Photo Credit: Asael Pena via unsplash
Personal anecdotes from a certified Starbucks barista
Kaitlin Wilson, Associate Features Editor
A few years ago when I used to walk into a food service establishment and take in the busy environment with the long line, the sound of machines beeping, and employees calling out orders, I used to think about how dreadful it must be to work there. After all, it can’t be very exciting to clock into work and immediately have to attend to the demands of customers for the next few hours. I certainly can’t speak for every food service employee, but my previous opinion was definitely proved wrong after working my past 2 summers serving overpriced coffee in a green apron.
I truly enjoyed my summer position working as a Starbucks barista. Some highlights include making friends with the employees I worked with every shift and chatting with all my favourite regular customers. There were definitely difficult days where I had to clock in before the sunrise at six in the morning, or once when I accidentally spilled heavy cream all over myself and the counter. I learned so much during my summer serving coffee, and have lots of stories that portray my personal experience working in food service.
Working with customers on a daily basis, I realized how much of an impact even the smallest interactions can have on others. Coffee fanatics have the saying, “don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning coffee,” which is an accurate description of numerous morning regulars. Getting caffeine is usually the first “hello” or human interaction that a lot of customers have at the start of their day, and asking about their plans or simply wishing them well presented a unique opportunity to help encourage them to start their day strong (and the coffee certainly helped with that too!).
Genuine human connection is more important than a latte. Being employed to take customers’ orders and start casual small talk made me realize how significant it is to recognize the human behind the order. There’s a reason baristas write names on cups: to make the routine of a coffee run more personable. Everyone has a story, and showing genuine interest in someone’s life goes a long way.
One of my favourite customer interactions started with a photographer asking if a newlywed couple could stop in for coffee and a few candid photos. My coworker and I were intrigued and after agreeing — and expressing mutual confusion — the bride, groom, and entire bridal party arrived a few minutes later. It was certainly not on my food service checklist to serve an entire wedding ensemble, but it was a total surprise and honour to be a small part of their big day.
Another one of my favourite interactions was seeing pets come through the drive-thru with their owners. Having dogs visit the window is the highlight of any barista’s day, and we would hand out little cups of whipped cream, or “pup cups” as a treat. On rare occasions, we’d see cats (on leashes sometimes) and rabbits on the way to the vet. There was once a group that brought a bunch of foster ducklings and maybe the most unbelievable was a large parrot named Fingers.
Being one of the busier stores in town, it was a daily occurrence for something to spill. On one very busy Saturday, I was working at the blended drinks bar and had a line of drinks to make. The old stand that held our two-litre jug of iced coffee at the end had started to warp, and very suddenly the entire jug fell on the counter. I was soaked, and iced coffee was dripping into my shoes. I got so flustered and stressed in the moment over the sudden mess that I had to leave my position to clean up. Reflecting back, I really should’ve remembered the old proverb, “don’t cry over spilled milk” (or in my case, iced coffee). I certainly look back and laugh, even though I went home that night stained and still smelling of coffee.
The food service industry is generally known for its draining work environment, demanding rushes, and difficult customers. While, in my experience, this was definitely true at times, my personal experience working in a food service position was full of genuine memories and great experiences.