Even in the best of times, Starbucks barista does not qualify as one of the world’s greatest jobs. Sure, you get the glamour of that green apron and you trail a perfume of coffee wherever you go, but making specialty drinks is a lot of (unnecessary) work, and people are real assholes when they’re not caffeinated. And sure, there are tips and insurance—but only if you work enough hours. And the pandemic has just made things worse.
The Guardian talked with a handful of Starbucks baristas and shift supervisors, who explained, in detail, how little the company has done to improve their working lives over the past 15 months.
Like service workers everywhere, Starbucks employees have had to deal with customers who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing and become verbally abusive when corrected. And now that the CDC has relaxed its mask-wearing guidelines, Starbucks no longer requires vaccinated customers to wear masks in stores. But, baristas point out, how can they tell that people are really vaccinated? Just because there are vaccines doesn’t mean COVID has gone away.
Starbucks has done other things to make the lives of its employees harder. Quarantine, along with a delivery partnership with UberEats, led to a marked increase in mobile and drive-thru orders (mobile orders accounted for 10% of sales at the end of 2017 and 24% at the end of 2020). Starbucks has placed strict drive-thru time quotas on employees and subjects them to frequent customer satisfaction surveys; if they fail, they may be written up.
The Starbucks mobile app doesn’t always allow for customers to specify precisely what they want, or for baristas to interpret their orders correctly. There’s also the recent trend toward ridiculously elaborate drinks, perpetuated on TikTok and exemplified by the Edward. When customers don’t get exactly what they think they ordered, they sometimes become abusive.
“Starbucks definitely took this turn to becoming just another fast-food drive-thru,” a shift supervisor in New York told The Guardian. “They want us to just be these robots that move fast, we’re just little drones to them that just need to pump out as many lattes as we can in a half-hour.”
It probably goes without saying that salaries have not increased. And also that a lot of people have quit—who, employees say, are not replaced, which means more work for the rest of the staff.
Starbucks responded in an e-mail to The Guardian: “Our 200,000 partners across the US are the best people in the business, and their experiences are key to helping us make Starbucks a meaningful and inspiring place to work. We offer a world-class benefits program for all part- and full-time partners and continued support for partners during Covid-19 to care for themselves and their families, and we continue to have an industry-leading retention rate.” And sales are up!
Well then. Everything must be just dandy!