BEHIND THE GREEN APRON: A Starbucks Expose

We here at The Amateur Gourmet pride ourselves on our journalistic integrity, our bravado, and our contacts at Starbucks. It was one such contact, today, that provided me with the keys to the kingdom of behind-the-scenes Starbucks knowledge that we, the average Starbucks consumer, can only dream about. I share with you now the things I learned on my journey–a journey into the dark underbelly of America’s corporate coffee giant–my journey: BEHIND THE GREEN APRON.

[Cue theme music.]

My source immediately made it clear that Starbucks has a firm policy regarding disclosures to outside media sources. I assured her that my website is hardly a media source: my readers are all heavily medicated former alcoholics who live in a school bus on the outskirts of Maine. This seemed to win her over, and she allowed me to take a picture of her from the neck down to provide a graphic for the title of my expose: BEHIND THE GREEN APRON.

[Replay theme music.]

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My source, who we will call HARPER, has worked at Starbucks for the last four years. And as much as I wanted her to be a disgruntled employee, eager to dish the dirt, she was surprisingly gruntled.

“It’s actually a great place to work,” she said, “you get great benefits: health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance. Plus stock and 401k.”

401k? Was this some kind of designer jean?

“Sure,” she responded.

Unfatigued by her enthusiasm, I attempted to chip away at her cheery facade.

“But surely you find the corporate structure disturbing,” I pressed. “A huge coffee giant, stomping in and taking over the world?”

“See I don’t agree,” she said, “People try to compare this place to Walmart and I’m like: no, it’s different from Walmart. Starbucks takes care of the people in the communities where they get their coffee. They’re a really good company.”

I began turning red with impatience.

(“Look,” I whispered, “Can’t you sensationalize this a bit? See, my readership is flagging and I’d like to create another internet phenomenon, like my Janet Jackson cupcake shpiel. Can’t you do it up a bit?” Harper nodded. “OK?” I asked. “Oh, sorry, were you talking to me? I was on my cell phone.”)

One thing Harper did wax negative about was how empty and automatic her job had become. Formerly, Starbucks employees actually made the drinks from scratch: grinding the beans, brewing the espresso, heating the foam. Now it’s all done by machine.

“I really thought they were going to fire us when they brought this thing in,” she said. She was referring to the giant chrome automaton the workers stand behind throughout the day. Bringing great risk to her and her future career, I had Harper snap a photo of the machine–a big corporate no-no–which I will post for you now. Click to enlarge:

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Basically, then, the system works like this:

You give your order, and the counterperson shouts the order over to the person behind the automaton.

If you order a White Chocolate Mocha, the procedure is simple: a squirt of white chocolate syrup, and then over to the machine where shots of espresso shoot down. You heat up the milk in the machine to the appropriate temperature and mix it all up. Top with whipped cream and you’re done.

“The machine is so exact,” said Harper, “that it knows when the milk is at the perfect temperature. It doesn’t even let you make that decision!”

What is the perfect temperature, out of curiosity?

“Between 140 and 160 degrees.”

Moving on, I next asked about the baked goods. This seemed an area potentially rife with grotesqueries. I imagined week-old crumbcake, saturated with mold, being sold to unsuspecting little old ladies.

“Not quite,” explained Harper. “They bring the baked goods fresh every day from a local bakery. And at the end of the day they give it to a local charity.”

Oh.

“But I will say,” she continued, “that I do think the baked goods are one place where the company’s lost its focus. They’ve spread themselves too thin with all the stuff they sell. They should have two cookies, two muffins and that’s it.”

What are some strange customer requests?

“Let’s see,” she said, “there’s the guy who likes half soy and half organic milk. Or the people who want extra shots of vanilla in their white chocolate mocha. How can they take all that sugar?!”

I began snorting some sugar out of frustration. “Can’t you dish me any dirt?”

“Ah!” she said. “Well, there is the story of our old assistant manager.”

I rubbed my hands together with excitement.

“Our old assistant manager was on crack. LITERALLY. Like she would have these cups of tea and they’d be almost all empty and if someone threw them out she’d get really upset. And then we realized it was because she was putting her drugs in them. She’d say things like: ‘This is the most expensive cup of tea you’ll ever see in your life.”

“Anyway,” Harper continued, “she eventually quit and started working right across the way at the jewellery store where the ice cream place is now. And apparently she ran off with all these people’s jewellery. We would have people coming in here asking for her and we’d tell them she’s gone and they’d get really pissed.”

That was pretty juicy! “Keep going,” I encouraged.

“Hmm. Sometimes people have sex in the bathroom here.”

Aha!

Oh wait. That was me.

“Sorry,” I apologized.

Any other bad things she could say about Starbucks?

“Well,” Harper pondered, “I think white males move up through the ranks quicker than anyone else. Not at this particular Starbucks, necessarily, but I think on a national level that’s true.”

Ok.

“And sometimes customers treat you like shit. They think that since you work at Starbucks you have to be an idiot, so that sucks.”

Anything else?

“One time we were almost robbed. Well, at least I think we were. It was early Sunday morning and I was here at the registers and I saw this guy standing by the door eyeying the place up and down, counting the people. So I made a big show of getting my manager and my manager went and stood by the door. The guy ran away.”

So you saved Starbucks?

“Basically.”

And now you shall bring it down, enabling me and my poison pen!

“Whatever.”

In conclusion, Starbucks is a greedy, seedy corporate monster, cruel to its employees and tolerant of sex in the bathroom. Leaving the kingdom of Starbucks awareness, one is staggered by the sheer mass of heathenism that goes on behind closed doors, behind velvet ropes, behind

“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?”

THE GREEN APRON.

[Play theme music.]

END REEL

10 comments

  1. People are having sex so often in the bathroom of the Ansley Starbucks that they ought to hand out condoms with the coffee like a bathhouse! Note that this never discourages me from drinking my coffee there.

  2. I feel cheated. I mean, I worked at Starbucks for a bit, and I saw no sex in the restrooms or had crack-addicted thieving managers. *ever* Clearly, I didn’t have the whole sbux experience they’re going on about all the time.

  3. There’s a coffee shop on Church Street in Toronto that has had so many problems with sex & drugs in the bathrooms that they installed black light so you couldn’t find your viens… or the toilet for that matter. It’s pretty nasty in there.

    Perhaps the overall nastiness stops people from having sex… Cause black light certainly wouldn’t do it… Now, what was that movie with the light sabre-esque dueling condoms???

  4. Does anybody have a copy of the Starbucks employee/partner handbook that they would be willing to sell?

  5. I’m a Mom of a 22 year told employee of Starbucks. She works very very hard but keeps getting screwed by Starbucks. She tries and tries to work enough hours to get her health insurance, but Starbucks plays this game with her. They give her enough hours for 3 months, then she gets health insurance, they they cut her hours so she doesn’t qualify. This goes on and on. The next thing that happens is she gets sick from working split shifts, closing at midnight and having to be up the next day to open. She goes to work sick because they are always so short handed, they can’t get along without her. She is only allowed to be sick if she can find someone to work for her. How can someone call for someone to cover their shift then they are throwing up. She has gone to work several times so sick that she had to run to the back of the store and throw up. She got so sick that she had to take a medical leave. When she got back, Starbuck’s penalized her, first by demoting her, and then screwing about and not getting her medical leave pay for her. They have never given it to her. Yes demoting her was illegal, but she is young and doesn\’t have time to get a lawyer and sue them. Starbuck\’s is completely cruel to their employees. Sure they give them free coffee, but hey, its a drop in the bucket for them. The don\’t even feel it. My poor daughter would like her job if they weren\’t so purposely short handed, if Starbucks would not harrass their employee for illness, and if they didn\’t screw them over and over on the pay. Hmmmmmm, now NPR radio just had a story about Starbucks attempting to block one of the countries they get coffee from, by bullying thme into not being able to trademark their coffee. Starbucks is bad. They are probably one of the worse companies for exploitation of their own employees, the people they steal their beans from, and in general lack of scrupels. This Starbucks Mom will be very very glad when my daughter finishes school and gets a real job, with real benefits run by real people who care about other human beings. Starbucks is none of these things. Also, check it out a consumer group just finished a study on coffee taste tests and voted MacDonald’s as number one ahead of Starbucks. H E L L O P E O P L E start spending your money wisely. p.s. I’m not into McDonalds either, but if you’re gonna buy coffee, there may be a place you can save a little money without sacraficing any taste, to the contrary. God Bless you all you hard working employees of Starbucks. Finish your college and get to hell out of there. A sympathetic Starbucks Mom.

  6. ok…. i happen to work at starbucks and weve never even heard of people having sex in the bathrooms. i have to say it is a very positive environment to work in. by far the best job ive ever had. i plan to stay for a long time. i dont know where the hell that starbucks is but that is an isolated incodent. thats embaressing.

  7. Just to comment on Starbucks Super Momma’s short novel — PLEASE for gods sake, don’t compare Starbucks to Mcdonalds. In fact, I think they are as close to opposite of Mcdonalds as you can get in the corporate world. And their coffee only tastes better because it is artificially flavored to taste like good coffee. Not kidding – look it up. And anyway – it is unfortunate what your daughter is going through – BUT, she is just one employee. If it were true for all employees of starbucks, the rest of us would not continue to spread the good word about working for them. Starbucks treats plenty of its employees VERY well – and has good intentions – which is what counts. It’s unfortunate that the store your daughter works in has not held up these values.

  8. Okay, so this is to the mom who is concerned for her daughter’s well-being. I am only trying to play devil’s advocate here. Sounds like maybe the management at that particular store may have an issue with your daughter. I am sure however, if you contacted corporate someone would further investigate.

    On the other-hand, why would your daughter show up to work sick several times? She is in college isn’t she? Is she going to work hungover? If this be the case, management may have become annoyed and purposely cut her hours for being irresponsible. I am not implying your daughter was not ever sick. It is just that this is a tough age group to employ for obvious reasons. Another thing is maybe your daughter is not telling you the whole truth….you are her mom.

    If she is not receiving her benefits why stay. If everyone is soo unhappy why stay. With all of her experience someone else would hire her in a second. More importantly, I am sure if you threatened legal to corporate they would get to the bottom of this issue.

    Lastly, remember inaction is the worst thing you can do.