I was a Starbucks barista for 2 years, here are 12 of the biggest things I learned

There are a lot of things you might not know about working at Starbucks.Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Image
  • I have worked at Starbucks for a total of two years in two different locations as both a barista and shift supervisor.
  • There's no such thing as a "secret menu," but most drinks are super customizable.
  • The employee dress code at Starbucks is pretty flexible, but if you don't have a clean apron or name tag you could be sent home.
  • You can buy most Starbucks syrups if you ask, but the pumpkin-spice one is not for sale.
  • We can't make customers leave if they don't buy anything.

In August 2015, I was a freshman in college and had just gotten my first job: a barista at Starbucks.

I worked at my college's on-campus Starbucks for about eight months before moving on to an office job. About a year later, I worked at an off-campus Starbucks to help pay my rent. I worked there for over a year (and was even promoted to shift supervisor) until I left to pursue my graduate degree.

During the cumulative 26 months I was at Starbucks, I learned the ins and outs of working there. Advertisement

Read on for some of my most interesting takeaways from working at the coffee chain.

First of all, corporate and licensed Starbucks stores are quite different

Corporate locations are directly run by the Starbucks corporation. Licensed stores, which are often found on college campuses and in hospitals, are able to sell Starbucks products without being directly run by the corporation itself.

Both are technically Starbucks but, in my experience, licensed stores have a lot more restrictions for employees.
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At licensed stores, employees have to pay for their drinks and snacks during their breaks and the stores sometimes charge customers for cups.

Licensed stores can also run out of items quickly because owners order a finite amount of inventory that needs to last for a few weeks or a month. On the other hand, corporate stores are able to fill out their inventory every day and get new shipments three or four times a week. You also typically aren't allowed to collect tips at licensed stores, which was a huge bummer for me as a college student.Advertisement

Since I spent the bulk of my Starbucks experience at a corporate store, I'll be referring to the corporate locations from here on out.

Not every Starbucks store is the same.Oli Scarff/Getty Images

You can wear your own clothes to work

When I worked at Starbucks, the only "uniform" I had to wear daily was my apron and name tag. As long as I was wearing neutral colors, dark bottoms, sleeved tops, and closed-toe shoes with no heel, I could wear anything I wanted. Advertisement

On more than one occasion, I've even worn shorts to work and many of my coworkers wore skirts or dresses. As long as a garment wasn't offensive or overtly inappropriate, it was fair game to wear on the floor.

I loved this because, while many of my friends who worked in retail had to worry about cleaning their uniforms, I always knew I had plenty of options in my closet.

As an added perk, Starbucks is also pretty supportive of non-natural-colored hair and (most) tattoos. Advertisement

If you don't have a clean apron or a name tag, you can't be on the floor

Although Starbucks is relaxed on its dress code, it's strict about one thing: Every employee needs a clean apron and a name tag.

When I was a supervisor, I was expected to enforce this rule. If a barista had a dirty apron or forgot their name tag and we didn't have any spares of either, I'd sometimes have to send them home and tell them to return when they had both or to leave and receive no hours for that day.

If you bring in a recipe, a barista might be able to help you.Shutterstock
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There's no 'secret menu,' but most things are more customizable than you think

Bad news — you can't walk into a Starbucks and order a "Snickers Frappuccino" or "Baby Yoda Frappuccino" and assume baristas know what you're talking about.

In reality, these are usually just things that people who caught on to the menu's versatility have come up with. Every drink has a specific recipe, right down to the amount of ice in the cup — but you can play with the kinds of syrups, the number of espresso shots, whether you want the drink to be blended, and so on.Advertisement

Next time you want a "secret menu" item, just show your barista the recipe and they'd be happy to help you make the drink of your dreams.

We can hold the coffee in most of the popular drinks

Speaking of customization — even those who don't like coffee can try some of the chain's most famous beverages.

My fiancé who can't stand the taste of coffee had often stuck to hot chocolate and Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccinos since he didn't think he'd like the espresso-filled specialty drinks. He was pleasantly surprised when I told him that we can hold the coffee and espresso for even the chain's most popular offerings. Advertisement

So, a PSA for those who want to taste Starbucks' famous Pumpkin Spice Latte but don't like espresso: We can hold the coffee for you.

A lot of times the Frappuccino or latte is called whatever the drink was originally named, just replace the last word with "creme." So a Pumpkin Spice Latte without the double shot of espresso is called a Pumpkin Spice Creme.

We have an extra-large size, but not all drinks can be ordered in this cup

Some people may not know that Starbucks has a size that's even bigger than the 20-ounce venti — the 31-ounce trenta.Advertisement

For reference, a trenta cup can hold a whole bottle of wine (or so I've heard).

There is a catch, though, you can only get a trenta iced coffee, iced tea, or refresher. You can't order a trenta latte or Frappuccino ... unless you happen to have a barista friend who's willing to make an exception.

You can oftentimes use a Starbucks bathroom, even if you don't make a purchase.Insider/Rachel Hosie
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We can't make you leave if you don't buy anything

Starbucks employees really can't kick you out for not buying a drink.

This is supposed to help customers view the chain as their "second home," and it can be a true lifesaver if you're in Manhattan and need to use a bathroom in a pinch. But keep in mind that if you're disruptive or rude, Starbucks managers can still request your removal from the premises and ban you from the store. Advertisement

The pastry case is typically for viewing, not for eating

During my time at Starbucks, it was common to work the register and tell a customer we didn't have the pastry they wanted only for them to reply, "Why can't I just have the one on display?"

Maybe this isn't the case for every store, but in my experience, Starbucks openers will set up the display case with real pastries but typically won't change them out for up to two or three days.

We can't sell those pastries for health and sanitation reasons. Admittedly, though, if a barista is changing out the display case at night and some of the pastries still look good, they might sneak a bite or two. Advertisement

Starbucks employees are allowed to give out $5 inconvenience cards

Just about everyone has an experience getting a Starbucks order that was hot instead of iced, sweet when they wanted unsweetened, or just plain wrong.

In these cases, employees are allowed to give out free drink cards, which are just $5 gift cards.

We hand them out at our discretion and tend to be more likely to give them to those who are nice about their incorrect order, not the ones who are indignant.Advertisement

If you order a drink using the mobile app, you'll often get it quite quickly.Mike Blake / Reuters

Mobile orders are prioritized over in-person drink orders

This one threw me off a couple of times when I started working at Starbucks: You can actually get in trouble if you prioritize in-person orders over the mobile ones.

If a barista gets two orders at the same time and one is from the register and the other is from the mobile app, they must make the mobile order first. This is because to-go orders are designed to be ready before the customer arrives.Advertisement

Because of this, I used to tell people who are in a rush that they should order on the app if they want to get their drink faster than the customers who are coming in during the morning rush.

You can purchase some of your favorite flavor syrups from the store

Many people don't know that most of our syrups have barcodes on them, and we are prepared to sell them if you ask. We can say no if we don't have enough to last us before the next scheduled delivery, but most of the time the syrups are yours for the purchasing.Advertisement

I loved telling people this tidbit of information and watching their faces when they realized they could make their beloved vanilla lattes or raspberry lemonades at home.

There is a catch, though. Certain thick syrups, like the pumpkin-spice or creme-brûlee varieties, can't be sold to the public, mostly because of their limited, seasonal availability.

If you aren't sure whether a syrup is available for purchase, just ask your barista and they can tell you which flavors can be sold. Advertisement

Most Starbucks flavor syrups are for sale.Chinnapong/Shutterstock

Yes, we memorize all of the drink recipes

As a barista, you are responsible to know how much ice, sweetener, espresso, and syrup every drink gets.

This can get a bit overwhelming when you first start at Starbucks, plus there are also new recipes to memorize each time the chain drops a seasonal or limited edition drink. Advertisement

A lot of the time baristas won't be allowed on bar (out front making drinks) until they've understood the register and learned all of the recipes.

Fortunately, in my experience, veteran baristas are always ready to hop in and help a rookie if they forget the steps. Learning and teaching moments like that honestly made Starbucks a really fun place to work.

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