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.