Posted on by Barista Life

This response was originally posted on Quora.com, by Alecia Li Morgan, a 5 year partner who started as a barista and eventually made it to Store Manager.  To read the original response, click here

What is it Like to Work at Starbucks?

What is it like to work at Starbucks?Wow, this is a tough question to answer. There's the day to day what is it like, and there is the big picture what is it like. I've toyed with trying to answer this before, but got intimidated by the daunting prospect of trying to pin it down in words. But for you, Steve, I'll give it a try!

Day to day:
  • Schedule: Just like most retail jobs, the hours are variable and off-kilter with other people's "normal" schedules. Generally, my shifts could start anywhere from 4am onwards, and would end anywhere up til midnight or so (later on nights we did sets for promotions and holiday), depending on what the particular store's hours were. There was no such thing as a set schedule, even as a store manager, and week to week, day to day, my hours would flip-flop. The worst were the nights when I'd "clopen" (close then open). Although theoretically, the scheduling guidelines were that we'd have at least eight hours between shifts, that just doesn't always work out, for various reasons. And as a leader, I made sure that if anyone had to do it, I was the first on the list, if at all possible. Getting home after 11pm and needing to be back and perky (har har) at 4am sucked, I won't lie. But you also get those moments of showy bravado then. Once you've done it a few times, you're a veteran, and you can shrug it off with casual nonchalance. Pride moments. As a store manager, my average week contained two opens, two mids, and a close. (At the store where we had more business in the evenings because of being a college town, this was two opens, one mid, and two closes for me.)

  • Tasks/Responsibilities: From Barista to Store Manager, there are certain tasks that we all did. Cleaning: from the bathrooms (major cleaning at least three times a day, with checks every ten to fifteen minutes) to the floors, counters, tables, chairs, condiment bars, trash cans, drivethrough (checking for trash, emptying trash cans), any patio areas (wiping tables, sweeping messes, etc), backroom (dishes, floors, mop sink, etc), and the obvious front-of-house cleaning tasks (floors, sinks, counters, machines, pastry case, refrigerated case, etc etc). Restocking: under-counter refrigerators (Milks, soy, any prepared items we used like eggnog, etc), refrigerated case (any RTD - ready to drink - items like bottled frappuccinos, juices, waters, and also the lunch items like the fruit & cheese trays, sandwiches, etc), pastry case, condiment bar (sugars, straws, stir sticks, napkins), things behind the counter (cups, lids, syrups, etc)... Dishes - endless work here! Prep (mixing mocha, and, back in the day, frappuccino mix, etc). In remote markets, pulling the frozen pastries for thawing. Rotating stock so we followed a FIFO rotation instead of a FISH rotation (first in, first out instead of first in, still here). Putting away our weekly (or bi-weekly) order deliveries (you would not BELIEVE the mountain of boxes your average Starbucks receives and has to put away every week. Whew. This was my least favorite thing.). The lists go on. We had to fill out a Duty Roster (check and initial) of all the things that needed to be done and documented. We did routine maintenance and cleaning on all of our machines, from the bean grinder to the ice machine.

  • Manager duties: in addition to those (and more), I also took care of scheduling, payroll, performance management, recognition, training, hiring (really the entire talent lifecycle), ongoing development of partners, community outreach and service projects (my stores did a lot of things, from donating hair for cancer wigs to whole beans for the troops, volunteering together for charity marathons, and participating in local schools' charity events and fundraisers as volunteers and donors, to name a few). I tracked the P&L statements and worked on all of our controllable costs to keep us under budget. I took care of the daily deposits, till adjustment, managed the safe w/appropriate change (never rob a Starbucks, the safe doesn't hold much, and it's almost all in coin - very heavy and tedious!), made bank runs, audited our tills and deposit logs, etc. I received the mailpacks, made sure company directives were followed, and tracked our customer survey responses and complaints/feedback.

  • The Obvious: And of course, we all worked the store front. My favorite place was at the bar, followed by working the drive through. I got good and fast at making drinks, and I took especial pride in making them to the best of our abilities (given the equipment and supplies), and doing so quickly. Plus, at the bar, I was able to also make conversation with the waiting customers, and I loved to talk with them and get to know them as I made their drinks. I loved the quick pace of the drive through and the seemingly limitless line of people to talk to and help. I loved things like when a line of paying for the person behind would begin. The longest one we ever had was at my Davis, CA store, where we once had a string of 47 (!!) cars paying for the person behind them. It only ended when things slowed down and we had no next car. We all cashiered. We restocked things. We cleaned.

  • It was fun, it was tough, and it was always interesting. We'd learn how to make such stiff foam that you could (literally) balance a nickel atop it without it sinking, and we learned how to steam eggnog so it wouldn't scream (aerate it more than normal milk!). We'd create crazy and innovative drinks and sample them out to our customers. We'd host coffee tasting events and machine demos. We had Christmas parties in the store, and we handed out Christmas cards to our regulars. We had amazing store meetings, and we really loved our customers. Truly, this was a great place to work.

That's the day to day. But what is it really like to work at Starbucks? I only have my own experience (and input from my former partners, many of whom I still keep in touch with from all over the country!) to draw on, and of course, everyone's time is different, depending on their team, their managers, their own spirit and commitment, and just what kind of fit it was.

For me, this was my perfect fit. Outside of being a mother and working with my children, Starbucks remains the place where I was the happiest, most passionate, and the place that I'd return to in a heartbeat, when I am ready to re-enter the work force.

This is a company that cares for its partners. It's a company that cares for the world it operates in (so much more than most companies, though of course, there is no perfect company). It's a company that knows how to inspire passion and loyalty in its partners and customers.

I wanted to work at Starbucks originally because I was in college, and I needed a job to fit around my schedule. I'd just moved to Davis, and I needed some new work. Working at school didn't fit my schedule anymore, so I thought, why not Starbucks? I liked the beverages (okay, at that time I *only* ever drank a frappuccino, but still!), but more importantly, everyone always seemed so happy** and upbeat. They seemed to love their jobs. I wanted that. And I pursued it shamelessly. I visited daily for my drink, turned in my application, and asked a couple times over the course of a couple weeks if the manager was in, introduced myself, and explained that I had applied. I got an interview, and during it, I felt like I was already a part of the team. I'd dressed all in black (nice black) because I knew that's what they mostly wore. I didn't understand the concept of dress-for-the-job-you-want in so many words, but I got the idea. And it worked. My first manager hired me, and she later told me that she felt, during our interview, like I was already a part of her team! Awesome.

It was the right decision.

Although at first, I struggled with some of the more extroverted tasks***, I figured it out, and I really, truly blossomed there. I moved up fairly quickly (about seven months after hire, I became a shift supervisor, then another year and I was an assistant manager full-time, and another year, and I was a store manager), and I never looked back.

Yes, there were frustrations and there were days when I thought I was in the wrong place. But they were minor or far between. Difficult customers, difficult policies, etc, are obstacles you face in every job involving customer service or retail. But no company has ever made me feel so empowered to help. As a barista, I could comp someone's beverage if they had experienced a problem or offer a free drink card for the next time if they'd had too long a wait. I could remake their drinks on the spot. I didn't need approval, and I didn't need to refer them to some 800 number for that (though we did offer the number/email if they had other things they wanted to contact the company for). And as I got higher, the things I could do to "make it right" were there in my own grasp.

The teams, overall, were amazing. Yes, we'd occasionally have the sour partner who was a "burnt bean," or the partner who was just doing it for the money and benefits, and didn't really give a crap about the job. But overall, every team I worked with was amazing. They were diverse, they were fun, and they were passionate. Even the part-timers in high school or college, or the ones who worked it as a third job for the benefits, cared. We all took ownership in our stores, and when that happens, everyone wins.

As for leadership - I cannot stress enough how amazing 99% of the leaders I got to work with and learn from during my time with Starbucks were. I was incredibly lucky with DMs (district managers) for the most part. My first DM, Dave, was this incredibly inspiring, warm, genuine person who took the time to make ME feel valued. He made me feel that he saw potential in me and understood my passion for the company, and he is the one that encouraged me to really start a career with Starbucks, shifting me from part time towards management and a real commitment to the company. In North Dakota, my first DM there was Jared, and a more amazing manager to help me in that time of transition and growth I could not ask for. This is a man who had worked with Mother Teresa. Who had such a passion for service and social responsibility that he could literally inspire the room with just a few sentences - quiet, thoughtful ones. Our regional manager, Denise, took time to write me a welcome card, to make sure to connect personally with me both on calls and in person when she would come tour the state. Who wrote me a sincere, loving note when I had my first miscarriage. These are people who cared. Smart hiring by Starbucks? Yes - but more importantly - smart culture. This is a company that draws people who love, who give, and who care.

As a partner, I got to do some amazing things. In North Dakota, we participated in the Fargo Marathon, and we sponsored the last mile (we'd hand out water, cheer them along, hand out coffee to the bystanders, and sold Fargo Starbucks mugs made especially for us for this occasion, thanks to one very persistent Fargo Starbucks store manager - normally the mugs were for cities of 1M+ or popular tourist places/historic things). As a store manager, in 2008, we had our convention in New Orleans, and we had amazing meetings, talks, and did some fantastic community service projects to help the city.

So, what's it like to work at Starbucks? It's like being part of one of the best teams, the best companies, doing amazing things, having fun, helping people, and making connections. The perks? We're doing those things while serving coffee and trying to make people's days in just the few moments we get to interact with them. For every person who wished we'd just give the coffee quickly and quietly, there were four more who loved the interaction. I've been away from the company for three years now, and I still keep in contact with a multitude of my former customers and partners. And I had this experience as me. Not as a successful, well-educated graduate of an Ivy league, not as a brilliant mind or leader in this day and age, but as someone who might otherwise be considered a failure. Where else can someone like me really shine and feel both impactful and empowered? Not too many other places.

I'll leave you with just a few of my favorite Starbucks related pictures:

My team in Davis circa Christmas 2006 (We decided to have a DRESSY Holiday meeting, so we took a fancy team picture after! At this time, I was an ASM)

Yup, I loved Starbucks so much, I wanted my store to know that I was thinking of them, even when I was away in HI getting married! (Also, I "earned" my first pocketed apron - a brand new innovation then! - by wearing it over my dress)

Married a few years, then, you know, just had a little baby barista, no biggie!

That same year, got to meet Howard while at our Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

LOVED the warm welcome the City of New Orleans gave us. Amazing. I had tears in my eyes almost this entire trip, for various reasons, almost all good (I cried like a baby when the video of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina was shown)

The partnership with (RED) was announced at this meeting too, and, oh yeah, Bono was there (I did NOT take pictures of this, I was too busy being in awe!)

While working on my community project with Crescent City Art Project, I got to meet some local celebrities who were also spearheading this project:

This was just a SMALL fraction of the project service stuff we did that year (I was on this project which was making art for the schools that were wrecked and being rebuilt - I got put on this one because I was still pumping for my three month old son, so couldn't go out on the city outreach because I needed to stay in an area I'd be able to do so, but most of our groups went out and rebuilt homes, cleaned up parks, etc)



A few of my partners who Starbucks sponsored to run the 5k in the Fargo marathon:

One of our many marathon outposts handing out water/coffee and cheering as people passed:

And... okay. I'll stop now.

Suffice it to say, for me, it was amazing to work at Starbucks. I'd post pictures from the actual store, but we weren't supposed to take pictures in there, sooo... ;)