I worked at Starbucks all through college and a couple years after. It was one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had, and I am sad to say I mourn the loss of what Starbucks once was.
When I first started at Starbucks, I worked in a store that had one of those grind and tamp espresso machines. Do you know what I am talking about? You won’t see them in any Starbucks now-a-days, but these machines required you manually grind the espresso beans, manually tamp (press) the espresso into a little portafilter (looked like a small pot with a handle) and manually brew each shot. You had to time the shots, calibrate the machine to brew the shots just right, and it took fooorrrrr-evvvvv-errrrrrr to make each drink. But it was amazing. The art of coffee. No automatic shut off, no automatic steam wand for the milk, you actually had to pay attention. Imagine that.
About a year after that, we got the automated machines. Coffee was still an art to me, making each cup with love. What I loved most about the whole thing was the customer experience. I loved the people. Talking with them while I made their drink, getting to know the “regulars” who came in daily, memorizing drinks, and generally making the experience for the customers a fun and welcoming one.
The importance back then was the people. Starbucks often spoke with us employees about being the “third place,” the place you go when you’re not at home or work. Once a customer walked in the door, you were required to say hello within a few seconds. If a person sat at a drive-through window for more than three seconds without a hello from the employees, not good.
The focus was on creating the Starbucks experience. Making it memorable so people would come back. It wasn’t about pushing sales and relying on the addictive factor of their delicious drinks. It was about people.
So what changed?
In the last year of my employment there, Starbucks started making changes. Changes that required more sales. More emphasis on the drink offerings. And less on the people. After I left, I started noticing the quality of workers at Starbucks just wasn’t the same. Where did all the smiles go? Where were the kind workers? Where did the work ethic go? Now, it isn’t uncommon for me to wait at a drive through window for several minutes before being acknowledged. An entire transaction can go without a smile, thank you, or polite anything.
I am so disappointed in the change that Starbucks has been going through. More sales. Less community.
And that is probably what bothers me. You see, when I worked at Starbucks, it was one of those places where people would come to be with one another. The regulars all hung out for hours and laughed and shared life.
I particularly remember one couple who regularly came in. When the husband of the couple was killed tragically in a car accident, the wife came to our store. She said, “I knew you guys would be there for me.” Our manager went outside with her and they sat for a few hours talking. She continued to come back daily, without her husband, and I saw healing happen in a freaking Starbucks. I saw community happen in a commercial business. But it was all because Starbucks used to value community.
It makes me sad, really. Its truly representative of our culture now. Get in and out. However you want to take that. Food. Work. Groceries. Sex. Relationships. Phone calls. School. Heck, even having babies. So, I raise a glass (an iced americano with hazelnut and cream) to what Starbucks once was and what our culture used to be…may community continue to reside in our hearts when it is no longer represented by a green Siren.