What It's Really Like To Work At Starbucks According To Employees

We all love going to Starbucks, but what's it like to work there? Turns out that it's not all smooth sailing and frothy creations in the land of Starbucks. Imagine having to navigate a sea of orders with multiple variations of "extra foam," "half-sweet," and "no whip" while still maintaining a genuine smile. To learn the truth, we scoured the web to get the inside scoop from Starbucks baristas who have revealed their tales of multitasking madness, finding humor in the chaos, and mastering the art of creating memorable moments for every customer who walks through those glass doors.

They have held nothing back and are dishing out the real deal — the good, the bad, and the venti-sized — straight from the aproned heroes themselves. So, if you've ever pondered whether Starbucks baristas spell your name wrong on purpose, how in the world they make all those drinks from memory, or if the employee benefits are really that good, then this is the insider's guide you've been craving.

You might mess up some orders on purpose

Being in charge of making someone's drink is a pretty tall order. There are lots of customizations to be made at Starbucks. According to some employees, with great power comes great responsibility ... and you can abuse it all you want. "Do you ever give regular milk to someone who asks for skim?" asked Cosmopolitan during a behind-the-scenes interview. "Oh yeah, all the time," replied a Starbucks assistant manager. "And we'll give them regular espresso shots when they ask for decaf." But don't worry, this is never without cause. "I don't do it if someone is being nice, and I'd never give a caffeinated drink to someone who was pregnant if they didn't order it. But if someone is being pushy or rude, I do it," the manager continued. 

Hopefully, they don't really do that, as a server on Reddit rightfully noted that some health conditions can make caffeine a pretty serious no-go for some patrons, no matter how annoying they are.

This caff-decaff switch might go the other way, too, as a former employee on Reddit wrote. "Feel like I'm pretty universal when saying this, but when you think you're entitled to anything and complain about a nonissue, you're getting decaf and I'm not apologizing about your minor inconvenience," they said. The moral of the story: be nice to your barista because they might just mess up your drink on purpose.

Making frappes is actually that hard

Starbucks baristas are responsible for making all sorts of different drinks, but some are easier to create than others. Frappes, although wildly popular, seem to be a sore spot for many employees. "Honestly. I hate the sequence for it. Also, I hate the ingredients for it, and prepping for them too," said one employee on Reddit. "The sequence goes, frappe roast, milk, add flavor, dump in the blender, add ice, add base, blend, pour, whip."

That's a lot of steps to complete, especially during a rush in the store, so it makes sense that this frappe-hating sentiment is common among many different baristas across the company. "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," a worker told New York magazine. "And people order the most ridiculous Frappuccinos, which makes you want to cry all day on the inside." So if you are interested in working at Starbucks, just know that every time someone orders a Frappuccino, you might die a little inside.

You might be told to spell names wrong on purpose

Many of us have taken a look at our Starbucks cups and had a chuckle about just how strangely our names were spelled. There was once a great conspiracy that the company did this on purpose for exposure. "[People] take pictures of their butchered names and post them on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, wherever. And what do all these pictures have in common? Two things, a misspelled name, and that familiar green Siren, staring at you with her all-knowing gaze," BuzzFeed News quoted from a now-private YouTube video that claimed this was all a canny bit of advertising. However, a corporate spokesperson who spoke to the outlet denied this practice.

However, some Starbucks employees working in the stores have a different tale to tell. "I don't know if everyone does it, but when I asked my manager if she does, she admitted most Starbucks employees use it as a marketing tool," an assistant manager told Cosmopolitan. "Most people aren't going to post a photo to social media of a cup with their name spelled right. I just use it as a way to be funny, but now I get why people use it as a way to promote the business."

Unlike other part-time jobs, baristas get insurance

The bane of the part-time economy is that many retail and hospitality workers don't get any sort of non-monetary benefits from their employers. This is different for Starbucks employees. "I nanny full time and work early mornings at Starbucks for the health insurance. I have great coverage and average about 22 hours a week," said one part-time worker on Reddit in 2022. "Other great perks too like 401k matching, stocks, and they even offer free Spotify."

Not only do part-time workers get insurance, but it's pretty good insurance, too. "Found an amazing dentist in network, no complaints," said one employee on Reddit. Employees also note how quick and easy it is to get signed up with Starbucks insurance. "My life partner had to get insurance through their work and it's been like three months of back and forth on paperwork," another employee wrote. If you are looking for something part-time with good benefits this coffee company could be a great fit.

You really can make Starbucks pay for your degree

Starbucks employees encourage anyone looking to further their education without piling on heaps of student debt to think about joining the team. While there are a few caveats, the degree program can be a great option for many. "It's ASU [Arizona State University] online only. You have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week," wrote one supervisor on Reddit. "Your tuition is covered 100%, not books or anything like that. It's essentially a free degree." Because students can take online classes, they can work and study without the need to relocate to the Grand Canyon State.

However, employees do warn that they might need to set aside extra money for Uncle Sam each April, as the covered tuition is technically part of their paycheck. "It's considered taxable income just like Spotify," the supervisor continued. "So after $5,250 on a year, you pay taxes on that amount."

It is as tiring as you think it is

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a Starbucks will see that the baristas behind the counter all work very hard. Employees are quick to confirm that the job is as full-on as you might expect it to be. "Under a bad manager, it will literally eat you up and spit you out. I don't even have a severe anxiety disorder, but my anxiety going in when I had a bad [shift manager] was awful," said one worker on Reddit. "I was crying before my shift and crying afterward. It was awful. I wasn't eating, and my relationship suffered terribly."

While good management can certainly make a difference, being swept off your feet during each shift will happen regardless of your boss. "Managers say [...] we need to do a better job at connecting. Obviously, we're not connecting, because we have mobile here and we have drive-thru here, and we're running around like crazy," a barista from Florida told Business Insider. If you don't want to put in 10,000 steps or more a shift, Starbucks might not be for you.

You might be put off your favorite treats

They say we should never meet our heroes, and that might be all too true for fans of Starbucks food. Employees reveal that by working there, they learned a little bit too much about the ins and outs of their favorite treats. "All Starbucks food is reheated frozen food. Ridiculous how little people realize that," said one worker on Reddit. "Doesn't mean it doesn't taste good, it's just not fresh at all and incredibly overpriced."

If you want to keep the illusion that your lemon loaf or breakfast sandwich is lovingly made by your favorite barista each morning, maybe don't apply for a position, as this is a fairly common occurrence for new hires. "Worked at Starbucks for a while and had a lady ask us if we were baking any more banana bread for the day. The look on her face when I told her it comes to us on a truck," revealed another barista on Reddit. Knowing the truth might ruin the magic.

There will be some really awful customers

Hungry people can be some of the angriest customers around, so it's no surprise that working at Starbucks is rife with rude customer encounters. "Starbucks has created a very specific, niche, and entitled customer base that can make your life hell sometimes," a former barista shared on Reddit. "If you can handle rude people, maintain professionalism, and maintain composure in situations where someone might literally be screaming in your face because you forgot a single pump of their skinny vanilla syrup, you'll be just fine."

This isn't just an isolated incident, as r/Starbucks is full of baristas warning about just how "Karen" people can get. "Don't work at Starbucks unless you are prepared to deal with, undoubtedly, the dumbest, rudest, most entitled customers you will ever meet. They will ask for the impossible, like extra of every ingredient in the largest cup possible," warned one tired barista. "They will ask for things that cannot physically exist in this dimension." They went on to warn that customers will call workers rude names, take their time even when people are waiting behind them (agitating customers who might then take it out on workers), and will not tip even if you are great.

The menu is massive and hard to memorize

One of the hardest things about being a Starbucks barista is simply learning the menu. "I compare it to memorizing the periodic table and learning a new language at the same time," an employee revealed on Indeed. "The periodic table part is memorizing each individual drink, what steps in a certain order it takes to make it, the ingredients and their amounts, the variances in recipes per cup size, and how to modify it per customer request. The language part is learning how to understand the codes for the cups and understand coffee."

It is certainly a lot to take in and could easily get overwhelming to anyone trying to learn this menu, especially when you consider it represents thousands of different combinations. We assume that someone could work there for years and still not know everything by heart. However, actual employees are on a way tighter timeline. "At my location, I was told they have a 3-month probation period, which they basically consider a 3-month time period to train," said a new barista. Not only must employees know everything, but they must learn it fast.

If you have a Starbucks habit, you might love your job

If you are a coffee lover or a "Starbucks a day keeps the doctor away" type of person, then getting a job at this chain might not only increase your income but also lower at least some of your expenses. That's because most Starbucks employees get free food and beverage perks each shift. "You are allowed by company standards to have Partner beverages once before (within 30 minutes of shift start), once after (within 30 minutes of shift end), and once per break," a barista said on Quora.

That's quite a lot of free coffee, but unfortunately, it is not the same at every store and can depend on who gets your order. "[This] is entirely up to how strictly the store is run," they continued. "[It depends on] who you get on till when you're ordering, or how informed on standard the employees are. Basically, you're allowed whatever you can get away with."

You might not get enough hours

Getting enough working hours to pay your bills and qualify for benefits can always be a stressful task for a hospitality employee. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Starbucks employees are exempt from this delicate dance. The quality and consistency of employee hours reportedly depend on how each store is run. "I left my licensed store because I couldn't get over 20 hours, and now that I'm at my new store I'm getting as many hours as I ask for," said one employee on Reddit.

Others who worked at the coffee company in the past echoed these sentiments. "At my old store (medium-high volume), most full-timers get between 30-40 a week, averaging around 36. But during slow periods [...] they could get as few as 25 hours a week," a former barista warned on Quora. The inconsistency of that paycheck could just be one of the biggest downsides of working for Starbucks.

Starbucks employees qualify for stock options

If you want to make your mark on the stock market, then you may be happy to learn that Starbucks employees get a bit of the company's profits via stock options. Employees can buy these shares at a rate that usually works out to a better price than what's available to the public. "They give even their part-time employees stock options every year," one employee shared on r/personalfinance. "I also contributed to a stock investment plan, where a percentage of each paycheck was put towards buying the stock at a lower price."

It's important to note that stock options are different than retirement savings, which Starbucks also offers through a 401(k) or a similar plan. Many investors who don't even work for the company think it's a great stock to hang on to because of the chain's popularity. "I swear they could charge $15-$20 a coffee and those mid-20s to 30s soccer moms will still go there," said one Redditor.

You might feel like you're always overworked

Making hundreds of coffees and running around for hours on end is exhausting work, even if you have a team of great people working alongside you. Employees warn that this is especially true when you are on shift outside peak hours. "In my district, it seems like as soon as peak ends and the [managers] are gone they schedule the absolute bare minimum people (and that's a best-case scenario)," a barista vented on Reddit. "[They] need to start making an effort to at least pretend to care about more than peak."

Peak is typically the morning rush when most folks are waking up and trying to get their coffee fix, but other rushes are certain to pop up through the rest of opening hours. "It's been bad all around it seems," commiserated another employee. "It's getting to my night crew and personally I'm starting to feel the frustration like they don't [care] about what we contribute because we aren't peak." Given how Starbucks has gotten in trouble for breaking U.S. labor laws, exhausted employees may have a very good point.

Customers will often ask for secret items

The Starbucks secret menu is well-known among fans, but for baristas, it can be annoying and confusing. "There is no 'Secret Menu' at Starbucks. There is no recipe for drinks called a Clint Eastwood, Undertow, Tear Drop, Tuxedo, Bloody Tuxedo, or my most recent favorite 'Butter Beer,' " one employee warned on Reddit. "Ordering these drinks makes you look [bad] and you've got a good chance of getting decaf from your annoyed barista." So what should guests who want a secret menu item do instead? "If you want one of these drinks, just order it by ingredient," the employee said.

Just remember to be kind when you order off the secret menu. A New Hampshire barista told New York magazine that this isn't always the case, which can be frustrating. "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," they said.