If you’ve ever spent a considerable amount of time playing on a sports team, done basic military training, or been a devoted member of the Church of Scientology, you might be able to understand what it’s like to work at Starbucks. The coffee giant has over 250,000 employees across its 24,000 locations, and each one offers pretty much the same experience. Part of what keeps customers coming through the doors is knowing that no matter where they are, they can get exactly what they’re expecting.
This means expectations can be high, both from customers and the company, as to how baristas should deliver the customer service experience. Every step is outlined; from the moment a customer walks through the door until they walk out. There are rules, guidelines, and standardized procedures for every possible thing that could go on inside a Starbucks coffee shop. The goal is to standardize the experience across all stores, leading to military precision level control over basic tasks. The rules change all the time, reflecting the company’s constant desire to reduce labour waste and run stores more efficiently, therefore increasing sales. Starbucks is a customer service theatre. These are 15 crazy rules Starbucks baristas are forced to follow, some official and some secret. Which ones do you think are the most surprising?
15 They Are Forced To Smile, No Matter How The Customer Greets Them
Baristas are actually forced to smile on the job like North Korean kindergarteners performing for international media.
The rule is outlined in employee handbook – Every step of excellent customer service must be provided with a smile! Being called out for not smiling is common point of criticism, or coaching, delivered by visiting higher-ups and even some customers. While studies show that smiling actually does little to increase store profits, Starbucks firmly believe that enforced smiling is directly tied to sales. Some customers even complain to the managers if they feel the barista who served them isn’t smiling enough. This can be very difficult to maintain when the store is super busy and the work environment is stressful. When drinks are handed off to customers, baristas are supposed to hold eye contact, call out the name on the cup, and say, “Thank you!” with a smile. There’s a lot of acting involved.
14 Baristas Have To Say YES To ALL Customer Requests (Even The Dumbest, Most Disgusting Drinks)
Starbucks has a policy called “just say yes”. This means that anything a customer asks for – within reason – can be done, and Starbucks really stretches the limit of reason. This can create situations where customers take advantage of baristas and put them in awkward positions.
You want a Coffee Frappuccino made with 35% whipping cream instead of milk? Yeah, absolutely.
A tall white chocolate mocha with 9 scoops of matcha steamed into the milk? Sure. Even the dumbest, most disgusting drinks can be made, and this is what allows the controversial secret menu to exist. The only real limit is that certain food items cannot be put in the blenders for allergic contamination reasons, but this rule isn’t followed in every store, causing customers who are told no to complain that “they do it at the other Starbucks!” Lame.
13 Employees Aren’t Allowed To Move Around Out Of Their Stationed Spot For Their Entire Shifts
Starbucks Baristas operate on a system called “Playbook”, and one of its primary tenets planted positions. Employees are given an assignment or position, briefed, and made to stay there during most of their shift. Employees must ask to move, “running a play” by their supervisors, can be told no if the play isn’t deemed necessary or efficient enough. Some baristas wear timers on their aprons that let them know when to move around.
When this rule began to be enforced, some store managers had employees stand on crates to remind them of where to stay. Some lined the floors with tape.
This rule is often criticized by employees because it creates disparity, is extremely tedious, boring, and repeating the same action over and over for hours is physically strenuous. If you’ve ever asked the barista making your drink to grab you a fork and seen a look of panic flash across their eyes, it’s probably because they can’t leave their spot and grab it for you.
12 Employees Have To Work On Christmas
More and more stores stay open on Christmas. While you’d think people would be full of Christmas cheer, customers can still be horrible. Employees are made to sign up which days they are available between Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day. This means going to Christmas dinner with hair that smells like coffee, or rolling into work on New Years extremely hungover.
These days can be extremely busy because nowhere else is open. Getting out of working one of these days can result in penalization or write-ups.
If one or two people go away for the holidays, getting these days off can be impossible, forcing people to spend Christmas day away from their families serving the public. For people who live far away from their families, this can be a very difficult time of year. If you go to Starbucks on Christmas, be extra nice to the staff!
11 Employees Are Strongly Discouraged From Calling In Sick
On paper, sick employees are not allowed to work because they pose a danger to customers. In practice, managers and supervisors often pressure their employees to show up for their shifts despite their illness. This fosters an environment where people are actually proud of never missing work because of being sick, which is actually super weird. Like wtf, go home!
Employees can be reprimanded for calling in sick, and their relationship with the manager can influence how many shifts they get.
Some baristas are only allowed to take the day off if they find somebody to cover their shift for them, unless they have a doctor’s note. Getting a doctor’s note can be a difficult process in itself, and most people probably don’t want to spend the whole day in the clinic waiting to pay $40 for a sick note. Most people just come into work anyway.
10 Starbucks Employees Speak A Secret Language
Customers get a taste of this when they order their drinks. You don’t have a medium caramel Frappuccino, you have a grande, while your mom drinks a venti nonfat chai. Employees have an arsenal of words that they use in daily communication that regular people don’t know. For example, Starbucks employees are called “partners”. While this seems like the kind of thing that people wouldn’t do because it’s kind of lame, every single person uses this word often. QASA (pronounced Casa or Kwaza) is the scary health inspection system that nobody wants to deal with. Partners are assigned an employee number which tells each other when the person was hired, and a lot can be inferred from this information.
Using these words that only partners understand creates a sense of solidarity and bonding, a subtle psychological tool the company uses for this exact purpose.
9 Employees CANNOT Mess With Anyone’s Order… But Do Anyway
You will never go into a Starbucks, tick the wrong person off, and end up with spit in your drink. A Starbucks employee would never do that. But if you’re rude – maybe you skipped the line, ordered while talking on the phone, or shouted at the barista – you might end up with decaf instead of regular espresso. There is no way for the customer to tell if the barista pulled a fast one. The taste is pretty much identical, and any nuance in flavour is probably hidden by flavours or copious amounts of milk.
While extremely passive aggressive, this is common practice across the board,
whether or not many baristas would like to admit it. Sometimes it’s the only way to assert yourself when you’re not allowed to talk back. Is it nice? No. Ethical? Not at all. But neither is being condescending to the baristas.
8 Starbucks Encourages Baristas To Act Like A Cult And Refer To The CEO As Their Dear Leader
In 2011, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz published a memoir called Onward. It was about the success of Starbucks following the recession. Every single employee was given a copy – for FREE! Did anybody read it? Not really. Even so, Howard Schultz is revered by many employees as a visionary. Tickets to his talks are coveted and many employees would be extremely excited to meet him. While he’s no Kim Jong-Un or L Ron Hubbard, he is held in very high esteem.
Between reverence for the dear leader, the secret corporate language, and the worldwide network of employees, Starbucks employees spend a disproportionate amount of time with each other.
They talk about work, customers, the company, and have strong opinions about the direction their locations are going. Even bad employees quickly become familiar with the rules that define the employee experience and recognize when anybody deviates from the system. But don’t worry, it’s totally casual.
7 Employees Have To Tattle On Their Coworkers In Order To Make Themselves Worthy Of Advancements
While employees are encouraged to give each other little notes of recognition, the elaborate system of rules and standards often encourages baristas to seek out flaws in their coworkers’ performance and bring this up to supervisors. All workplaces are rife with gossip, but Starbucks can be particularly vicious because the rules set a precedent for the gossip. It’s easy to hate on your coworker if they put the Frappuccino ingredients in the blender in the wrong order.
The hierarchy between baristas, barista trainers, shift supervisors, and managers is constantly reinforced,
making it possible for supervisors to gang up on lower-level employees under the guise of reviewing their performance. If a barista doesn’t like you, all they have to do is wait for you to make a mistake or be a little bit lazy, and they have enough ammo to raise their concern with a higher-up.
6 Baristas Are Forced To Do Everything The Same Way And Are Constantly Tested And Pushed To Exceed Their Limits
I’ve mentioned routines before, but to understand them, you have to watch baristas work under pressure, which is when they are most obviously going through Playbook. Every single detail matters. Drive through wait times are constantly adjusted in order to put pressure on the baristas to work faster. The baristas work faster when they follow the Repeatable Routines. The Repeatable Routines are the steps by which they make drinks, prepare food, take orders, and enter drinks into the cash register. Every step is memorized. Step out of line, everyone gets messed up.
There’s even a routine for getting ready to go on your break.
You have to check the condiment bar, do a minor restock of supplies, sweep the floor (even if it was just swept), and then you can think about sitting down. Eventually, you don’t even have to think, your body just takes over.
5 Baristas Are FORCED To Kick Out Dogs
This is controversial. So many people with dogs want to bring them inside the stores, but they’re not allowed. Some stores don’t even allow dogs on their patios. Why? Some people say that if the health inspector comes in, seeing a dog is an automatic score of 0. Some people believe it’s genuinely unsanitary to have dogs in places where food is served, perhaps fearing that every croissant sold might be rubbed on a dog before it’s put in its paper bag.
This is a problem every day at most locations.
Sometimes people who leave dogs in their purse get kicked out, even when the dog doesn’t touch anything in the store.
While it’s far more common for people to have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts than to dogs, Starbucks seems to be far more concerned with how it can control stray pet hair than switching out its peanut butter cookies.
4 Employees Can Be Asked To Keep Their Phones In A Safe Overnight If Their Supervisor Deems Them To Be Too Distracted
This isn’t an official rule, but can be enforced by any supervisor on a power trip. Phones are not to be used during the shift, so if an employee is using their phone on the floor, disappears frequently in the back room to check their phone, or even takes an unusual number of bathroom breaks, supervisors or managers might ask that the person put their phone in the safe.
If the person says no, that’s a write up.
Tackling phone use can be difficult, but this is definitely going a bit overboard. Many safe systems have two doors – one that can be opened all day long, and another that can only be open at a specific time every day. It’s pretty unfortunate if somebody’s phone ends up behind that door, because they’ll have to come and get it the next day.
3 Baristas Are Encouraged To Promote Starbucks On Social Media, But Only Positively
While it’s no surprise that a company doesn’t want employees spreading negativity online, Starbucks actually encourages baristas to use certain hashtags and follow certain Instagram accounts in order to facilitate community. Many photos taken by employees end up being promoted on the brands’ official accounts. Unfortunately, for employees who portray the brand negatively, there can be severe consequences, especially if the negativity is picked up by the media. While he was initially going to be fired because of negative publicity, Braden Burson, the creator of the viral anti-Unicorn Frappuccino rant, ended up being kept by the company. Others haven’t been so lucky.
The company has even tracked down the creators of posts made anonymously and issued their dismissal.
Be careful the next time you’re considering tweeting about an annoying customer, you never know who’s watching.
2 Employees Had To Play Along With The Secret Menu… Until It Became Real
An extension of the “Just Say Yes!” policy, baristas would be forced to comply with secret menu requests by asking for the customer to give them the recipe. While employees were not trained to make a Cap’n Crunch or Zebra Frappuccino, if a customer provided them with the instructions, they had no choice but to make it. Everything changed when the Cotton Candy Frappuccino went viral.
The company realized it would be profitable to train its employees to make it, and began issuing official recipe cards to all stores.
This was followed by a barrage of other official recipes for a number of unofficial drinks – Cookies and Cream, The Mermaid Frappuccino, even the Pink Drink – all created by customers and incorporated into the menu. There’s only one problem: All the modifiers make secret menu drinks very expensive – it’s likely you’ll be paying upwards of $6 for the majority of secret menu items.
1 No Nail Polish, No Perfume, No Tattoos Allowed At All Times
While the tattoo rule was recently changed in order to make the corporation seem more friendly and less corporate, the nail polish and perfume rules are quite firm.
Every store has a container of nail polish remover in the back, and employees sporting too much perfume can be written up or even sent home.
The reason behind the nail polish is because it could chip and end up in a customer’s drink. Perfume can interfere with the delicate aroma of coffee that penetrates the stores. While the nail polish rule sort of makes sense, the perfume rule is a little bit confusing as Starbucks stores have a very unique scent comprised of very dark roast coffee, pungent syrup, and the weird sanitizing liquid used to clean everything. Yet, if somebody heats a tuna panini in the oven, the whole store smells like fish.