The Starbucks Barista Who Wants You to Know There Is No Secret Menu

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Madison,* 24
Starbucks Barista
New Hampshire

I’ve always had a lot of mental-health issues that I pretty much ignored. They came to a head during grad school. I didn’t have any time to take care of myself, and I wasn’t really eating. Let’s just say I ended up in a psych ward. I couldn’t go back to school, my lease was expiring, and I used all of my savings living three months without a job. I had to move home. I bounced around from a hospital job to a job in the chemistry lab, and eventually ended up at Starbucks. I was there every day anyway.

I’m typically the opening barista, so I get there five days a week at the ass crack of dawn. Then I have half an hour to brew all the coffee, get the special machines ready, and clean up a bit. Once the store opens, it’s crazy all day. We’re a really busy location because we’re right in the middle of a college town.

It’s really exhausting, especially since I work 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I have a long commute. I wake up around 3:30 in the morning. I give myself time to have my coffee, chill out, shower, and have some time to myself. That’s part of the reason I get up so early.

Starting wage for a barista is just over $10 an hour. It’s a livable wage, which is really cool. And my store manager is actually trying to get all of us a $2-an-hour raise. Their benefits are incredible. You only have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week to get full-time benefits. I’m full time, and I have full health insurance, vision, full 401(k), the works. I get a free pound of coffee every week; I get free drinks whenever I want them.

I used to love Frappuccinos. But now I hate them. There’s a lot of barista-hate against the Frappuccino. They throw off your whole routine. They’re not that hard to make, but if you’re by yourself and you have to run back and forth between making hot-bar espresso drinks and doing a Frappuccino, it’s tricky, timing-wise. Espresso drinks take like 15 to 30 seconds, but the Frappuccino takes about ten seconds.

And people order the most ridiculous Frappuccinos, which makes you want to cry all day on the inside. The other day, someone ordered extra caramel drizzle and ten pumps of caramel. Usually, it only comes with two in a venti size. So a venti with ten pumps of caramel, extra caramel drizzle, whipped cream, and nonfat milk. People order a Java Chip Frappuccino, but they’ll put like 20 different syrups in it, and they’ll want to make it like decaf — or they’ll want to add extra shots to it. Today, someone ordered a Frappuccino with five extra shots. I don’t understand why, at that point, you don’t just order an espresso.

The absolute worst is when they order smoothies because we have to go into the back to grab a frozen banana, which is more of an ordeal than it sounds like — you have to grab a glove and find the box in the usually packed freezer and dig one out. Then, you also have to blend it at a different setting, and it’s even louder than the Frappuccino. If someone is making a smoothie and you’re at the register, you have to scream at the customer. It’s never a fun time.

My plan is to become a nurse. When I was in the hospital, the nurses saved my life. I want to give some of that back. I’ll just be able to make more of a difference than I would studying away in the lab, doing research. My plan is to get my Associate’s degree in nursing in order to become an RN. Eventually, I’d like to work my way up to nurse practitioner, or maybe even go to medical school.

I’ll work part time at Starbucks, at least for my first year at school. My “partners” are all super supportive of me about school. “Partner” is just the Starbucks term for an employee. I guess it’s their way of making their employees feel more valued. We refer to all of our co-workers as fellow partners, rather than just saying co-worker. It’s crazy how the lingo really seeps in.

One thing Starbucks does is the “green apron” board. It’s a thank-you-card system. We write them for each other — like, stick in their little name thing. Our store manager does that for us all the time. The other baristas will do it, too. So you always find little notes in your spot like, “You kicked ass today!” Or “I’m so happy I get to work with you.”

The thing about Starbucks is, make every moment right — that’s the lingo, our version of ‘the customer is always right,’ more or less. So we have to do our best to make sure that the customer is happy and satisfied. But there are some people — there’s no satisfying them. Sometimes, we ask them to leave or they just say, “I’ll never come back to Starbucks,” and storm out. Like, okay, bye.

Once, I was on my break, and I was in line for the bathroom. There was a woman in front of me. Historically, there was a men’s bathroom and a women’s bathroom, but now they’re both unisex . I asked her, “Oh, are they full?” And she pointed to what used to be a woman’s bathroom and said, “That one is full, I don’t know about the other one.” And I was like, “Okay, you know they’re both unisex, you can use either one.” And she turns to me and goes, “Are you a millennial? … You can use that bathroom if you want. I will use the women’s bathroom.”

Or the secret menu. That’s not a thing. It’s stuff that random-ass people made up online, and then people will come in and try to order stuff and expect us to know what it is, and we have no idea. It sounds good, but unless you can tell us what’s in it, we can’t make it for you. And people get kind of mad about that.

People have meltdowns over coffee all the time.

The other day, someone ordered a black iced tea with coconut milk instead of water and matcha powder, which is a combination of things I’ve never heard before. Maybe it’s just me because I think matcha is disgusting. The powder just gets into your lungs, and you get like matcha lung, and it makes you cough, and it’s terrible.

This afternoon, a girl came in and said, “I saw this on Instagram, can you make this?” It was just like a matcha water with a shot of espresso on top, and I’m just like, “that looks gross. Yes, we can make it.” I try not to judge. But with some people, it’s just like, what the fuck. Why? This other person did a mobile order for a hot chocolate with no chocolate, but with peach syrup, mango syrup, raspberry syrup, and all this other weird stuff. It was weird, fruity milk — and it had matcha in it, too. I don’t … Why? Some of the stuff they’ll order, it’s just like, this is ridiculous.

Some of our syrups are surprisingly bad for you. They’re full of sugar. The white mocha, especially, and the smoked-butterscotch syrup are so full of calories, people will put like five pumps of that in a drink, and your drink is now a meal. It’s gross. I don’t want to eat that. But I feel like besides that, things are pretty much what you’d expect.

Two years ago, I was getting my Ph.D. in chemistry. And now I’m working at Starbucks. I sometimes feel a little bit of shame with that, like I’m not doing anything with my life — all that jazz. Like I said, we’re right in the middle of a college town, so there’s a lot of money here. A lot of the students are wealthy, and it’s a superexpensive place to live. I think, definitely, there are people to whom we’re just food-service workers, who think we’re below them and whatever, which is really frustrating because a lot of us have a lot of other stuff going on. When there’s someone who’s rude and condescending, I have to be nice to them. Maybe I’ll rant about it later, but I justify it to myself: They don’t know me; they don’t know my life.

As far as myself, I feel like this is something I really enjoy doing right now. Like, I think working at Starbucks is really good for me. Definitely in terms of my mental health and my sanity. Just being around awesome people and getting a little more confident. Being in a role I have to interact with other people and kind of yell across the room has definitely been good for me.

We have a lot of regulars. My favorite is this old man named Lou, and he always gets a lemon loaf and three shots of decaf espresso, over ice. He knows all of our names. Once, I was out in the lobby, just stocking our retail stuff, and he came up and said, “Oh, Madison. I just wanted to let you know that you’re just a great person. You’re so nice.”

Then there’s Rob. This guy is in line at the door before we even open. He orders a latte with five shots of espresso, and he’s super loud-talking to all the other customers for 30 minutes. Ted usually comes in later in the afternoon, and he orders a flat white, which he refers to as his “great white.” I recently learned that he collects samurai swords.

Being around people who care, they don’t really know about my background or situation or anything like that, but they do really care about me. Today, we just had a snowstorm. We closed up early, and it took me an hour and 20 minutes to get home. And my boss was texting me, like are you home, are you okay? Just on that level, it’s good. So I think customer-service jobs are good for the soul, even though they’re painful.

After I quit school, I was a research assistant at a chemistry lab, and the professor I was working for refused to give me benefits. As you can probably guess, I have a lot of medical bills and prescriptions and things like that, so I had to get really shitty, high-deductible health insurance through the state. So having legitimate health insurance that’s really cheap and comes straight out of my paycheck is a relief.

I’m sure you heard that Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. There was a lot of backlash about that. Most of that backlash was saying like, well, why doesn’t Starbucks hire 10,000 veterans?

What those people don’t know is that four years ago, Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 veterans. They’ve just hit their goal. That was annoying, seeing all that stuff around Facebook. Someone called the store yelling at one of our supervisors about the 10,000-refugees policy and how Starbucks should hire 10,000 veterans. I felt really bad because she didn’t really know what to say. If I were there, I would have taken the phone and told the person off.

*Name has been changed.

The Starbucks Barista Who Says the Secret Menu Is Fake