (yay me!), so I’m ready to impart some wisdom. So, if you’ve ever thought about working for Starbucks, or even if you do, here is some advice!

– First thing, learn the name of the company that supplies your store with the food and milk. Then, learn to say “[Name of company] messed up our order.” Trust me, you’ll use this more than you can imagine!

– Hold your breath anytime you are moving large quantities of matcha power. In this case, “large quantities” means anything more than a scoop!

– Wear black for your first few weeks. You’ll thank me later.

– Don’t open a bag of mocha powder under the air conditioning vent. Especially don’t do this if the air is on….

– Non-slip shoes. Invest.

–  ALWAYS empty out the used whipped cream canisters COMPLETELY into the trash before you take off the lid to wash them. Otherwise, they will spray EVERYWHERE when you take off the tops, because they are still pressurized. Of course, this is also an initiation joke that most partners love to play on newbies so you can pretend to not know this if you like being hazed!

– Speaking of whipped cream- only 16 ounces of liquid in there folks; don’t fill them all the way up. It will never “make more whipped cream”.

– It’s a good idea to keep your own personal sharpie in your apron pocket. Never be without one!

– Don’t ever let the customers rattle you; all you can do is all you can do. If you are on register, take a deep breath, make a joke, ask about their day, basically you can do anything to distract them while you gather your thoughts. On bar, just focus on one drink at a time. Multi-tasking comes with time, don’t try to be super-barista from day one. You will only frustrate yourself! Right now quality proceeds quantity. Repeat after me: “One drink at a time. One drink at a time.”

Moment of honesty here- we all have bad times on bar. I’m pretty good, but occasionally we have a night where we get slammed, people order the wrong thing, and everything generally goes wrong. When this happens, I still think to myself “One drink at a time” until I have everything under control again.

– Shake the soy!!!!!

– Make friends with the regulars. A good, moderate goal is to know 3 regulars by name AND drink from morning, afternoon, and evening by your 3rd month. Come on, I know you can do it; it’s just nine people and drinks! The regulars are what make this job amazing, so jump in and get to know them!

–  Just keep smiling. It makes all the difference.

– Don’t get dragged into store politics right off. Give everyone a fair chance before you start making assumptions about customers and coworkers.

– If you have trouble remembering something you are learning, go home and write it down! It sounds simplistic, but it makes all the difference. I have a little brown book of drink recipes, orders, and policies that I made by writing things down when I came home from a shift. That way, I had something to review before my next training session. You’ll move along faster if you do so, I promise you!

– Remember your Green Apron Values. Those will help you focus on what’s really important.

– Your fellow partners are your best resources! Don’t be afraid to ask them a question if you are unsure about something.

–  However, do keep in mind that shifts are shifts for a reason. If what they say disagrees with what a barista said, listen to the shift. Even if they are wrong, you’ll be better off. Trust me on this.

– Have fun!!!! It’s a great job; so sing, dance, and act crazy!

– Lastly, I’ll pass on the best piece of Starbucks advice that I’ve ever received. My manager told me on my very first day that if I ever started to dread coming to work, I needed to talk to her because something was wrong. That manager might be gone now, but it holds true. Whenever I dread work, I find a shift I trust to discuss my issues with. Usually they agree with me, are having the same problem, or they have a solution. So never suffer in complete silence; that’s not the Starbucks way. Now, don’t take this to mean that you should complain about every little thing that you don’t like, but don’t become bitter about the job. That doesn’t ever work out well.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if other baristas are reading this leave your advice in the comments and I’ll add them to the list! However, this does hit some of the most important things you will need to know to start out well. So, if any new baristas are reading this, good luck and happy brewing!

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