It was a rather busy day at Target, taking place right before the Christmas holiday. The checkout lanes were full, and the small Starbucks inside was hopping.
The cashier in the lane I was in turned off his light when I got to him, signaling I was his last customer. I pondered in line what he was going to do, maybe go eat lunch or go home. I was appalled shortly afterward to watch him put on a green apron and start preparing drinks at the Starbucks counter.
If you have ever had the chance to speak with me, chances are I have talked about coffee. At the time of this story I had been a barista for a year, and am now proud to say I have been a barista for a little over two years.
Coffee is very important to me, and when I get the chance I am constantly working to improve my skills ranging from tasks such as, “Does the espresso taste right,” or “How can I improve my rosetta?” I was insulted to think that they would just let anyone behind the counter to do a job I cared so much about.
However, why is this story relevant that Starbucks would let anyone assist behind the counter? Simply put, it is for quality and consistency.
Building up a customer base within the food industry can be hard. First impressions are incredibly important, as no one will come back if the quality of what they had was terrible. The next most important thing though is the return trip. If a customer had something they liked, they will want to have it again, if they come back and that product has changed they may not return.
A barista is not a cashier, one has to learn how perform the task. There are a number of complicated processes that must be mastered in order to achieve a good tasting drink. The espresso must be at the right temperature, the milk must be steamed to perfection, and the flavor must be added in just the right amount. Someone who has never been exposed to these things cannot replicate this process, even with a recipe card.
So what happens? Well, the first thing thrown out is consistency. One day at that same Starbucks I might get an employee who has been there for three years, the next day might have only been there for three weeks. How can those two people possibly make the same cafe mocha I love so much?
This lack of experience does not end with coffee though.
I am sure if you were to ask the people around you about McDonald’s they would tell you which one to go to and which one to avoid. In theory they serve the same food, the same recipe crafted at the top and passed down the chain.
But this doesn’t mean they’ll be the same quality of food at every location. For example, perhaps one day you go to the McDonalds at the mall and they serve you a tasty, abiet unhealthy, sandwich.
Then, on a later day you might go to a different McDonalds and order the same sandwich, but it will taste completely different. Maybe someone forgot to put something on the burger due to it being their first day, or someone was in a hurry and didn’t leave it in the oven long enough.
This isn’t always the fault of the worker, since they’re being thrown into a job that puts them in the driver’s seat immediately. The requirements to be a cook at McDonald’s though demand you to be quick on your feet and to learn, nothing about previous experience.
For most people that work in food service, there are little nuances and small touches that make the product stand out that take [insert an amount of time here] to learn and perfect.
After all is said, we will probably continue to go back to Starbucks. Instead of going elsewhere to get our caffeine requirement, we make a point of avoiding certain baristas or even whole restaurants.
We have developed this culture to work around fast food, but isn’t it time fast food started catering to us instead?
I urge you during this holiday season to attempt to visit one of the many great local coffee shops in Dayton, and ask the barista how long they have been doing what they do. You just might be shocked.