The Starbucks Experiment

Monday, September 26, 2005

Incompetence hates you too

I hate incompetence. i have discovered that this is the organizing principle of my life at Starbucks. it's so simple, even obvious, and it explains a surprising amount.

for example, Yessi is one of our supervisors and he started around the same time i did, we were even in the same "Starbucks Experience" class, which is supposed to be the new employees first introduction to the world of sbux. i hated Yessi at first; not when i first met him, i didn't take an instant dislike to him, but when i first worked with him, because he was incompetent. he was new, he had no idea what he was doing, and i used to be really unpleasant to him because of it. but now i think he's a fine supervisor and we get along great.

Dana is the newest new kid on the block (omg, instant flashback to elementary school). i've worked with Dana a few times, i've even trained him on the bar, and i've found him to be . . . um, slow. but it was only yesterday that he struck me as being damn annoying. at sbux, as with any retail store, there is always "something to do" even if there are no customers. you can always take out the trash, do some dishes, restock supplies, or make frappuccino mix. Dana's new so he's not in the habit of doing any of these helpful things, but he has been through all of his training, so supposedly he knows how to do them. yesterday when i walked into the store at 1:30, the place was a wreck. tons of dishes in the sink, trash practically overflowing, stacks of cups and lids practically empty, etc. sbux often looks like this when i waltz in on sunday and it often pisses me off, because i have to close and i'll have enough to do in a few hours without cleaning up the morning's mess. but Dana was in a v. cheerful mood. he kept trying to exchange little "witticisms" with me and i kept grunting in response, while i literally mopped up messes he had probably made an hour before. finally i told him that i wasn't really in the mood to chat because there was tons of work to do. i asked him in a v. pleasant manner if he had ever closed before? no, well it was the hardest shift there was, and it was important to get as much as possible done early and out of the way. i told him sweetly that seeing the place like this made me think no one had done any work that morning, even though i knew that wasn't true. Dana sort of nods like he gets it, and what does he do? does he take out the trash, start doing the dishes? no! he goes to the bar and starts cleaning WHAT I HAVE JUST CLEANED! i literally almost yelled at him, get away from MY bar! about an hour later when i was trying to simultaneously make a latte and put dishes in the sanitizer (because the dishes still were not done), Dana sidled over to the bar and tried to pour MY steamed milk. at that point i actually grabbed the pitcher out of his hand and told him sternly and in a raised voice that i would do that because that was MY job. the funny thing is that i have never been proprietorial about the espresso bar before. i never mind if any of the other partners come over to make a drink when i'm the barista in residence. then again, no one else at sbux exudes incompetence like Dana. i had to stay until 8pm last night (45 minutes later than usual), in part because Dana gave me absolutely no assistance before he waltzed out at 5.

who knows, maybe he'll turn out to be another Yessi. in the mean time i reserve the right to hate him.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Twighlight Hour

I had a lovely weekend in New York. i spent the first 24 hours wondering how i had ever given it up, how i ever imagined i could live anywhere else. and i spent the last 24 hours wondering when i could go home. each reaction bothers me extremely, because they both smack of the visitor or even worse, the tourist. whereas i like to think of myself as a life-long citizen of the city.

we spent friday night revisiting old haunts; the steps, cafe deluxe, 1020. being at alma mater seemed frighteningly appropriate now that we're alums. saturday was beautiful. we walked all around the west village and most of bleeker street was dedicated to a flea market so we bought used shoes on the cheap. i also found an absolutely lovely black wool sheath dress from the 50s with three-quarter sleeves. i had to shimmy it over my clothes to see if it would fit, and its perfect. done and done. then i met up with Eva, recently moved to the borough of Brooklyn to see her place in carrol gardens. her apartment suffers from being inhabited by four males (her brother and co.) for four years. but her neighborhood is full of absolutely gorgeous brownstones and their lovely front gardens.

then we went on to Kate Dugan's party in williamsburg, which was not quite as decadent as we had hoped. no one did coke on the coffee table, there was only one keg that got tapped early (much like the party itself, we left at 2 when it was already dwindling), and the assortment of people seemed a bit more sparse and rather more random than last time. but we did manage to play a few games of flip cup (my team always won, i made many holes-in-one), and thankfully Natalie was there to give random strangers sloppy kisses and say wildly inappropriate things. and there was that random chick who flashed the entire roof deck in an effort to show the cute guy whom she was chatting up her belly button. so really with highlights like that you can't complain.

sunday commenced with the brunch fuck up from hell. never make plans with drunken friends on the way home from a party; you try to keep them, they are too hung-over to do so, and then when you go ahead without them, they get pissed. then i had to spend the long lovely afternoon indoors at a couple of rather useless Barnard alum meetings. one apartment viewing and an hungarian pastry shop later and most of us managed to gather on the steps for take-out from swish. but alas, the coveted spot against alma mater had been taken by the worse scum on campus, two freshman on a really nice date.

i slept fitfully until i had to get up at 4:30 to catch my early bird train back to DC. all weekend i had been looking forward to getting to penn station early and buying delicious glazed donuts fresh off the press from krispy kreeme. but of course, when i got there the krispee kreme was closed and not opening till six! which makes me think that they don't make them there at all but just have them delivered from Queens or something. what a rip off. so instead i went to the bakery across the way and got a rice-krispee treat, on the grounds that it was made of cereal and therefore very appropriate for breakfast. it may have been appropriate for breakfast but it did not sit appropriately in my stomach for the rest of the day.

today i had an amusing lunch with the rest of the modern and contemporary department. half of them are leaving next week to go to Paris for the opening of the dada show at G. Pomp. apparently the opening party is being sponsored by yves saint laurent, and originally he insisted on not inviting any donors or curators; he wanted fashionistas only. this led to many amusing commentaries on the french that i'm sure my reid hall brethren would appreciate.

as you can tell i'm pretty bored to have written that at all. it's the twilight hour at work. you've finished the morning's projects but you don't feel like starting anything new. time to call dad and see if he wants to leave work early. i try this everyday and it hasn't worked yet, but here's hoping . . .

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Power Struggles

The Starbucks on MacArthur Blvd. two blocks away from my house looks peaceful and still. it lies in the middle of a row of shops on the ground floor of an office building. the busy parking lot in front gives it the air of a strip mall, and also sets it back from the road. this setback, combined with the regulation dark interior and extreme air conditioning, gives Starbucks the definite air of a cave. from behind the bar or even the register its hard to tell if outside is night or day, rain or shine. my Starbucks is too small for over-sized armchairs, so it's not nearly as comfortable as some, but it has become comfortable to me. or rather, it had become comfortable.

Be forewarned, the quiet exterior of the local Starbucks belies a vicious power struggle taking place inside. deep within the cave trouble has been brewing, probably all summer except I was too new to notice. last week the pot overflowed, and its only now in the aftermath that I'm able to see how everything happened.

Last week I asked to talk with Melissa, the manager, about my scheduling woes. she was very apologetic and sympathetic but then abruptly changed the subject and asked me about Eugene, one of the shift supervisors. Eugene has been working at Starbucks for four years and is practically an assistant manager. i always close with him on Sundays and we have a great time. its an exhausting shift so we always try to get home as soon as possible, and we chat a lot after we lock the door to customers. Eugene is a painter, and very sensitive (though not really to other people's problems, typical artist temperament), so our conversations involve a lot of complaints from him about the other people at the store, and i try to be a sympathetic ear. Eugene is not known as the most industrious person at our store, but he's well liked by the people he supervises. So Melissa asks me about Eugene, do I have any complaints about him? I say no, and she asks me if I'm sure; he's never done anything that i disagree with? she's standing there in front of me, wanting me to say something, and i think subconsciously i wanted to please her, as if to show her there were no hard feelings about my schedule. so i say that occasionally Eugene sort of rushes me out when we close (which is true, he's told me not to finish cleaning the espresso machine or something because he has to go catch his bus, but of course if i'm all done and he's still finishing up, i never ask him to hurry even though i can't leave until he does), but that of course i like to leave early too, and as long as the people who open after us don't have any complaints, i don't think it's been a problem. she sort of nods and says fine and i go on my merry way.

next thing i know, when i come into work on my next shift, Yessi (another shift supervisor who started just before i did), tells me and Yirga (the barista i always open with) that Melissa had a major talking to with Eugene and told him that we all think he's lazy. well Yirga and i were really upset, because Melissa had made it sound like we talked about Eugene behind his back, which we don't. i felt like some horrible informer, but Yessi tried to talk me out of that. i had just answered Melissa's question, it wasn't like i had gone to her voluntarily and told her all Eugene's secrets, etc. i only saw Eugene briefly during the week, and he seemed depressed, but i didn't want to ask him about it because i wasn't sure if Melissa had named names and if she didn't, i didn't want to admit that i had said anything bad about him.

so on sunday Eugene and i are closing as usual, except that we're both rather quiet. but as soon as Eugene has locked the front door, he tells me that he's going to take his time because Melissa told him that he rushes me. well, then obviously we had to have it out, so i told him exactly what happened, and that got him on a whole rant about what a manipulative bitch Melissa is, how she plays favorites with the staff. she hates him and is looking for any excuse to have him fired, but she'd forgive Yirga anything. she's told him flat out that if Eugene tries to transfer to another Starbucks, she'll write him a bad recommendation. Tom, the assistant manager, sucks up to her and is a real jerk. and the regional manager has a total crush on her and would never go against her. a lot of this is news to me. i'm being sympathetic and basically agreeing with whatever Eugene says; it does seem like Tom and especially Melissa dislike him, Melissa does appear to be more manipulative or shall we say, less objective, than i gave her credit for. but how objective is Eugene being? Tom and Melissa have always been really nice to me personally, and I see them during their shifts doing their best to make sure everyone is having a good time. but the sad truth is that with all the fighting amongst the management, it's impossible to relax and have a good time at work. Eugene isn't the only one who's been coming in looking depressed.

things do seem to have quieted down, probably just because Melissa changed the schedule so that she and Eugene won't overlap. I heard a story about a friend of a friend who was twenty minutes late one day at Starbucks, the first time he had ever been late, and was fired on the spot. he was also in his fourth year, and apparently year five is some sort of watershed moment when retirement benefits and stuff go way up. this guy sued sbux and managed to get some benefits money back, but that hardly makes up for being unnecessarily fired. so maybe this is an actual Starbucks policy. scary.

luckily i'm going to New York this weekend so i can put all that sbux BS behind me (for two days). i have begun to miss New York. i miss not needing a car and having everything right on your doorstep. i miss how little outings could feel like big adventures. sigh.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Scheduling Woes

When I interviewed for my job at Starbucks i specifically requested that i have a regular schedule, meaning the same hours on the same days every week. unless of course i ask for a day off. i spent this past labor day weekend visiting my sister Laura in North Carolina, so naturally i requested sunday off. Melissa, my manager, gave me the day off without a sigh but then proceeded to schedule me for last thursday, even though i had told her that i now work at my internship on thursdays. Melissa claims she forgot about the internship (probably true) and scheduled me for a third day so that i could get my 20 hours a week (definitely not true since the schedule had me leaving early every day and not getting even close to 20 hours). by the time i saw this schedule, it was too late for anyone else to take my shift, so i had to email molly, my curator-boss at the Gallery, my second week on the job, to tell her i couldn't come in thursday and, oh yeah, i was leaving early on friday (to catch my flight to Durham), but i'll come in friday morning. molly writes back "no problem, have a great weekend, see you next thursday, remember we have labor day off." so, i asked my mother, does that mean i don't have to come in at all on friday? we decided that it did.

so i waltz up to Starbucks at 5am this morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from my wonderful three (or four) day weekend (when i apparently became a squirrel), and lo and behold, there are already three people there. we all look at each other blankly. they never schedule four people to open. usually they can barely coerce three people to haul themselves out of bed. sure enough, i am not scheduled to come in until 7:30, which means i woke up two hours too early for no reason, except of course, the reason that my manager sucks at scheduling. keep in mind that i haven't started work at 7:30 since my first week on the job, after which i told Melissa that i actually preferred opening (because it goes faster and you get to go home earlier). to make matters worse the supervisor on duty refused to let me work the extra two hours because he might get in trouble (apparently he had just mistakenly let someone else go home early a few days before and had got in trouble for that). so i walked my ass home and lied on my bed for two hours, unable to sleep, working myself into a mental frenzy. and what really gets me is that Melissa only made this schedule last thursday, while i was at work (because she had mistakenly scheduled me). she could of easily said "hey Katharine, you don't mind coming in tuesday at 7:30, right?" even though she knew i was going out of town, she made no effort to let me know that my first day back would be abnormal. we had it out at work today, and of course i wound up murmuring sedately what i had fantasized about yelling at her a few hours before. she assures me that my schedule will stay regular from now on. time will tell.

as mentioned earlier, my weekend away was lovely. Laura is living in this super charming town right next to chapel hill called Carrborro. its full of little bungalows and organic food stores, and a big green in the town center, bordered by a cafe on one side, is constantly full of cute little babies with their parents, hippies with their guitars, various amateur acrobatic troupes, and assorted dogs. Laura actually lives in an apartment complex with her old high school friend Tracy. the apartments are townhouse style, with separate entrances for each, and Laura's backs up on to the pool, v. nice. two bedrooms and a bath upstairs; kitchen, powder room, and combined living/dining room downstairs. and just to remind my friends paying an arm and a leg (and a kidney) in new york, their entire rent is just $750 per month, meaning $325 each, including utilities. they just moved in a few weeks ago, and i got to play decorator, advising them on how to rearrange their furniture and put up art. it had potential, but now it is absolutely delightful, if i do say so myself.

this post has wound up not being even remotely funny. i suppose it falls under the category of an update. obviously my life needs to get more amusing. i'll try to have something funny happen to me before next time.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Legally Addictive Stimulants

At the risk of sounding like a bad imitation of Jerry Seinfeld, what's the deal with caffeine? tons of customers at Starbucks ask for "half-cafs" or "half-and-halfs:" either espresso drinks with half decaf shots or a cup of drip coffee that's half decaf and half regular. this alone strikes me as a bit strange. it's like the 2% milk thing. make a decision. either you want caffeine or you don't. but what I really don't understand are people like Mrs. Pregnant, one of our regular customers who looked nine months pregnant three months ago, and is now so big she must be having twins. every morning she orders a "quarter-caf:" three quarters decaf, one quarter regular coffee. i used to tend bar at private parties in New York, and i would occasionally see pregnant women drinking alcohol, but i always figured, hey, you never know, maybe that's the first drink she's had in six months, whatever. but for a pregnant woman to have caffeine every day when they're not even supposed to take an advil seems a little, um, i'll just settle with weird. even weirder however are the people, and there are a few, who ask for decaf coffee with just a "splash" of regular. Have these people actually experimented before finally settling on this combination? did they start out with a half-caf, try the quarter-caf, and then when that still made them too jumpy, did they go decaf all the way and what? fall asleep at their desks? decaf coffee still has caffeine in it! do we really not know this? they can't wash all of it off, and even when they treat it chemically there's still some in there. it's like sprite, or things that are "fat free." so what is that little splash of regular coffee really doing for you that a cup of decaf couldn't?

similarly, i have to wonder if the people who act so incensed at the idea of drinking decaf coffee are really basing that on personal experience. like sometimes people ask for sumatra, because last week that was our bold drip coffee. but this week our bold is kenya and our decaf drip is decaf sumatra. so i'll ask if they want decaf or bold, and they'll stare at me, absolutely aghast: "I can't drink decaf, oh god, never give someone decaf without asking!" yeah, that's why i just asked you idiot. i know someone who shall remain nameless (i.e. danielle) who claims to get a headache if she doesn't have her morning coffee because she goes through caffeine withdrawal (this is despite the fact that when she gets her morning coffee, she nurses it over three hours, so i guess a little goes a long way). if i gave a customer decaf without asking first, would they really notice a physical difference in how they felt that day? if i did that to danielle would she get a headache? even if they felt tired, they would probably connect it to something else, like gee, i don't know, oncoming depression caused by obsessing over one's daily caffeine intake. can anyone really recognize the physical signs of caffeine withdrawal unless they know they haven't had any?

obviously any drug is affected by psychology, but caffeine does have legitimate physical affects, which is why pregnant women aren't supposed to have any. but that brings me to the other, actually more disturbing problem. how is Starbucks getting away with this? an international empire of stores all selling an addictive stimulant, bleeding customers of cash, watching them come in once, twice, even three times a day? we sell to minors, we add sugary syrups and whip cream to attract new potential addicts, we even give free samples! i've heard customers seriously compare their daily drink to crack, and i can't say they're far off.

i can't end my discussion of caffeine without giving a friendly warning. if you want to drink something at sbux that's caffeine free, don't ask for a decaf espresso drink. i can't count the number of times i've given a customer a "decaf" latte even though i know i put in caffeinated espresso shots. and those are only the times i noticed my mistake. it's not a hard thing to mess up; the buttons are right next to each other, so it's basically as easy as making a typo (and you've probably already spotted a few of those on this blog). granted, i think i do that a lot less now that i have more experience, but if you don't recognize the barista behind the bar, (s)he may be a newbie who doesn't know how to type. on the other hand, i've heard that espresso has about half the caffeine, ounce for ounce, of regular coffee, and of course, you drink much less of it. so maybe this discussion is, um, pointless? ha, i had that figured out two paragraphs ago.