If you’re a java-lover but hate making your own coffee, a Starbucks barista may be one of the first people you see in the morning. And you probably don’t think there’s much to the job: just smile, take the order, and pour, right? Not exactly. Not only do you have to be well-versed in Starbucks’ unique coffee language, you have to be able to whip up any one of their custom beverages on the fly. And we’re not talking about any old menu. HuffPost Taste, citing a Starbucks global chief marketing officer, claims there are over 80,000 potential drink combinations. And did we mention Starbucks Reserve Roasteries in cities like Seattle, New York, Shanghai, and Chicago, which are now also serving wine, beer, and signature cocktails? That’s a lot to learn.
Safe to say, working at Starbucks isn’t exactly a job you can sleepwalk through. Yes, that’s a caffeine pun but it’s also the truth: some locations open as early as 5:00 am. Is it worth it? Like any career, it has its perks and its drawbacks. Employee reviews on Reddit are mixed, with one user calling it "my favorite place I’ve ever worked" while another says that, after working there for two years, they "would NOT recommend." Want to know what it’s really like for the people behind the counter at any given Starbucks location? Read on.
Technically, they’re not called baristas
In Italian, "barista" translates to "bartender" but it’s become known in America as a gender-neutral term for a person who works in a coffee shop. And while we may refer to Starbucks employees as baristas, the company gives them the title of "partner." According to the Starbucks website, this is because they consider everyone "partners in shared success." As a result, every employee is entitled to shares of company stock through its Bean Stock program. Bean Stock units, the company website explains, turn into vested shares of Starbucks stock once the employee works two consecutive years. And if you think a couple of shares doesn’t sound like much, consider the long-time Starbucks employee who used her stock to pay off a student loan, make a down payment on a house, and travel to Bali. After starting as a barista and staying at the company for 22 years, Forbes reports that her stock had a total return of almost 13,000%.
Starbucks employees undergo serious training
Remember the part about over 80,000 potential drink combinations? The internal training program during their first few days, baristas are told, is "designed to immerse you in the Starbucks culture and set you up for success." In fact, according to the Starbucks website, there are people are hired for the specific purpose of running barista classrooms and training supervisors and store managers. While they’re learning the ropes, new baristas can also go online and turn to social media for support, with lots of helpful Reddit threads and blogs devoted to current and former Starbucks baristas offering each other tips and tricks for nailing the job. Advice ranges from how to open and close the store to the best ways of pouring coffee. Once a year, the company holds its annual "Starbucks Barista Championships." There, baristas are able to meet each other, show off their latte-making skills, experience tastings, and share beverage ideas.
The color of apron matters
When Starbucks first opened its doors 1971, all its store employees wore basic brown aprons, the company website explains; its signature green aprons with logo weren’t introduced until 1987. Back then, however, the menu was a lot simpler. In fact, the Starbucks website continues, there were only six drink options available. It also says that in the 1990s, the company created the title "Coffee Master" for partners certified with a specific kind of coffee knowledge. Starbucks refers to them as "experts in all things coffee and trained to be the best of the best." These special few are the only ones allowed to wear the coveted black apron. So if you see a man or a woman in black, it means you’re in the presence of someone who really knows their beans. Starbucks says other colors, like red, are worn around the holidays to keep the stores festive.
The food in the display case is not for sale, so please don’t ask!
As mentioned, in addition to pouring beverages, Starbucks employees serve customers the food items on the menu, some of which are shown in the display case. The key word there: display. They’re never for sale. The reason? Newsweek reports that while the food on display is fresh at the start of the day, by closing time, the hot lighting in the case (designed to make the items look brighter and more desirable) has rendered the food basically inedible. To prove this point, Newsweek cited a TikTok video of a Starbucks employee cleaning out the pastry case at the end of the day. So even if that last cake pop in the display case is the only one left in the store, you probably don’t want to eat it. Due to controversy in recent years as to whether or not the use of actual food in the display case is wasteful, Newsweek also reports that certain Starbucks locations have switched to displaying plastic items instead.
Sometimes, Starbucks employees have to pay for their own coffee
You’d think one of the perks of working at Starbucks would be a bottomless cup of brew, wouldn’t you? Not always, says one Reddit user, who explains employees only get free coffee during specific times: 30 minutes before and after their shifts and during breaks. Other than that, they get a 30% discount but they do have to pay for it. How strongly enforced (or relaxed) that policy is depends on the store and the employees, people on the same Reddit thread attest. Some say they’d never charge a fellow employee, regardless of the circumstances, and others insisting that bending the rules is a fireable offense.
Unofficially, policies at some of Starbucks’ biggest national competitors can vary. One Reddit user claims that employee discounts at Dunkin Donuts only apply while the worker is on duty. Other than that, they have to pay full price. At Panera, "free" food and drink offers for on-duty employees seem to vary by location, according to Reddit comment posts.
They love kids and dogs (and will make them their own drinks)
The American Academy of Pediatrics "discourages the consumption of caffeine" for children. That makes coffee a definite no-no. But don’t worry if you have your kid with you. Mom.com lists plenty of other options served at Starbucks like their lemonades, hot chocolate, fruit smoothies, and "babyccinos", which are just frothy cups of steamed milk. And while Starbucks does welcome service animals, all other dogs and pets have to wait outside. That doesn’t mean the place isn’t dog-friendly though -– you can request a "puppaccino" to go from your barista. Per one employee, it’s simply whipped cream sprayed onto a lid for your pooch to lick. Online, you can find lots of photos of dogs enjoying their puppaccinos at home or outdoors. Puppaccinos are perfectly safe for most dogs, says the pet website Dogtime, but you can always double check with your vet to make sure.
They know the drinks can be too hot to handle
If you find yourself blowing on your hot Starbucks beverage when it first gets handed to you or waiting a few minutes before you feel it’s safe to drink, there’s a reason. Per Delishably, Starbucks, on average, serves its hot drinks anywhere from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The drinks are so hot, in fact, there have been a few lawsuits from customers claiming to have suffered severe burns and other damages as a result of hot Starbucks drinks spilling on them. One way to avoid this kind of mishap, baristas advise, is to your order your drink at "kid’s temperature." Kids temp, a barista explains, is actually one of the "warm" settings on the equipment they use and is only about 130 degrees. Not only will it allow those with tender palettes to drink their coffee or tea faster, but it may also lower the risk of an unpleasant accident.
There are some good hacks around seasonal ordering
Some of Starbucks’ most popular menu items are seasonal, meaning they’re only available during certain times of the year. This isn’t a problem if you can hack your way around the recipes by swapping out ingredients. When it’s not Christmastime, you can mimic the flavor of their delicious Peppermint Mocha by asking your barista for hot chocolate with two pumps of their peppermint syrup. One person tweeted: "It tastes like Christmas in a cup all year round." Starbucks’ infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte — a beverage offered on its fall menu — has become so popular, Starbucks recently started releasing it in early summer. During the rest of the year when it’s not for sale in stores, one user suggests recreating the flavor in a cold drink by combining a triple shot over ice, paired with a side of chai, and white chocolate mocha. And one blogger recommends making your own Starbucks White Toasted Mocha, normally offered in winter, by mixing shots of espresso with both condensed and regular milk, and white chocolate chips.
Trying to hack your way around the prices, however, may annoy them
There are lots of online and social media suggestions about ways to get more bang for your buck at Starbucks. Trying too hard to get more coffee for less money, however, can not only be frustrating, but insulting to your barista. Case in point: asking them to add something extra (like drizzle or whip) to an order that’s already been rung up on the register in hopes of getting it for free. "This is one of my biggest annoyances – people who try to ‘hack’ the system by asking for things they know are an upcharge after they complete their order, claiming they ‘just forgot,’" vented one barista on Reddit. "We had one regular who would ‘forget’ to add cream cheese to her mobile order for her bagel, and then just expect us to give it to her. People treat us like we’re stupid, and I cannot stand it. No. I know what you are doing." Case in point, don’t deliberately try to rip off your local Starbucks.
They are happy to treat you on your birthday
Yes, Starbucks will treat you to a drink on your birthday. To get it, Starbucks explains that you must join their Starbucks Rewards program at least seven days prior, enter your date of birth and make a star-earning purchase to qualify. It may sound like a catch, but there are actually a lot of benefits to being a Starbucks Rewards member.
Year-round, it lets you collect points that can earn you free food and beverages, and the chance to receive free refills. It also comes in handy if you travel, because it works at airports and in participating countries including Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Australia, and the U.K. Baristas were also happy to serve first responders and healthcare workers on the house during the height of the Covid pandemic. For the entire month of December 2020, anyone who identified as one received a tall hot or iced cup of fresh coffee for free.
Complaining publicly about customers can get them fired
Everyone has their own particular preferences when it comes to how their coffee is made, some having a lot more than others. Starbucks’ policy on difficult customer requests? Don’t post about them. In fact, their employee guidelines specifically prohibit baristas from posting personal information about clients or other partners. That was made clear in 2020 when an order with 13 different demands went viral after a barista posted it on social media in frustration. Granted, the requests –- which included five shots of banana syrup, seven pumps of extra caramel sauce, extra whip, extra ice, extra cinnamon, and heavy cream –- seemed extreme and launched an Internet discussion about the fairness of excessive custom coffee demands. Fair or not, Starbucks fired him for breaking company rules. Despite losing his job, the employee, Josie Morales, had no regrets, telling Inside Edition: "I feel like it brought some light upon to how crazy orders can be." In response, the customer also spoke out, saying he didn’t find anything wrong with his order, but he did reach out to Jose to become friends. Uh, maybe a bit too late?
People might think there’s a secret menu, but there’s not
There are people who like to feel special by ordering "off the menu," even at Starbucks. Despite myths of a secret menu, however, at least one barista says it doesn’t actually exist. "If I have one more teeny-bopper show up and say, "I want blah blah blah from the secret menu," the barista vented on Reddit, "I’m going to scream." There’s a difference, another clarifies on the same thread, between a customer asking for something tailored to their liking and demanding something from the (non-existent) secret menu. The same user also says any supposed secret menus floating around (some of which are fan or barista-created) aren’t company-issued or approved.
So if you ask for something off the secret menu, chances are, the barista will have no idea what you’re talking about. Instead, if you want something you don’t see being offered, their recommendation is "be patient with us and be clear about what you’d like!"
There are two cup sizes most people don’t know about
Here’s where things get a little interesting. While there is no secret menu, there are two drink sizes in addition to the three listed on the boards: tall, grande, and venti. There is the short –- which, at 8 oz., is less liquid than the tall; and there’s also the trenta, which, at 31 oz., is larger than the venti. The trenta, the Starbucks website notes, is only available for certain cold beverages like iced teas, lemonade and cold brews. Another fun fact: when you order a venti, the amount of beverage you get differs depending on whether your drink is hot or cold, Starbucks also explains. A hot venti will contain 20 oz of coffee while a cold one has a little more, with 24 oz.
The names of the sizes stem from Starbucks’ executive Howard Schultz’s trip to Italy over three decades ago. In the book, "Grande Expectations," author Karen Blumenthal claims Schultz became so enamored by Italian coffee bars and the Italian coffee experience that when he returned, he wanted Starbucks beverages to sound more exotic than anything Americans had heard of before.
For a national chain, there are a lot of company perks
Putting up with difficult customers can feel thankless. But Starbucks does a lot to keep its employees healthy and happy. CNN Money reports that Starbucks actually spends $300 million each year on healthcare for its workers -– more than it does on coffee beans. Workers putting in 20 hours a week or more qualify for it. The company also offers paid time off, personal days, and additional pay for working during the holidays. There’s leave for new parents and financial assistance for those looking to complete online degrees. To help them enjoy the workday more, Starbucks says its partners can help put together their store’s Spotify playlist. So even while they’re slinging cups of joe on their feet, at least there’s a decent chance they’ll feel like dancing.
The takeaway from all this: Starbucks employees may have to put up with more ridiculous demands than they’d like (so remember to be nice), but they work at a company that really seems to care about their well-being and their customers’ too.