Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nine Years Old

I am getting to my ninth year anniversary in my job at Starbucks. In customer service in the food industry, it's the equivelant of 18 years. Yeah, it feels like a long, long time.

I first started back in 1999, I walked into the Starbucks at the mall closest to my home for coffee to fuel my job search. I had spent a year working with my husband's co-worker, who moonlighted as a manager of a Krystal's drive through with his wife and eldest daughter. I worked the breakfast shift as a manager of a two person team--me and Miss Jean from 5:30 am to 9am. I was ready for a change--any change.

The barista who poured my coffee asked me how my day was--her name was Susan, an elementary school teacher whose second job was working at Starbucks. She was my favorite barista, who always knew that all I wanted on a weekday was a grande coffee with room and on weekends, a pound of coffee with a tall nonfat hazelnut latte. Susan whipped out an application form and told me a new store was opening on Marietta Parkway. The manager was taking applications that day in the store. She took me to him and introduced me, and we made an appointment for an interveiw on the spot. The next day I was hired. I was apprehensive and thrilled at the same time. I knew that baristas worked hard, and I was in constant awe of them. And now I was about to be one.

I was about to learn how to call drinks and make them and know all what there is to know about coffee. I was about to wear a green apron and look cool in black and white. If I lasted the first week. What I didn't know at the time was I was hired to work at a drive through Starbucks in an area of huge demand. I've never worked at such a busy store before and never have since. I worked in stores all over Atlanta, in training and by picking up extra shifts. I made crazy over time money.

I eventually was promoted to shift supervisor within a few months and a few months after that I was slated to be a learning coach, teaching training classes on how to taste coffee. By the time I transferred to Denver Colorado, I had picked up four dollars on my hourly wage within two years. Because I transferred to a different market with a different pay rate, I picked up another dollar. And tips in Denver were much better than Atlanta. My tips went from 80 cents an hour to two dollars and more per hour. Which was great, since they changed all the overtime rules. No overtime pay for anyone any more.

I went from a really busy brand new drive through serving commuters in Atlanta to a quiet old mall store serving shoppers in Denver. Most mornings, we had rushes from the office workers in the high rises next door. Most weekends, we had rushes from the senior citizens living across the street. Most evenings, we had business mainly from moviegoers. Between floods, fires, roof collapsing and regular power outages and lots of blizzards, I actually liked my job.

No day was ever the same. No rush was ever the same. You couldn't predict what your day was going to be like, which partner wouldn't show up or which piece of equipment would break down. Or the sudden surge in demand for soy because of a nutritional news item in that day's morning paper. Or which local event the manager wouldn't know about that would bring a lot more customers to your store than you were prepared to handle. Eventually, I learned how to say to myself "Bring it on". Even when no one else was saying it.

I learned to appreciate the little things, like the partner who was always there, no matter what. The really patient customers. The manager who always knew the answers. The store down the road that always lent you extra soy, cups, lids and espresso even when they were running low themselves, because you've done the same for them.

In Denver, I learned how important it was to be that partner who was always there, willing to stay longer to run and get ice from Kroger when the ice machine broke down, willing to work a few more hours because a partner was sick, willing to handle the flood--getting stuff off the floor in the backroom when no one else wanted to get wet. I learned that sometimes I had to think on my feet.

Right now, my company has had more downs than ups lately. We've made some really good and drastic changes. This is the time in our country when you either sink or swim. It means, basically, fighting for our existence right now. So, bring it on.

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