Wake Up and Smell the Problem

Amidst cramming for SATs, vigorously filling out college applications, and 7:15 wake up calls, I, along with most seniors in high school, encountered numerous sleepless nights. Thus marked the beginning of my incurable coffee addiction. But not just an addiction to any coffee: Starbucks coffee. Whether it involves a quick coffee run or self-made coffee in my dorm room/ at home, I rarely drink anything other than Starbucks. My admiration for the corporation extends beyond the product itself. With its lounge-like layout, free wifi, rewards programs, and consistently pleasant employees, Starbucks creates its own mini-culture amongst its consumer base. It is not just a coffee shop. It is the ideal hangout place. Starbucks has even established its own fancy lingo that separates the true Starbucks-goers from the posers. I have always been amazed at the brand loyalty Starbucks creates along with the earthy-crunchy hipster vibe it elicits. Ordering a “vente macchiato” sounds a million times more sophisticated than ordering a large coffee at Dunkin Donuts or another run-of-the-mill coffee shop, right?

Starbucks is listed in Forbes’ top companies to work for. However, looking at the company on the individual employee level, there are evidently some flaws in this assumption. After further investigation, I stumbled upon an article about a 22 year old Starbucks barista and single mother named Jannette Navarro. She confessed that her shifting hours made it impossible for her to commit to night classes and she feared that if she asked for more consistent hours, the company would cut down on her hours all together. Scheduling within Starbucks has become a power tool to bolster profits, yet has been injecting turbulence into its’ workers’ daily lives. The article addressed the concept of “clopening”, where Starbucks would schedule workers to close the store late at night and also assign them shifts for early morning openings. The in depth NY Times article on Jannette detailed how her Starbucks work schedule not only affected her life, but also spilled over onto the people’s lives she relies on to take care of her son Gavin.

In addition to problems surrounding disgruntled employees, Starbucks encountered large social media out-lashes surrounding its recently released and recently disbanded “Race Campaign”. Upon further research, I found an article that addressed a worker’s opinion on Starbucks’ effort to create conversation between baristas and consumers about race relations. Moved by the Ferguson case, CEO Schultz felt compelled to make a difference. The company had its baristas write the phrase “Race Together” on customer’s coffee cups and encouraged its employees to engage in 40 second conversations with these customers on issues surrounding race. . Barista Jamie Prater, who happens to be half black, stated that he worried the initiative had the potential to invite uncomfortable remarks. The barista states, “The last thing I want to have is an irate customer and a long line of people behind them yelling at me. That is not the position I want to be in”. Consumers viewed Starbucks’ effort to encourage conversation as superficial and offensive.

When it comes to the “Race Campaign”, CEO Schultz created this open forum with the hopes of sparking change. Schultz wanted to further foster the warm and inviting interactions between baristas and customers that would make loyal customers such as myself feel at home. And, as I mentioned previously, that is what I love so much about Starbucks as a company. It sells more than just a product; it sells an experience. So why did the “Race Campaign”, a campaign that aimed to better CSR and society as a whole fail so miserably? In attempts to boost its own public image, Starbucks neglected to put itself in the shoes of its consumer and its employees. Instead, it put its customers in situations of extreme discomfort while simultaneously placing its baristas at the forefront of public outrage. It is stories like these- direct stories from personal experiences, stories that are undeniably truthful- that force companies like Starbucks to wake up and smell the problem.





6 thoughts on “Wake Up and Smell the Problem

  1. In my uneducated opinion, I believe that the CEO’s idea about trying to make a difference during a very racially turbulent time was in the right place. CEO Shultz had the right idea but not necessarily the right way to do it. I know I wouldn’t want to talk about race with somebody that I barely know. Most people can’t even talk about it with immediate family members who they have known their whole life. It was the right idea, just poor execution. Race is one of those topics that is very taboo in today’s society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s the truth. You said, “I know I wouldn’t want to talk about race with somebody that I barely know. Most people can’t even talk about it with immediate family members who they have known their whole life.” One could see this as a reason to avoid the issue, or one could see it AS the issue. Why are we so uncomfortable what does that say about our perspectives on race? I think that is what Schultz was trying to ask, but in the process he kind of used his employees as a means to a wider social end despite their uncomfortably. So I guess what we have to ask ourselves is which is more important, bringing about some meaningful change for the good of all, or being considerate to the emotional stresses it may cause to individuals along the way? That’s a hard question to answer.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I completely agree. While the campaign could’ve been thought out a bit (or alot) more, I commend Schultz’s effort to highlight the issue of racial inequality during a very sensitive time. Most companies in the country choose to ignore this issue because of fears of offending someone. While valid, I believe that highlighting the issue and asking people to share their thoughts is a lot more effective in terms of striving for racial equality, even if it means offending some people on the way. That being said, Schultz should really sit down and rethink his strategy before moving forward with his plan.


  2. As someone who goes to Starbucks often, it was interesting to read about the problems within its organization. Similar to you, one that I’ve noticed about going to Starbucks are the “consistently pleasant employees” who always have a smile on their face and makes a point to ask about my day, but what do we really know about them besides that? Or about any employee that we encounter throughout the day? I’m not sure if there is a way to please every employee – if Jannette is no longer stuck with the bad shifts, then someone else will be – so what is the solution?


  3. I am amazed at Schultz’ choice on race. Personally, I applaud him for at least thinking “hey, what can we do?” At the same time, asking strangers to have 40 second conversations during a coffee transaction is laughably bad.

    What could they have done?

    Add “race facts” to the cup holders.

    Highlight race heroes who challenge racism in store decoration.

    Allow EMPLOYEES to discuss how race affects the workplace.

    Maybe INVITE customers to organize race discussion circles in their vaunted “coffee house” atmosphere.

    Liked by 2 people

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