Two Former Baristas on What You Can Learn From Working at Starbucks

You learn basic skills to interact with people and I soon realized that "small talk" is a really great thing. I became friends with a lot of my customers and learned about their lives, stories, kids, etc.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

What things can someone learn from working at Starbucks?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Nadia Singer, former barista

There are a number of things one can learn from Starbucks. I'll highlight the things I learned outside of learning to make a drink, taste coffee, etc.

Operational efficiency

This was probably my biggest takeaway from my time at Starbucks. There's something to be said about any type of store being run well or poorly. I had the opportunity to learn about how to manage a group of people to get the highest output possible. There are always at least two people in a store but during morning rush there are usually 4-5. There are usually two registers and two espresso machines that can be worked on. There is also a slot for an expediter and then usually someone who rotates between bar, register, prep and cleaning. Figuring out where everyone should be at a given point in time to make a customer's time in the store as short as possible needs a lot of focus. There is the time they wait in line and the time that they wait for their drink after their order. They both need to be as short as possible. I often go into stores and see people in positions which are clearly not optimizing for efficiency.

Customer Service

This is probably a bit more obvious but was a huge takeaway. I had already worked in a customer service environment but for someone who is potentially new to a service industry this is probably the most important thing you can learn at Starbucks. I also think that if you have the opportunity to work in a service industry you should take it. You get to interact with so many different kinds of people and handle what can sometimes be stressful situations. You learn basic skills to interact with people and I soon realized that "small talk" is a really great thing. I became friends with a lot of my customers and learned about their lives, stories, kids, etc.

Taking Inventory

This kind of goes with operational efficiency but different enough that it deserves it's own category. In my business classes I would hear all the time about keeping inventory, how much to keep on hand, when to order, how frequently to order, etc. I would work with my manager to do our order for milk, syrup, cups, coffee, etc. Figuring out how frequently and what quantity of everything to order was really important in making sure we never ran out of anything. If we ran out of things it wasn't great because it meant we might not be able to provide customers with what they wanted or we would need to borrow from another store. We'd also have to track things like historical sales numbers, because we were close to a college campus and our sales were much slower in the summer, so adjusting during a week by week basis was sometimes necessary. Things like cups and lids were fine to keep on hand because they didn't go bad, but you had to be much smarter about ordering milk and coffee.

Oh, I also got really good at drawing cups of coffee and decorating shelves:)


Answer by Alecia Li Morgan, Five years with Starbucks, from barista to store manager

The Power of Buy-in

When I was hired in, and throughout the duration of my five years with Sbux, a lot of emphasis was put (at all levels) on finding the buy-in or "wiifm" (what's in it for me). This is something that I've been able to apply to *every* single aspect of my life -- as a wife, a parent, a manager, a retail shopper, a Quora user... everything. They taught us to help our partners find the "wiifm" for everything, whether it was an operational standard (cleaning floor drains daily -- a thankless, tiresome task), customer service expectation (using Latte for service recovery* or handling difficult customers), or even just a scheduling issue (our store was open 365 days a year, so there were *definitely* days we needed a lot of partners in, but not many actually wanted to work). Yes, I could tell my partners "We're going to push this Black Apron Exclusive this week." and leave it at that. However, giving them some buy-in reasons (reasons because everyone was different, what worked for some wouldn't for others and even if they were universal, several buy-ins were better than one!) would be more effective: "We're going to focus on selling this BAE this week. Not only do we have a chance at winning a district prize (DM works a shift in our store doing whatever tasks we choose!), but this BAE comes from a single estate that provides its workers with housing, clean running water, fair wages, and schooling for children." Results are better when you give people a reason to want to drive them.

What a Charismatic Leader Can Accomplish

Howard Schultz is a powerful, charismatic leader. This is a man who brings it, each and every single moment. He has strong opinions, he's not afraid to try them, and he's not afraid to course correct and admit mistakes. He has this gift of speaking to an audience of 10,000 of his store managers in the US and Canada and making each one feel like he's speaking directly to them -- and that he *gets* it. I know, because I was privileged enough to attend the 2008 Starbucks Leadership Conference in New Orleans, LA. Say what you will about Starbucks or Howard, but there is a *lot* of good done by this one company. Howard chose New Orleans because they were still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. The city was suffering. He brought in over 10,000 of his company's leaders and kept us there for five days -- we did leadership activities, visited local restaurants, poured money into the tourism economy ... and even more than that, we helped rebuild. Which leads me to...

The Extreme Importance of CSR Corporate Social Responsibility: Responsibility at Starbucks

These were words I'd *never* heard or thought of before Starbucks. I joined the company on my 21st birthday -- a privileged young adult who had never really needed for anything and beyond donating money when asked to at Safeway or to kids collecting for Unicef, hadn't really thought of social impact. The training I received at my very first shift -- a Starbucks Experience class -- was eye opening. Starbucks did an "okay" job of explaining CSR and how they adhered to this, but they could have done better -- because as I would discover throughout my five years, what they train and tell their partners is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the good that Starbucks does in local communities, nationwide communities, and around the globe. IMO, it's not emphasized enough. This is a good company. Yeah -- for profit, but let me tell you -- this is a company that does good.

During our time at the Starbucks Leadership Conference in New Orleans, we had two full days of community service scheduled in to our five day itinerary. Teams went out and cleaned up neighborhoods, rebuilt schools and houses, created mosaics and artwork for the rebuilt schools and neighborhoods, and a lot of other activities. The last day, when we had our giant meeting, we watched a video made during that time, and there wasn't a dry eye in the stadium.


There were so many other lessons I learned from Starbucks -- how to do a quick read of personalities, how to create almost-instant-rapport, how to emulate extroversion how to be a situational extrovert, what Starbucks has that's so special, the value of investing in training, the importance of a good team, why people use fake names at Starbucks, why it's so cold in Starbucks, and the answer to Why do Starbucks employees (always, everywhere) seem so happy?

I *loved* my time at Starbucks. I wouldn't hesitate to return to the company (and someday, I still might return, work my ten year before retirement, then enjoy my discount for life!). More any schooling, any mentor, or any other experience in life (aside from becoming a parent), my time with the company taught me immeasurable lessons and helped me to grow so much as a person. I can definitively say I am a better, stronger, more thoughtful, more insightful, and overall better person and leader because of my time with the company.

More questions on Quora:

Popular in the Community


What's Hot