For those hoping to score a free reusable red cup or make the switch from pumpkin spice latte to peppermint mocha, the holiday season at Starbucks is … the most wonderful time of the year. But are those holiday drink-focused weeks at the end of each year as magical for Starbucks baristas?
I worked as a store manager at Starbucks for more than a decade and flashes of moments when my employees and I were treated unfairly by customers still pop into my head from time to time.
There's the time when, during a "buy one, get one" holiday drink special, we were understaffed. A barista and I were working together making drinks … and were covered in syrup. Around the counter, customers were complaining about the wait time for their free drink. Surrounded by frustrated faces, we were just trying our best to get the drinks out when all of the sudden Andy Williams' Christmas hit "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" started playing on the radio. We looked at each other and started laughing: At that point there wasn't much else we could do. It surely did not feel like a wonderful time.
Another year, on the day before Thanksgiving, the store was extremely busy. Our drive-through line wrapped around the building, and the line inside was just as long. A regular customer walked in and asked to speak with the manager — me — right away. I walked over and he started lecturing me about why our Christmas décor was "out too early." He suggested that we "really should come in on the evening of Thanksgiving to do that." I can still remember almost laughing at him. As a mom with little kids at home, I couldn't imagine leaving my kids and family on Thanksgiving night to decorate a Starbucks, nor could I fathom making that demand of my employees. I couldn't help myself. I said to him, "Well if you are willing to meet us here, we sure will."
How could he possibly not know that the decision of when to decorate for the holiday season was a bit above my pay grade? I was doing my best to move customers through a busy store, covered in syrup, smelling like a sausage breakfast sandwich and looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my family the next day.
For better or for worse, customers do tend to take out their holiday frustrations on the ones wearing the green — or red — apron. I mean hey, they haven't had their caffeine yet, so can you blame them?
But it's not all under-caffeinated customers and critical comments. There are fun parts to working at Starbucks during the holidays: You get to have super-fun holiday drinks in a red cup for free and you get to spread holiday cheer to all who are willing to get in the Christmas spirit. And, the best part of rocking that Starbucks apron might just be the exceptionally kind customers who (usually) make up for the grouchy ones.
I remember a few regulars who went out of their way to make sure we were getting not just a kind word from them, but spoiled with treats and tokens of their appreciation. After all, for our regulars, Starbucks was everything from a place to grab a daily coffee on the way to work to a relaxing spot to study with a cup of tea.
There was Earl, who would bring in pizzas for my staff and I unannounced or make us hand-written cards while sitting in our lobby. Another customer named Marie would make treats for teachers at a local school, but would always make extras to drop off to us, too. Melissa would pull me aside during the holidays and hand over an envelope full of cash. She'd have me go out and buy the staff whatever their favorite treats were. I'd go get them ice cream and all kinds of snacks, and she'd never even let me tell them who it was from.
And there are other simple ways to show kindness to baristas that don't require spending money. We loved customers who would clean up behind themselves in the café or avoid complaining when the line was long. Sometimes they simply were the ones who always smiled at us and said "thank you."
I often get asked Do you miss working for Starbucks? I always quickly respond with a loud "no." But, the truth of the matter is, if I really think about it, I do miss some customers — those ones who go out of their way to connect with their baristas. In fact, I still keep in touch with some and will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Earls, Melissas and Maries of the world. This holiday season I hope you can be that for your barista and I'm thankful for the ones who were that for me.
It's understandably frustrating when the store is out of peppermint syrup or understaffed, but this holiday season, try to remember that none of those things are controlled by the barista tasked with making your drink. The store is not at fault for running out of free red cups or the sprinkles that top your favorite holiday beverage. At any given time, the baristas are just doing their best to remember all those drink recipes and do everything they can to help you enjoy your drink. Instead of being a Scrooge at your local Starbucks, take this season as an opportunity to try to go above and beyond to make the baristas feel the same seasonal love and spirit you'd want in your own home.
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