10 Things Every Starbucks Barista Should Know

20170521_174941 pike and broadway StarbucksWhat do you need to know to be a barista outside of the obvious? Of course, you should know drink recipes. That’s a given. And you should be able to steam milk like there’s no tomorrow, including a flat white pour.

Ideally though, what else might be or should be important? You could probably come up with hundreds of ideas of what’s important, but here’s my list for you. Take it with a grain of salt. Outside of one holiday helper shift, I’ve never been on the other side of the counter.

  1. The Starbucks Refill Policy – This is a must. Stop saying “no” to customers who want to switch drinks. It’s allowed under the refill policy (certain conditions apply). And learn when the answer really is yes or no. If you know the refill policy, you can ace this quiz with flying colors.
  2. The shiny gold card doesn’t do anything special – This still confuses partners now and then. Sure, some customers pay for their purchase with a shiny gold card that has their name on it. The physical card does nothing. You can use any card registered to your Starbucks profile – all of the cards registered to your Starbucks.com profile will all be the level that you are at. If you are gold, then they are all gold. This means that you can pay with any card, earn stars with any card, and redeem rewards with any card. This becomes important because I have heard partners say, “you must use your gold card to ….(insert something here).” Simply not true. Use any card registered to your Starbucks.com account – it’s your digital account that is at a rewards level, not any one specific card. One more thing: when Starbucks does promotions for MSR members, it is for all members. You don’t have to be at the gold level to get a “first sip” (and frankly the answer to that question should just be “yes”.)
  3. The Starbucks Mission Statement and Core Values: The fact of the matter is that any retailer can throw some ingredients in a cup, shove it at a customer, and call it an espresso beverage or whatever. Starbucks tries to deliver something special. The relationships make Starbucks unique. By the way, it is not just a customer connection or a partner connection, it is about human connection. I know one store manager who coaches her partners on human connection, trying to move away from an “us” versus “them” mentality. If all you’re doing is throwing some milk and espresso in a cup and grumpily handing it off to a customer, you might at least think about whether Starbucks is a good fit for you. Yes, I get that it’s hard to deliver a rock star experience 100% of the time, but if the majority of your day (on a regular basis) involves you getting angry, irked, snarky, or annoyed with customers, you could be in the wrong job. Starbucks separates itself from other retails because of the experience.The truth is that the Starbucks Mission Statement is a beautiful thing. That kind of pride in your work will help you in any career.
  4.  The Four Fundamentals of a Great Cup of Coffee: Ideally, Starbucks baristas should know how to make a great cup of coffee. I know that a lot of customers have no interest in coffee, but “coffee” is still this company’s middle name. Baristas should know how to brew coffee and should know the rules for freshness relating to fresh-scooped coffee versus coffee that was roasted and packaged immediately into Flavorlock packaging. Coffee goes through a degassing phase immediately after roasting. That de-gassing phase is 8 days according to Starbucks. (You’ll find that different roasters have different ideas about how long it takes for a coffee to de-gas. There’s no exact consensus in the coffee industry. You might hear independent roasters talk about a much shorter de-gassing phase.) Once de-gassed, add 7 days for freshness. In short, use freshly-roasted coffee (that has never been in Flavorlock packaging) within 15 days from the date it was roasted.
  5. Know the hierarchy of Starbucks stores. I can safely say that 90% of Starbucks partners don’t know that there is a whole stratification and classification to Starbucks stores. This is a new thing. Starbucks didn’t always have this * exact * nomenclature. There is a hierarchy of stores: 1) Roasterys 2) Reserve Store 3) Reserve Bar 4) Core store offering Reserve coffee and 5) Core store. This just isn’t as simple as it looks. There is a lot more detail about this hierarchy at the bottom of this article here.
  6. Know a little Starbucks history: How do you know where you’re headed if you have no idea where you came from? I’ve met some partners who don’t know the story of how Starbucks began. There’s a short article here on early Starbucks history. However, one great way to get to know early Starbucks history is to read the first book written by Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart into It.
  7. Know a few stories that go with the core coffees: This goes hand in hand with the above idea that you know a little history. You don’t have to be a coffee master to know that Gold Coast Blend was created to honor the city of Chicago.
  8. Know your leadership: I remember eons ago having a conversation with a barista in a California Starbucks about who Howard was. He swore I was talking about Howard Stern. He was pretty confused. I have – no joke – met Starbucks store managers who print out the Starbucks leadership page and post it in their back office. This idea of posting photos of leadership in the back office is definitely not my idea, but I think it sounds like a good one. You’d want to know when an EVP is in your store. The store manager who told me that she posts leadership pics in her back office (who sadly left the company a couple of years ago) said that she’d considered putting up a “StarbucksMelody” photo, but it wasn’t necessary since all her partners know me. Hahaha! Over the years, I’ve now heard stories of more than one back office with Cliff, Howard, and Kevin’s photos all over it.
  9. Know that you can get involved: Starbucks encourages you to get involved in your local community. Customers and partners alike may register at the Starbucks community service website, start a project, and give their time to their community.
  10. Accept that customized drinks with cutesy names are the new normal: Despite all the human connection that goes on inside a store, fundamentally every store has to sell things: sell drinks, sell coffee, sell food, sell mugs… If it were your business, you’d want to do anything and sell. And the truth is that “No experience required” to be a customer. With the huge upswing in Instagram-viral beverages, this IS the new normal. Just do the best you can. I know – there’s problems with drink consistency, ingredients, and more. But is NOT going away. There are something like 80 million transactions per week at Starbucks. The lone barista screaming “stop” is just giving themselves gray hairy and anxiety for no reason: Screaming “stop” at all the custom drinks (many with cutesy names) is like going to a massive lake, taking a teaspoon of it and pouring it in a bucket, and say that you’re going to drain a lake. Just do the best you can. You can find ways to make the moment right, even if you can’t make that exact funny-named beverage.

Take all of this with a grain of salt. The fundamentals for Starbucks are the same as for every single career: Show up on time, dressed appropriately for whatever that career is, and have a good attitude with a willingness to learn something new wherever you can, be it from customers or other partners.

Anybody can learn that a Iced Shaken Passion Tea gets 10 shakes or that a Flat White comes with whole milk as the standard. Only good hiring practices can find people who have core values in alignment with the Starbucks Mission Statement.

(There is a slightly more mobile-device friendly version of this same article here.)

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2 Comments

  • Dennis Harnick

    Love the Reserve Coffee. Going for a Reserve Tasting on Thursday, at Starbucks in Cape coral Florida

  • Yuki from Canada

    Very well written, Melody. Most baristas I come across are pleasant and show that they really care about their jobs. However you’re right, there are some that maybe, just weren’t meant to be baristas (the sbux cops)…. When a customer can tell you more about your job and mission statement (info gained from this site, lol) then maybe you have to get more training.

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