Life as a Barista Archives - I Hate Working In Retail


The Punishment for Being Mean to Your Starbucks Barista

This week, when the Internet gave us this viral video that parodies why Starbucks baristas really spell names ridiculously wrong, everyone who has ever walked into a Starbucks had a good laugh. Real Starbucks baristas laughed even harder. Turns out, the joke is pretty close to the truth. One assistant manager talks to about how she finds the greatest joy in the everyday way she messes with her customers. “I really love my job,” she says.

How often do you intentionally spell someone’s name wrong on his or her coffee cup?
Most mornings, I do it just to mess with people. I love to see their reactions. But my regulars have come to love it. I have a lot of Jessicas that come in, and I’ve done every variation on that name you can imagine. In fact, I’ve done just about every name that the video shows.

Has anyone ever been pissed off by the prank?
I have a regular customer named Bob, and the first time I spelled his name Boob, I went even further. I yelled it as loud as I could, “Boob, your latte is ready, BOOB!” He didn’t really care for that. He made a little scene, and my manager gave him a free drink to calm him down. Now he has a sense of humor about it. Now, when he walks in with a scowl on his face, I spell his name “Boob,” just to give him a little smile.

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How often do people complain about the misspellings?
I never really get many complaints about the name being wrong; it’s normally about the drink being wrong. There was one girl who said her name so fast I had no idea what she said. I asked her to repeat it a few times, and I still couldn’t figure it out. Then I realized it was Shaniqua. I have no idea how to spell that. So I just wrote Shaq on her cup and called it out. “Hey, Shaq, here’s your caramel macchiato!” She just gave me a dirty look and said, “Really, Shaq?” I smiled and she left. She still comes in all the time.

Is this an unwritten barista code of conduct? Does every barista do this?
I don’t know if everyone does it, but when I asked my manager if she does, she admitted most Starbucks employees use it as a marketing tool. Most people aren’t going to post a photo to social media of a cup with their name spelled right. I just use it as a way to be funny, but now I get why people use it as a way to promote the business.

How else do you entertain yourself at work that annoys customers?
Sometimes the whole staff will gather together with espresso shots and sing “Shots” by LMFAO at the top of our lungs. We are extremely loud. Sometimes people sing along — I love those customers. Others are just annoyed and impatient.

Do you ever give regular milk to someone who asks for skim?
Oh yeah, all the time. And we’ll give them regular espresso shots when they ask for decaf. I don’t do it if someone is being nice, and I’d never give a caffeinated drink to someone who was pregnant if they didn’t order it. But if someone is being pushy or rude, I do it. For example, I’ll be making a drink and someone looks over the partition and asks, “Did you push the decaf button? Wait, I think the decaf button is over there.” One time a customer actually tried to come behind the counter to verify where the decaf shots are located. I was like, “Sir, you cannot come back here.” He said, “I just always see you guys push different buttons back here, and I just want to know where the right one is.” And you know what? Now you’re getting a regular shot just to jack you up. Maybe even a double.

Have you ever spit in a drink?
Oh no, I would never do that. Besides, we have cameras on us all the time.

Has anyone ever made you so angry that you wanted to spit in his or her drink?
A customer made me cry once. It was late, and I was closing by myself. She [was] a larger woman with a very loud voice. She comes in talking on her phone and orders a green tea latte. She didn’t specify if she wanted it hot or iced or what kind of milk she wanted, and she wouldn’t listen to me. So I rang her up for a hot one and gave it to her. She took a sip and spit it out on the counter. She said, “Is this nonfat? Is this sugar-free? Is this 180 degrees?” I said, “I didn’t know what you wanted. I can remake it.” Her reply: “You better remake it!” So I did, she tasted it, shrugged, and said, “This will do,” and left. She comes back to the store 20 minutes later and says the drink is horrible and demands a new one. I opened the lid, and it’s a cup full of cold milk. Our green tea lattes are really green from the matcha powder we use. I started to make her a new one and asked, “So, what happened to the matcha in there?” and she snapped at me: “Are you seriously questioning me? You’d better make my latte, bitch!” I started to cry, and she kept terrorizing me. It was awful. But I still wouldn’t have spit in her drink. I don’t want to intentionally hurt anyone in any way.

How much coffee do you drink a day?
If I’m working, I usually have my trenta-size coffee, and I’ll get my free refill as well and drink it throughout the course of my eight-hour shift. When the weather is nice, I also get a hot mocha when I leave.

Do you have trouble sleeping?
It’s weird. Some days, I could drink a quad shot of espresso and go right to sleep. Or I could drink a double shot and be awake all night.

What are your favorite drinks and snacks Starbucks offers?
I like a caramel macchiato, mocha vanilla, or chai vanilla. And I really like the pumpkin cream cheese muffins.

Do you come home reeking of coffee smell?
Yes. I have to shower and wash my clothes right away. But I don’t think I’ll ever really get sick of the smell.

It’s fall, so Starbucks is pushing the pumpkin spice latte hard. How do you really feel about it and the other holiday drinks?
I personally really love the pumpkin spice latte. But I get it with half the syrup because I do think it’s on the sweet side. If it’s made correctly, I could drink them all day. I think it’s one of our best drinks. I’m not really a fan of the gingerbread latte though.

Do you ever tell customers if you don’t like a drink?
I do, but I tell them it’s my opinion first. Then I’ll have another barista who maybe likes it give their opinion too. I’d rather them hear how I feel than buy a $5 drink, hate it, and we have to make something else.

Is there any actual difference between the Oprah chai latte and a regular chai latte?
I get this question all the time. Personally, I don’t care for the Oprah chai. It’s way [spicier]. I’d say 85 percent of our customers hate it. If we told them we were switching to only the Oprah chai and wouldn’t serve regular chai anymore, they would say they would no longer come to Starbucks. It’s great that each drink raises money for charity, but she’s the only person in history to have a Starbucks drink named after her. It is kind of an eye roll.

What’s the best type of customer?
I love my regulars or anyone willing to spend their time talking to me so I can learn their likes and dislikes. I also really like customers who try samples. I don’t know why customers don’t want to try samples. It’s free.

Can I ask to sample anything in the store even if you’re not offering it up in those tiny cups?
Yes, you can ask to sample anything. Just don’t tell me you don’t know what a Frappuccino tastes like and you want to sample all of them. Every barista hates making Frappuccinos because it has the most steps out of every drink. I’ll make the samples for you, but I’m kind of annoyed with you now. The type of person who would ask for that is also the type of person who would ask for it when I’m clearly really busy.

What’s the worst type of customer?
Someone who comes in on their phone and expects me to know what they want just by glancing at them. So, is it a grande nonfat latte? No? Hello? And then I get a dirty look. Or anyone who slams their money down on the counter. It’s one of my pet peeves. I held my hand out here gently for a reason, you know. Impatient customers are annoying too. Anyone tapping their foot or jangling their keys. Just stop it. And the OCD inspectors — someone who orders a caramel macchiato layered but then asks why it’s not stirred up.

Do you correct people when they get the terminology wrong?
I’ll say it in a nice way. If someone says a large, and I grab a vente, then they say they want a “large large,” I’ll say, “Oh, you want the trenta size.” A big annoyance for all of us is when people put an X in espresso. And everyone calls our Frappuccinos “frappes,” like at McDonald’s. Eww, this is not McDonald’s.

Do the people who hand out the coffee get upset when the customer has disappeared?
Do we have a fit? Not necessarily. If it’s really busy, we freak out when someone else takes it because then we have to remake it and put it at the top of the list. Normally, we just call it out every couple of minutes because that person could be on the phone or in the bathroom. After five minutes, we pull it to the side, re-steam it if it’s a hot drink, or add more ice to an iced one.

What do you do with all the unclaimed coffee?
Normally, I’ll offer it if someone wants it. Or I’ll put it in little sample cups. But if it’s something with a lot of different changes in it — like black tea with a shot of espresso, soy milk, and sugar-free vanilla — no one wants to try that. So I’ll throw it out.

What has been the most annoying drink order?
I have it memorized. There’s a customer who came in a couple of weeks ago and asked for one of our cups, then she took out a pen and drew out exactly what she wanted: six pieces of ice, a shot on top of that, a splash of soy milk, six more pieces of ice, another shot, soy milk, then she wants that blended. Then, on top of that, two pumps of raspberry, one pump of peppermint, one venti scoop of ice and a pump of our Frappuccino base, then blended again. Then sugar-free vanilla on top of that, two more shots of espresso, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, hazelnut drizzle, chocolate drizzle, mocha drizzle, and vanilla drizzle. That’s a high-maintenance drink. It came out chunky because our blender couldn’t really handle it, and we didn’t even know how to ring her up.

Do you ever enforce the customer-only bathroom rule?
I believe it’s only been once when a homeless man came in and he locked himself inside for over an hour. He was washing himself in there. I let him finish, and we told him he had to leave. Then we had to clean that bathroom extensively. But I don’t mind people coming in just to use the bathroom. We have pretty clean bathrooms. Do what you gotta do.

How old is the food really?
All the food you see out was made that day. We freeze it when it comes in, but we would never put Wednesday food out on a Thursday. We throw away all the unused food at the end of the day. And I hate that we do. It’s so wasteful. One year, I got permission to donate all our unused pastries to a food pantry right around Thanksgiving, and I loved that. I should do that more often.

What food do people love most, and what should everyone avoid?
People love the cake pops and all the pumpkin stuff when it’s in season. And I pull about a dozen blueberry yogurt muffins every day, and we still sell out. Don’t eat the croissants. They’re just not up to the quality of Starbucks. A good croissant isn’t in the refrigerator, and most of our customers know that.

What do you think of people who buy one coffee and sit there all day using Wi-Fi?
It doesn’t bother me. We have enough seats in there. If you don’t buy anything for a long time, we’ll go over and ask if you want water and get a feel for what you’re up to. But we won’t kick you out.

What’s the best part of the job?
My favorite part of my job is the customers. I love seeing the light in their faces when they try a new drink and they love it. One customer was tired of her vanilla latte and wanted something different. I made her a black and white mocha, and she was so excited she told me I reinvented her palate. It’s those little things that outweigh the bad.

What’s the worst part of the job?
Probably cleaning. It’s just so much cleaning all day long.


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Retail and Service Workers Share Their Crazy Customer Stories

Sure, we’ve all had our fair share of bad (or even horrible) customer service experiences. There’s even an annual list of the top 10 consumer complaints that ranks which areas of the marketplace we find most frazzling in any given year.

But what about tales from the other side of the counter? We asked our readers who work in the restaurant, retail or service industry to share their worst “crazy customer” stories. We chuckled, guffawed and sat with our mouths wide open as we read through your submissions, then we picked our 12 favorites.

Poke and Sniff
Reader remotecandy says: “I was shopping in the meat department … when I noticed a woman picking up various packages of meat, poking holes in the wraps and sniffing each package before she put the package back where she got it. I was not only appalled, but was disgusted … I notified the meat department manager and he talked to this woman … She lost it, calling the meat manager every name in the book, and proceeded to randomly poke holes in meat packages that she had no intention of buying. Because the store security people couldn’t handle this woman, they called the police, but the woman made it out of the store just in the nick of time.”

Fishy Business
Reader Bballxlovex25 says: “A customer ordered anchovies on a pizza from our pizza place. She called back after receiving her delivery order to complain. She stated that she ordered anchovies on her pizza and received fish. We told her that anchovies were indeed fish and that was what she ordered. She proceeded to yell that she, “Did not want these f***ing fish!” on her pizza. Her son proceeded to tell her that she ordered anchovies and that they were fish. She threatened the manager by saying she was going to beat up the manager’s mother and husband.”

No, It’s Your Fault!
Reader AJH89 says:
“I work at a restaurant and this lady and a little boy, about four or five, came in to eat. The little boy sat down with his mom and peed in his pants. The lady told me it was my fault because I did not tell her that the little boy looked liked he needed to go to the bathroom. She wanted us to give her dinner [for] free. I could not believe it.”

(Chicken) Bills
Reader Gerrydee1 says: “As a young girl right out of school, I worked in the Customer Relations Department of Sears-Roebuck in Philadelphia. This was the mail order division. My job was to handle complaints via letter from customers and route them to the correct place for their problems to be solved. I received a note from a farmer that said his latest sale from the catalog of poultry … included some dead on arrival. My supervisor told me to write him back and asked him to send the bills from the sale indicating how many, and we would gladly replace them … A package arrived with my name on it soon. It smelled funny even before I opened it. When I did, the dope sent me the actual bills (beaks) from the poor little chickens. It smelled to high heaven and freaked me out.”

She’s “Wheely” Crazy

Reader JCDIFFEY says: “[This] lady came into our station for full service lube and oil change and wanted her tires rotated. She returned about two hours later, went to her car and came inside the shop, really mad. She wanted all the wheels with the design on them to all FACE UP. [We] tried to explain, the first time you drive the car [they] will change and [will] not be the same. She refused to pay the bill unless we corrected the problem. We pulled the car on the rack and made all the wheels look the same. She paid bill and departed a happy customer. We let her drive it off the rack.”

What a Gas
Reader TLWidner32824 says: “I had a customer (guest) come into one of my stores at MGM Studios, Orlando with armfuls of merchandise to purchase. She laid her stuff on my counter and whipped out a Mobil gas card to pay for her purchases. I kindly told her that Mobil cards are good for Mobil gas stations to buy gas and products. She could not understand why she could not use her gas card. Even after explaining and re-explaining, she still did not get it. She left, as that was her only ‘form of payment.'”

Too Much “O” in the H2O
Reader PANJO says: “While running my family’s restaurant in NYC, I had a customer call me over one time to her table … She holds a glass of water that the busboy had brought over when she sat down, and asks in very grave tone, ‘Do you see what I see?’ Being in the restaurant business, I figured maybe there was lipstick on the glass [or] something had fallen in it, but … I couldn’t see anything … She said, ‘I can’t believe you can’t see, but there is way too much oxygen in the water!'”

Guess That’s Not What He Wanted to Hear
Reader Chrisandkim04 says: “I had an older gentleman who had purchased his glasses from one of our companies eight years ago. He came in all upset, because his glasses had broken … He proceeded to tell me his story [about] how he bought the glasses several years ago and how he had never had a problem with them until now … His dog got a hold of his glasses and chewed them up beyond recognition … I explained that the frame was no longer being made and in order to get him a new pair he would have to see the doctor … He flipped out. He threw the remaining fragments of his glasses at me and kicked his chair at my other associate.”

Not Worth the Argument
Reader Bgk9876 says: “A customer wanted to return a canteen which she had recently purchased. When I asked her why she wanted to to return it she said it leaked. After inspecting the canteen, [I] noticed [it had] a hole in the center big enough to put your index finger in. When this was pointed out to the customer, she responded by saying, ‘Well, that’s not where it leaks.’ She got a full refund.”

She Did What??
Reader WAYDOWNTOWN2 says: “A woman came into the restaurant drunk, and when asked to leave she hiked her skirt up, squatted down and proceeded to pee in the middle of the dining room. “Oh yeah, she was arrested.”

The Wrong End of Things
Reader Marcanewman1 says: “I spent many years in drug stores and had many ‘confused customers.’ A few — ‘Why didn’t the direction label say take the foil off the suppository first, it really hurt?’ ‘I choked, why didn’t the instructions say take the pill with water?’ ‘Why didn’t the label say Insert in rectum, I swallowed it ?’ [This] customer orally took a suppository with the foil on it!”

Pizza Pain
Reader Bnchudson says:
“I work for a restaurant that has a website for people to place online orders. I had a customer who placed their order online for one size then yelled at us because she had [accidentally] ordered a bigger size and thought we had purposely changed her ticket. When we showed her the original copy she still didn’t believe it. We then even offered to remake it for her at no additional cost, and she flipped out saying she had already paid for the larger size (which she was shown she had not) and deserved a refund of her money as well. Needless to say she left with no refund and the smaller size.”

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10 Things I Learned While Working at Starbucks

For the past eight months, I’ve been working at “a coffee shop.”  I’ve hinted that said coffee shop was Starbucks, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it outright.

Surprise, now you know why I was always drinking so much chai and eating so much pumpkin bread.

With only two weeks to go before I officially resign from my job as barista extraordinaire, I thought it would be nice to impart on you some things I’ve learned in the past 8 months.


1. Training is overwhelming.

I spent the first couple of weeks having numbers and “repeatable routines” drilled into my head.  There are different numbers for pumps of syrups for in hot drinks and cold drinks, different numbers of espresso shots in different drinks, numbers of scoops of this, that and the other.  It all seems second nature now, but when you start out, it feels like you’ll never be able to remember it all.


2. Being a barista means being fast.

Did you know shots of espresso only stay good for ten seconds?  If you don’t mix them with some sort of liquid before that ten seconds is up, your shots “die.”  That means that when your shots are pulling, or coming out of your machine, you only have as long as they take to pull + those ten seconds to start/finish another drink.


3. There are a lot of different coffee drinks.

A misto is half brewed coffee, half steamed milk.  Also known as a cafe au lait.

A cappuccino is shots of espresso, half steamed milk and half foam.

A latte is different from a cappuccino in that it’s shots of espresso, steamed milk and a tiny bit of foam on top.

Macchiato is Italian for “to mark,” and the drink is made upside down, meaning the shots get poured on top.  They mark the milk.  Hey, it all makes sense now.  And did you know, a caramel macchiato is in fact made with vanilla, not caramel.

The only caramel in a caramel macchiato is the caramel sauce that’s drizzled on top.  Misleading name, no?


4. The company itself really is great.

Starbucks really is a kind company.  It gives it employees health insurance and all of its baristas are trained to make the customer happy.  I know a lot of people who have worked in the food and drink industry and after seeing what goes on behind the scenes, refuses to eat/drink there anymore.  I don’t feel that way at all!  In fact, I’m impressed by how much of a clean and honest company Starbucks is.


5. In order for a drink to be “skinny,” it has to be made with sugar-free syrup and non-fat milk.

Therefore, you cannot order a “skinny latte” because there’s no syrup.  It’s just a non-fat latte.

You cannot order a “skinny vanilla soy latte” because soy isn’t non-fat.

You cannot order a “skinny pumpkin spice latte” because pumpkin spice syrup isn’t sugar free.

And lastly, you cannot order a skinny eggnog latte.  It’s made with real eggnog and there’s nothing skinny about it.


6. You are trained to call out drinks in a certain order.

You know that fancy box system on Starbucks cups?  Technically, you’re supposed to call out the drink in the same order as the boxes.  It’s hard to do at first.


7. Your fellow baristas start to feel like family.

When it’s Black Friday and you’re serving coffee to a bunch of crazed shoppers who need coffee now, you and your fellow baristas will start/finish drinks for each other, pull shots on each others’ machines, reach over each other to grab blenders, pass pastries back and forth and generally be in each others’ personal bubbles for the entire length of your shift.

All notions of personal space go out the window.  You become close in both the figurative and literal sense of the word.


8. You will want to cry.

I feel like my store was different in that it was inside a mall, so the holiday season was extra grueling.  I worked shifts where the line was out the door the entire time.  Where we ran out of milk, syrup, ice, lids and energy. 

Customers will treat you like you aren’t a real human being.  They will ignore you when you say “hello,” talk on the phone as you get their order, blame you for things you have no control over and ask for drinks that are incredibly complicated.

At the end of the day, you will have syrup stuck to your arms, your feet will ache and you will be physically and emotionally exhausted.


9. You will meet some of the hardest working people.

I worked with people who have been with Starbucks for years and I seriously commend them.  I couldn’t do it.  I worked with people who would stay late, come in early, bar (which just means you’re the one actually making the drinks) a rush at 8 months pregnant and carry in gallons of milk on their own.

And I can vouch that no one gets paid enough for working that hard.


10. You will be amazed.

Amazed by how much there is to know about something that seems so simple.

Amazed by the great people you work with.

Amazed by the awful hours you have to work.

Amazed by how rude customers can be.

Amazed by how nice other customers can be.

Amazed that you even survived eight months there.

Onto to something bigger and better!


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