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Modern Process Equipment

Working at Starbucks:
More Than Just Pouring Coffee


BY BROOKE LOCASCIO

What size would you like? Would you like a pastry with your coffee? Perhaps you would like to try that drink cold? If you like this beverage so much, you should definitely try our promotional (and more expensive) beverage. Sir, I can certainly make your drink over if it is not to your liking. These are just a few of the proper customer service responses expected and provided by Starbucks’ baristas. After five years, four managers and three district managers, I learned that it is not only creating the ultimate coffee beverage, but also providing excellent service that ensures customers leave the store completely satisfied and eager to return - maybe next time with friends or family. Starbucks Coffee Company demands Five-Star customer service from all partners, and it is this service that separates Starbucks from other coffee shops. The goal is to provide for all customers a “third place” environment - a place of relaxation that is away from home and work. While many complain of the expensive java prices, it is this environment that keeps customers coming back for more.

But Starbucks not only aims to please the customers, it also provides its employees, whom are known as partners within the company, with a safe, comfortable, and profitable environment. Perks include: stock options, health benefits for part-time employees, an annual review which could result in a raise, as well as easy mobility to move up to managerial positions. In exchange for these employment benefits, partners have to endure long and intricate training that requires newly hired partners to read and answer questions on each of the stations the job is divided into - Drip, Register, Espresso, Frappachino, Bean and Customer Service - before they can get any hands-on training.

As assistant store manager, hiring new employees was the most fun for me because these recruits always started off with the assumption that working in a coffee shop would be an easy and stress-free job that required little physical or mental labor. After all, how hard could it possibly be to make a cup of coffee? A flick of a switch, pour the coffee into a cup, say please and thank you, and send the customer on their merry way. You don’t even have put milk and sugar into the customers’ coffee, much less work for the barista right?

Wrong! I stressed to each new hire that this job required more than just simply pouring coffee into a cup; it was providing a superior standard of customer service and coffee beverages that surpassed all other coffee providers in order to make a lasting impression on each and every customer served. Occasionally, the interviewee would throw in an “absolutely,” “I agree” or the ultimate favorite “I understand.” But most did not understand. I was not trying to make this job sound like the Marines of coffee making, but Starbucks Coffee Company has not been able to become such a success without having hardworking and dedicated partners.

Training, as I mentioned before, initially begins with what I would like to call “Starbucks University.” Many were ready to get behind the bar and experience hands-on training immediately. So, when I handed them a large spiral book and told them they had six hours to complete the sections, I often received looks of confusion and concern, much like when a teacher hands his students a pop quiz. Each section of the training manual was divided into sections that provided an in depth description of the responsibilities required of all baristas. A written test was given after each section was completed to ensure the partner’s understanding. Usually, a new partner can take two days just finishing the book before they ever touch a cup!

After finally completing the courses at “Starbucks University,” the partner then graduates to behind the bar. The manager or assistant manager is assigned to showing the new partner the ropes, but even their hands-on experience is divided similarly to the book. The barista is taken through each station and after they practice a few times, they are given a test; for instance, if the barista was being shown how to make a cappuccino, he or she has to make the drink to standard independently. If done correctly, the partner can move onto the next station; if not, they must continue at this station until they have passed drink-making abilities. As I said before, this is not the Marines of coffee making, but it certainly can be considered the boot camp for producing the finest coffee makers in the industry - each new hire if they decide to take the challenge, will become THE ULTIMATE COFFEE CHAMPION!

However, it must be said that this process does not just take a few days - it takes weeks, even months to develop the ability to differentiate between coffee aromas or to be able to identify a coffee simply based on one sip. These skills are actually very difficult to develop and require partners to constantly sample the beverages so they can describe it to the customers.

The whole bean packages sold in retail stores are one of Starbucks’ most profitable items, but often customers are both intimidated by the variety of beans sold and confused on which beans would be best suited to their taste. This is where the barista’s expertise as a coffee connoisseur is best put into practice. Baristas are forced to taste each and every coffee served and sold throughout the store during their training as well as random coffee samplings throughout their employment. By tasting the coffee themselves they can not only provide explicit description of the beans to customers, but also can add their personal input as well. For example, if a customer was interested in purchasing Guatemalan Antigua but was unsure of the taste, a partner would need to know that it is “an elegant complex coffee with great depth; refined acidity balanced with cocoa powdered texture and soft spice flavors.” Most new baristas are unaware of what they are actually talking about, as is the customer. Who knew that Kenya has a fruity flavor and can sometimes have a hint of blackberries? Most customers instantly think that Kenya has a fruit punch sort of taste to it, when, in actuality, unless you are a java expert, you will never taste the blackberry flavoring. One of the great things about being a Starbucks partner is that you are able to educate your customers about coffee beans, the variations of beans, and the terminology used to describe them. It is important to the company to have their customers appreciate the natural flavor of their coffee and, more importantly, sell beans to customers who value the taste of a great cup of Joe.

While training to become a Starbucks barista may appear to be a bit much, Starbucks has not been able to become one the most successful coffee retail stores by taking this business lightly. It is not good enough to just be able to make a Cappuccino or a Caramel Frappachino. It is essential to make each and every customer feel welcome and appreciated so that they will not only come back, but so that they have truly experienced Starbucks as a “third place” - a home away from home.

Brooke Locascio spent four years during her college years working for Starbucks. She started as a barista and worked her way up to assistant manager at the Ozone Park, Queens’ store in New York City. At that time, this Starbucks was the company’s largest store, area-wise, in Queens. She now teaches English at a New York City High School.


Tea & Coffee - January/February, 2004
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