The Starbucks Experiment

Friday, October 21, 2005

...and It came to a Head, and It was Good.

This past sunday was absolutely the worst day i have ever had at Starbucks. when i walked in at 1pm the back looked disgustingly dirty as usual. normally on sundays my first task is to create a new coffee of the week sign, complete with artistic renderings. this usually takes about half and hour and is one of my favorite things to do at sbux. but last sunday i had to sidle over to the bar because Leah, the regular customer who insists on good foam, had just walked in and wanted me to make her cappuccino. Eugene, the supervisor, and Dana, the "new" ie. slow guy, were manning the bar together, but when I showed up Eugene left to make room. making Leah's drink was more complicated than usual because the floor was filthy and wet, and we were sliding around on it as if skating on thin ice. so as soon as i'm done i figure i have to mop the floor, since it seems to be a genuine health hazard. so i get out the mop and go to it, and halfway through i notice the drinks are piling up on the bar. Dana has left, apparently to go on break, with no word to me to make sure i'm covering him, and Eugene, who as supervisor is supposed to organize when everyone takes their breaks and inform others of the schedule, is nowhere to be found. so i become the barista in residence by default, which is pretty obnoxious since the floor is still half done and i'm supposed to be doing the sign anyway. Eugene keeps coming and going but ignoring my objections, until finally he tells me to go do the sign, which i do (and it was my best one yet; it featured a majestic elephant because it advertised the kenya coffee).

by the time i get back behind the counter, it's time for all the morning people to leave, so it's just Dana, Eugene, and me. and the place is still a fucking wreck. this really pisses me off for reasons i have already mentioned on this blog. i close on sundays, so i'll have enough cleaning to do anyway without also cleaning up after the morning crew. and honestly Dana could not be more useless. he just really needs a v. hands on manager, because unless someone explicitly tells him to do something, he stands there and does nothing. my gentle hints fell on deaf ears. example: "Dana, could you check on the dishes in the machine?" "sure," Dana says, and he opens the sanitizer, takes out the tray of dishes and puts it on the sink. does he put the clean dishes away? NO! does he move a muscle to actually clean any dishes? NO! Euegene, needless to say, was not around to tell Dana what to do. he has a v. hands off approach which up until now i have always appreciated. his attitude is "that's your bar, it's your responsibility, and you can handle it," and i'm sure i work better with him than i would with many another manager who likes to look over your shoulder. but Eugene should be able to recognize that Dana is not the self-motivated worker that i am, and that it's not my job or my place to tell Dana what to do.

and to make matters even worse, that sunday was slightly busier than normal. there was just a steady enough stream to make it practically impossible to finish projects (like the dishes, or making whip cream) on your own. and since i was working on my own, i couldn't finish anything. i normally start my end of the day cleaning at 4 or 4:30, but i couldn't get to any of that until 6:30, a half hour before close, and as a result, we were there until 8:30, at least an hour later than we normally leave. Eugene was not pleased, but seemed mystified. i was pissed as hell.

in fact, i actually nearly had a nervous breakdown earlier that day. i had to spend the hour before my meal break exerting all my energy on controlling myself so that i wouldn't start screaming at someone or burst into tears. and as soon as i went on break, i did burst into tears. because the thing is, that it really winds up feeling v. personal. it feels like no one gives a shit about you or how much work you have to do, like they've just abandoned you in this pit of sticky, filmy, milky disgustingness. gross.

i realized that every time Eugene, Dana, and i work together is worse (for me) than the last, and that if i have to do it again i might v. well have that nervous breakdown and quit on the spot. and that would be too bad, because i do actually like the job. so i talked to Melissa the manager and told her that i thought the three of us were a bad combination and that i honestly couldn't work with that combination again. if we just had another experienced partner with us, it would be fine, and since the weekends seemed to be getting busier maybe we should do that anyway. well of course, Melissa is not pleased with Eugene's performance in general, and she took this all to mean that Eugene is not doing his job and should possibly be fired. and this made me feel rather guilty, because no matter how angry i was with him last sunday, i think that he is actually a really good guy, that he has a lot to offer, and that the reason he isn't performing at sbux anymore is that Melissa has basically demoralized him instead of helping him learn how to do his job better. on the other hand, Melissa is so dissatisfied with Eugene, and him wtih her, and i know he's thinking about leaving anyway, so maybe it would be for the best.

Melissa talked with Eugene after i left (this was the next day i worked, last tuesday), and on wednesday i was terrified that when i saw Eugene he would be furious at me for "going to management." so i asked him gingerly how his talk went with Melissa the day before, and to my surprise he said it had been totally fine, that he saw Melissa's point and hoped there were no hard feelings between him and me. of course i said how happy i was to hear that and he said i had a good heart, and so everything worked out strangely well. Melissa promised me i'll never have to work with just those two again, and that in fact from now on there will always be three closers instead of just two. whew.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Quality Checks

At every Starbucks across the land, every barista has to, at some point during her shift, create the four most popular espresso drinks, weigh them, and check their temperature. these are called quality checks.

i won't bore you with the exact figures (also i don't remember them offhand), but a latte is supposed to weigh in the "70s" meaning 0.70 lbs. to 0.80. a mocha is similar but should be a little lighter than a latte, because it has less milk and more whip cream. a caramel macchiato should be in the 60s, and a cappuccino should be in the 50s. all these drinks should be at least 140 degrees, but cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos shouldn't be too hot, not more than 150 say.

lattes are the most foolproof, although I am not the only barista who sometimes makes them too light. that's because we like steaming the milk, so it turns out a bit foamier and lighter than it strictly should be. mocha's are often too cold; you have to steam the milk extra hot to offset the coldness of the mocha syrup and whip cream. the problem with caramel macchiato's and cappuccinos is always the weight. caramel macchiatos need a delicate balance of milk to foam (the foam forms a platform on top of which the espresso and caramel is poured--i have been told that macchiato means "stain," so the espresso is always poured after the milk, to stain the foam). the problem of course with a cappuccino is foaming the milk correctly. if barista's get into their quality checks, they can make a cappuccino half a dozen times before the get it right. one wrong pass of the steam wand or a slight hitch in your pour creates a cappuccino that is too light or too heavy.

every good barista has their own technique and is fiercely proud of their foam. we challenge each other to foam duels and mercilessly make fun of each other's efforts. this is serious stuff. baristas develop followings based on the quality of their foam. occasionally this results in extra cash if the customer offers a private tip (which technically we're not allowed to accept). Leah is a regular customer at our store who has learned to time her visits around Yirga's lunch break, so that she no longer makes the mistake of coming in when Yirga isn't there. but Leah asks me to make her cappuccino on Sunday's, when Yirga has off, as i rank a close second. Yirga has the most consistently great foam. anyone can make amazing foam once in a while, but only Yirga churns it out every morning. the best foam, that's painstakingly steamed, settled, and spooned into the cup for a dry cappuccino, has the consistency of whipped yogurt. delicious.

Breaking the Silence

Well, that does it. Adithi posted a new post so now i have to too. there is something rather parallel about our situations. she felt guilty about not writing, didn't know how the time was going by so quickly etc. i feel just the same, guilty for not having kept up with something that i don't think anyone reads, and not really wanting to write because i feel like nothing's happening. that's the major difference i suppose, Adithi is in a brand new and far more stimulating environment. she could actually choose to have a social life, while i seem stuck in some approximation of high school. ie, occasionally i'll hang out with an old friend but i'm hardly out there partying and meeting new people.

it's not that i'm bored exactly (i know i've said this before). i enjoy my work at the gallery ten times more than i did three weeks ago. i used to feel like i never really knew what to do or didn't have enough to do, and now i don't know how i'll get it all done. but more importantly it's all really fantastic reading. the main reason i stopped blogging for so long was that i actually hate to leave the library.

and i love Starbucks too; i get along with everyone i work with, being there is just about getting the job done while having a good time. i feel like i haven't talked about sbux that much, despite the blog title, but i think that's because good news is no news.

i feel like i have to keep reminding myself that this is exactly what i wanted to do in this year between undergraduate and graduate life. i have fun part-time work with benefits, plus a great internship that lets me do research while looking great on my resume. i know i'm preparing myself well for the future i want, but that's a sort of quiet joy. i guess that's it. this is a v. quiet time in my life. hibernation.

i'll end with a joke:

Q. What is President Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.