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What It Takes to Work Here: Starbucks


Prepare to memorize some 40 drink-making methods and keep practicing until the customer's thirst is perfectly quenched.

On February 26, 2008, every Starbucks (SBUX) shop in the United States closed for several hours. Caffeine-denied customers were stunned. But according to the company, the massive closing was orchestrated with the coffee-buying public in mind. Starbucks used the time to create an in-store education and re-training event for more than 135,000 employees. Part of the goal was to introduce a new promise to exceed customers' expectations by delivering the perfect drink every time.

Many media reports dismissed the move as a publicity stunt. But there's no denying that Starbucks has emphasized employee training since its inception in 1971. The coffee company is unafraid to spend time and money making sure its baristas know from a machiato.

Before officially donning the green apron, baristas-in-training must study the ins and outs of making more than 40 drinks. They learn about each Starbucks concoction three ways, by watching the drink being made, by making it, and then by tasting it. In all, employees receive at least 24 hours of training in the first two to four weeks. This includes classes on coffee history, drink preparation, customer service, and retail skills. Every staff member also has to attend a four-hour workshop on brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

"I had to read 15 short books, 24 pages each, describing the history of Starbucks and the Promise of Customer Respect," says supervisor Will Cruz, who has been working at Starbucks in New York for three years. "Then there was a lot of focus on cleaning -- sweeping, mopping, and also restocking." (The "Promise of Customer Respect" states that a Starbucks barista will keep remaking a drink until it suits the customer's taste.)

One Starbucks manager calls the training approach "tailored." She says that every barista gets a learning coach, which is similar to a mentor, to give them one-on-one attention. However, some baristas would disagree. "I think a lot of baristas learned everything incorrectly. It's very difficult to learn drinks on the floor of a very busy Starbucks," says Sarah Miller, who worked at a New York City Starbucks for eight months.

One thing is indisputable: There are plenty of opportunities and strong incentives to work for the Seattle-based empire.

According to the company's website, there are 16,706 locations in the United States alone. Each position comes with plenty of benefits, including comprehensive health coverage for all employees who work more than 20 hours per week. Chairman and CEO Howard Shultz calls all employees "partners," and all partners are given equity in the company after working with the firm for 90 days. Fortune magazine reports that the annual pay for salaried Starbucks employees is $44,790 and for hourly employees, $35,294.

Small wonder the company repeatedly makes Fortune's annual list of the 100 Best Places to Work.

Then again, Starbucks employees do their share of venting. Need to know what employees talk about after they've poured your skinny, soy, decaf latte? Check here.
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