Monday, March 30, 2009

Starbucks Turnover

It is the end of an era - the last member of the original crew at my local Starbucks has left.

I write in coffee shops. I usually hit 2-3 Starbucks in a day - writing for a little while in each one before moving on. I used to write at Priscilla’s in Toluca Lake and the Coffee Bean on San Fernando in Burbank - with a bike ride in between. But when you’re in a place where everybody knows your name... it’s time to move on. At Priscilla’s I would spend more time gabbing than writing, and if I just wanted to be alone and work - well, someone would come over and talk to me. There were a couple of people at Priscilla’s who would not leave me alone... so I stopped going there. I love Priscilla’s and when I drop in there now many of the same people work there. Of course, there’s always *some* turnover behind the counter.

When I stopped going to Priscilla’s, I started going to the new Starbucks a block away from my apartment - where the tennis club used to be. Hey, it was so close I didn’t have to ride my bike! Which is how I got fat. That’s one of the reasons why I usually ride to some other Starbucks now - the other reason is that the one near me is just too danged crowded, now. You have to practically reserve a table. For a while, that Starbucks had many of the same people behind the counter - they stayed there for a while before leaving. Usually years. You knew them, they knew you. I flirted with the girls, and they flirted back. In Los Angeles, you get a lot of actors and musicians behind the counter - so you’d go to Bobby’s gigs or see someone’s play or stand up set, And sometimes they’d catch a break and leave. I remember one of the girls landed a reality show - and I watched and rooted for her. Chet worked there a long time, as did Alan... and then Phil was the last one from the original 2001 crew. The perfect Barista is someone who actually has a personality (not some corporate drone) and is also fast and efficient. You want someone you can joke around with, who doesn’t take the job too seriously (they work behind a counter) but is also good at their job. For a long time that Starbucks on my corner had the same people working there - one of the gals (an actress, I went to see one of her shows) worked there every summer and then went off to school - but she always came back.

But these days there seems to be a revolving door at Starbucks - every month, a whole new crew. Even the managers don’t last long. And now Phil, the last of the original crew, has moved on. Phil got married, had a kid... and last week was his last at that Starbucks. He has moved on...

Part of the reason for the constant turnover at my home base Starbucks might be because it’s such a high volume store that they use it to train - a few employees ended up with their own stores or shipped out to other places. But part of the reason you *frequent* one place over another is the people behind the counter. Lately, the handful of Starbucks I work at have had new employees every month.

And that’s a problem for many reasons.

Hard to be friendly with a complete stranger - and even more difficult when the pattern shows you that person probably will not be there in a couple of months. I’m a shy person (yeah, I don’t seem that way) and it takes time for me to become comfortable with people - about the time I’m lowering my guard and joking with the new barista - they’re gone! Currently, there is a barista who seems to hate me in one of the Starbucks I frequent. Can’t figure out why. He’s been there for a couple of months, now, and still seems to go out of his way to be rude to me (but not the customers before or after me). My current plan is to overtip him, but I feel like I’m tipping him for bad service - and that’s just wrong.

But the main problem with all of this turnover in Starbucks is that there are always new employees working there - and new employees are, well, new. They are slow, because they haven’t developed that rhythm, yet. They can only do one thing at once - and they have to *think* about it. There are often these huge lines - two of them, one to order your drink, then one to pick it up. They screw up drinks, because they make mistakes. After waiting in two huge lines, you don’t get what you ordered.

The old timers always knew what I drink - it’s funny because I go to different Starbucks at different times of day and drink something different depending on what time it is. A few days ago I went into a Starbucks at “the wrong time” and they were confused by my order. But new people not only don’t know your drink, they don’t know what half the drinks are and write down the wrong code on the cup and you end up with Iced Coffee with 3 pumps of *Melon* flavoring. Yech! And you don’t want to go through this whole thing again to get the right drink. (It should have been 3 pumps of *Mocha* - in the mornings I drink a “no milk mocha” - iced coffee and chocolate syrup).

You know, new employees are new employees. It’s not their fault that they were just hired. But it’s *someone’s* fault that they were thrown behind the counter at a high volume store without being partnered with an experienced employee looking over their shoulder (but that would be two employees doing the work of one). I’m sure this is all to save money during the economy - just skip that training part and throw them into the deep end to see what happens... but today I had a brand new employee with no one around to help her who was just plain confused about how to do something... and I had to talk her through it. Crazy - I’m training new Starbucks employees!

Every company should take the time to train their employees - and give them a few days with the “training wheels” of an experienced employee next to them to help show them the ropes. That used to be the way things were done... but I guess it’s just not financially viable. At least not on paper. In real life, a week of training creates an employee who will probably know what they are doing for their whole career.

Of course, no one thinks in terms of a career anymore.

Everything and everyone are disposable these days.

And I’m drinking an iced coffee with melon syrup... Yech!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Three Points To Non-Cliche Characters .
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sandwich.
Bicycle: Short bike ride to a Starbucks.


Grant said...

It's self defeating to cut back because of the economy. You go to a coffee house because of the atmosphere, because of the environment. If you don't have that, you're just buying an overpriced cup of coffee. In a bad economy, they need to make that atmosphere and environment seem even more appealing than in good times. Or people will just go to a Dunkin Donuts. Although I heard they don't have those in L.A.

Morgan McKinnon said...

That worker who's rude to you should be fired. Seriously. The workers there "pool" their tips, therefore, he's messing with the income of others...and that's a big no-no among tipped employees. I know. Been there, done that. Home-boy should be fired.

You don't deserve bad service, or nasty drinks.

Anonymous said...

shows you how powerful bullshit still is in the interview process, because half of the employees working in retail should have been weeded out in the office, not on the floor

Unknown said...

The thought of you making friends with all the employees at coffee shops is making me really sad. Tipping too much so they\'ll like you.

Take care of yourself.

ObiDonWan said...

We don't have Starbucks on Martha's Vineyard. Instead we have the Black Dog (internationally famous, but the coffee's not so good anymore) and Mocha Mott's--2 locations, friendly baristas, and after you buy 12 coffees you get a freebie. So I save up and get a 2-shot latte. I have worked there some but they don't have wi-fi.

Morgan McKinnon said...

Forget "wi-fi"...Bill, I think it's time you get yourself a "wife(y)".


Leif Smart said...

Was I the only one who assumed this was going to be about Starbuck from BSG and the final episode of the series? 8(

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