The Things We Do For Money

“People have meltdowns over coffee all the time.”


Work is the one subject that is endlessly fascinating because everyone wants to know what people do for money. Banking on the inherent nosiness of society at large and the fact that the face of work is rapidly changing, it’s always nice to get out of our respective bubbles and see what the rest of the country’s up to.

This is the premise behind New York’s pop-up sponblog, The Job.

Welcome to The Job: A New Pop-up Blog From NY Mag

The stories they’re publishing purport to show the full spectrum of the working experience, like Studs Terkel’s Working, but updated for now. Out of all the published entries so far — there will be more coming in the next few weeks — this entry by a Starbucks barista in New Hampshire is perhaps the most compelling of the lot.

The Starbucks Barista Who Wants You to Know There Is No Secret Menu

There was a point in time when “working in a coffeeshop” was a strange shorthand for not having a “real job.” Starbucks treats its employees well; they provide full-time benefits for employees who work 20 hours a week and the starting wage is $10 an hour. Other jobs that some might consider “real” — not retail or customer-facing — occasionally do not.

For some reason, we are unhealthily obsessed with the inner workings of Starbucks — the glut of stories published around the “secret menu” and the blog posts that spew forth when a “new” drink is “released” are proof. This story is unlike the other Starbucks stories. It puts the very specific experience of being a barista in a light that will resonate for those who’ve stared bleary-eyed at an espresso machine at 5:30 in the morning as well as the people on the other side of the counter, clutching a newspaper under their arm and waiting for their triple-shot cappuccino.

There is no “secret menu” at Starbucks, contrary to what you may have read but people will ask for drinks that they saw on Instagram.

This afternoon, a girl came in and said, “I saw this on Instagram, can you make this?” It was just like a matcha water with a shot of espresso on top, and I’m just like, “that looks gross. Yes, we can make it.” I try not to judge. But with some people, it’s just like, what the fuck. Why? This other person did a mobile order for a hot chocolate with no chocolate, but with peach syrup, mango syrup, raspberry syrup, and all this other weird stuff. It was weird, fruity milk — and it had matcha in it, too. I don’t … Why? Some of the stuff they’ll order, it’s just like, this is ridiculous.

The stigma of working at a Starbucks is the assumption that you’re doing so because of a decided lack of ambition. Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do.

Two years ago, I was getting my Ph.D. in chemistry. And now I’m working at Starbucks. I sometimes feel a little bit of shame with that, like I’m not doing anything with my life — all that jazz. Like I said, we’re right in the middle of a college town, so there’s a lot of money here. A lot of the students are wealthy, and it’s a superexpensive place to live. I think, definitely, there are people to whom we’re just food-service workers, who think we’re below them and whatever, which is really frustrating because a lot of us have a lot of other stuff going on. When there’s someone who’s rude and condescending, I have to be nice to them. Maybe I’ll rant about it later, but I justify it to myself: They don’t know me; they don’t know my life.

I’d recommend the improbably-named Alexis Abercrombie’s tale about how she went from modeling to fishing in Juneau, Alaska for an interesting chaser to the Starbucks story, but really all of the stories are worth a read.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.