Diary of a Starbucks partner

Last month I was a Starbucks employee for about 2 weeks. It was a short stint but still I learned much new experience. I think I have elaborated in length why I started to work there. Times were hard and my freelance job was not enough to make ends meet let alone pay all my bills. And they were many, my bills.

I worked at a Starbucks branch in a mall near Seri Kembangan. The mall was once a ghost town, hardly any people wants to come there. But under new management and much-improved facelift, the mall has now attracted bus load of customers and also tenants. It's a far cry from what it was during my uni days. You would not miss it. It's the one located next to a man-made lake that has sightseeing boats throughout the day.

I had to sit for an interview with the store manager first before I get to work there. Deana (not her real name) was a young mid twenties woman who you won't believe that she's already a Starbucks Store manager at her age. But then this is fast food industry and if you're really hardworking and you suck up to the right people, you'll have a bright future ahead of you not to mention you'll climb the corporate ladder very quickly.

But I digress. I'm sure she worked her way up with pure hard work. Anyway, apparently I made a pretty good impression at the interview that she decided to sign me up there and then. My training begins on the spot when she did the First Impression module with me right after the interview. It is basically to gauge and evaluate how well I would handle my work and the customers. I think I passed that too.

My first day at work, I got a pair of Starbucks t-shirt uniform, 2 caps and 2 aprons. Employees or rather "partners" as we like to call ourselves get to wear our own pants which should be dark colored but I saw many partners wear whatever they like regardless. My uniform was one size two small but I only get to change it 2 days later after I changed my bodyfit t-shirt at another store in Cheras.

The store was built by a hierarchy of partners. At the bottom there are half a dozen baristas, usually young people paid slightly above the average market price for a franchise store. Once you worked a year or so you get to rise one rung of the ladder to become a shift supervisor. This position pays slightly more but you'll have to do much of the administrative & operation works of the store. Then we have the assistant manager and the store manager. For small stores like ours it's just the store manager.

I think Adila (not her real name) was the first staff to say hi to me. She is a pretty young girl, no older than 20. She just finishes school and works full time at the store. She enthusiastic, industrious and goes to the gym almost everyday. How many 18 years old you know even goes to the gym? Not many I'm sure. During break she would eat something from the display, hang around and sometimes goes for a stroll along the mall. What she could possibly find interesting at this mall is anybody's guess. But don't be fooled by her petite but athletic body. Once you pisses her off she will have no qualms throwing curses at you. I know because I learned it the hard way. I guess it's quite normal for urban youth nowadays to be speaking like that. Me I still find it quite rude and uncalled for. Maybe I don't interact with teenagers much.

Sarah (not her real name of course) was slightly chubby young teenage barista. She is not unlike my cousin Fatin who would be quite beautiful if she's 15 kilos lighter. Maybe she should join Adila at the gym or something. I don't know whether it's because of her weight but she seems to look grumpy to me most of the time. Perhaps she does not welcome strangers like me easily. Besides, I was only going to be at that store for a while. While she does her job really well and was very friendly with the customers, it was not the case with me.

Jason wads the only non-muslim partner at the store so that made him kind of special. Unlike Sarah, he's quite friendly and warm and took his job seriously. He didn't complaint or make a face whenever I ask him how to make a particular beverage for the 7th million time. He likes to chat sometimes and was quite welcoming even to strangers like me. Nice fellow that Jason chap.

Azman was one of the two shift supervisors at the store. Like Jason, he was a friendly and warm fellow too. Never tire of teaching me how to do stuff and treats me with the utmost respect. At this store, the shift supervisors is the only managerial staffs available other than the store manager. So a partner like Azman was responsible with looking after the store during his shift which is either opening or closing. It's a big responsibility and they're paid well below the market average. Of course they do get certain privileges like extra food during breaks and the freedom to slack around during non-busy period but I think that's about it. I don't know what motivates him but he clocked in his fifth year at Starbucks last month.

Syifa (or her real name, Syarifah) was another shift supervisor at the store. Unlike Azman and Mel, Syifa was not very patient with new partners especially the old and slowpoke like me. After my first week she expected me to know how to make every beverage sold at the store and make a face whenever she had to help me make a beverage when I forgot. That is why I was not particularly fond of being in the same shift with her. Sometimes whenever my time's up, she would completely ignore me instead of telling me I can go home. It was as if she'd expected me to stay back until closing or something. I maybe a fresh and new worker, but I am not dumb. So after a few days, whenever my time's up I would exclaim loudly that I'd like to go home now which would force to respond and let me go.

My store manager was Mel, her real name could be Melati but I refuse to confirm or deny that for her privacy. She's a veteran Starbucks partner, starting very early in her life until now when she has three kids already. Mel seems like a cool gal. Very sporting and patient, especially with new partners. I don't know how her schedule was really like but she only came to work like 2 or 3 times a week, or at least that's how it seems. Perhaps being a long time senior partner does has its advantages. But the most unforgettable thing about Mel was when she cooly told me that they are not going to pay me my wages because I worked for like only two weeks, not the whole month, which was like really sucks? More on that later.

We have three shift at the store, opening, middle and closing just like my previous job at McDonald's. To be honest I prefer the opening shift because there's not too many customer in the morning, plus I get to go back early around 5-ish. Middle and closing shifts sucks because there's always a crowd in the evening and then I always rush to perform my prayers. Yes they actually do allow you to go pray if only for a while. The prayer room is on the third floor though and it's rather small for a mall of that size so they are always packed with people wanting to pray during weekends. That's why I try to get there as early as possible during weekends or else miss the chance to pray altogether.

My job description includes everything from preparing beverages, serving food, cleaning tables, stock up the supplies from the store, doing the dishes, cleaning the place and of course serving the customers. I have worked four years at McDonald's before so I have no qualms doing those sort of things. In fact I expected them to be something like that. It is just that, the feeling doing these sort of job when you're 20 and when you're 30 is significantly different. At 20 you're young, full of energy, eager and enthusiastic to be doing a part time job while you finish your studies. At 30, you'll feel like every day is a chore, you can't wait for your shift to finish and working 6 days a week is not how you'd like to spend the rest of your working life as. You have no time to do things you love and you have little time to spend with your family. For me personally, I feel that I have a higher purpose in this world rather than working at a fast food joint with near minimum wage pay. I definitely feel I ought to do something that compliments my skills.

During my short two weeks stint as a Starbucks partner, I did learn a whole lot of new things about coffee and Starbucks specifically. I learn that there are two different typed if coffee which are arabica and robusta where the former grows at higher altitude, tastes better thus garner more demand from coffee producers. I learn about the many different blends of coffee coming from various regions in the world. And of course I managed to learn a few things about being a Starbucks partner. They were pretty much standard to every other quick service franchise including the silly rule that says male employee must be clean-shaven. God I hate that rule. I look weird with my little beard gone. Pay-wise, Starbucks does pay you just slightly above average salary. Full time partners are paid a fixed monthly salary starting from RM1250 depending on which store you work. That might not sound much for you but when you are struggling to make ends meet every month, something is definitely more than nothing.

So for two weeks, I tried to learn as much as possible, as quickly as I could. Did you know that are over a thousand different variation of drinks that you can make at Starbucks? Me, I had trouble memorizing even the basic two dozens beverage on the menu let alone the rest of them. At least I can't seem to memorize most of them quickly enough. No wonder shift supervisor Syifa was not very pleased of me. Before I worked there at Starbucks, I have never tried any of their drinks. Seriously. I just thought RM10 is way too much for a cup of coffee no matter how good they are. I bet for every 10 ringgit you spend at Starbucks, 5 ringgit you pay is just for the brand alone. Breaks are the part of my shift that I look forward to. Regular baristas get to have 2 beverage of any kind for 6 hours shift or more plus one food item that costs not more than 8 ringgit (I think). So for two weeks, I tried to have as many different types of beverage as possible from the plain English breakfast tea to the limited time only seasonal beverages. They were good for some times but in the long run, those drinks could be your one way ticket to diabetes or obesity. You have no idea how much sugar and calories they have in those drinks. It's a lot, trust me. The meals that I get to eat consist of sandwiches and pastries which were never enough to make me feel full. Sometimes I had to go to the food court next door to get a fulfilling lunch. Breaks only last a meager 50 minutes so you had to do everything in that short time frame - eat, rest, pray, pee etcetera. At Starbucks, they don't expect you to slack around for long. Unless of course you're the manager or shift supervisor.

After 10 days, I decided I'm not cut into this kind of work anymore. You simply have no (meaningful) life working at a fast food joint. It's all work and no play. If you start very young and climb up the career ladder along the way, that's fine. But if you only joined at 30, you're gonna get very disillusioned and tired really quick. So after like 2 weeks on the job, I tendered my resignation letter to the manager. About month later I called my former store manager asking about my pay. Imagine my surprise when she casually said since I did not work for the entire month, they are not going to pay me anything. I spent the entire 2 weeks working from morning to evening according to my schedule without fail, driving my car to the store and working my ass off at the store and they are not going to pay me shit. I decided to take this matter straight to the top so I got hold of Vincent Tan's email and wrote an email to HR with a copy to Vincent explaining my predicament.

About a week later I got a call from Starbucks HR explaining to me how my salary is calculated. The good news is, they are going to pay me my wages. The bad news is since I didn't complete the entire month working day, they're only going to pay me in pro-rate, my entitled wages. Altogether they paid me 200 ringgit for 2 weeks' work. To be honest, 200 ringgit is nothing to shout about but the important thing is I get paid for my work no matter how little. You know who works and does not get paid? Slaves. Yes, only slaves do work and get paid nothing. I don't care if they pay me 20 or 200 ringgit, as long as I get paid for every second I worked there. And the moral of the story here is, knowing the Big Boss contact information will get you a long way in this kind of shit.

Working at Starbucks, even for 2 weeks is a valuable experience for me. I get to learn lots of stuff, meet new people, see all kinds of customer behavior and get to taste many different kinds of Starbucks beverage (which is not a big deal really). After quitting there, I become extra motivated to get a real, well-paying job that suits my experience and expertise. Thankfully just after a month leaving Starbucks, I was hired as an IT staff in a private school in KL. Starbucks is a cool brand that makes good coffee and all but since they are like really expensive and the store manager where I work tried to screw me, I don't think I wanna step foot in any of their stores ever again. So long Starbucks.