This weekend, I veered off my usual literary course and read How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, by Michael Gates Gill. It’s a small book, easy to read and somewhat amusing. I’d recommend it if you want to get an inside view of what working at Starbucks is like.
That said, two things kind of annoyed me. First of all, Gill constantly writes about how happy he is that he’s had to give up all the privilege that has surrounded him for at least the first fifty years of his life, yet he can’t help but name-drop every two pages. I get it that it’s a tactic to emphasize how far he’s come – from meeting Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway, he’s now meeting all the regulars at the Starbucks store at 93rd and Broadway. But it still annoyed me, even as I understood the rationale behind it.
The second thing doesn’t really have to do with the book. It’s the fact that at Starbucks, the employees are called Partners, and the customers are called Guests. (Capital letters are mandatory.) And a senior Partner would never tell a junior Partner to do anything; they’d ask: “Mike, could you do me a favor and restock the condiments bar?”
I get that the first custom, of Partners and Guests, is to foster respect. I understand how that works and it’s probably a good idea. But the second custom killed me, primarily because those “requests” make it sound like the junior Partner has any choice in the matter. However it’s phrased, that request is still an order. And I, for one, would rather hear straight-up what is expected of me.
But I might stand alone in this matter. Although this feels like manipulation and dishonesty to me, a lot of people would probably feel differently. And in the long run, I guess it’s pretty awesome that Starbucks cares about the people working for them – and the care embodied in the aforementioned policies is demonstrated by the fact that they offer even the part-time Partners health benefits and the opportunity to go to (community) college. That’s pretty good for such a huge company.
So, in conclusion, if I find myself in the States at age sixty without a job and health insurance, I’ll go to the nearest Starbucks store and inquire about job openings. Hey, you could do a lot worse.