28 Secrets About Starbucks, According to Employees
Of the countless chain eateries out there, few have engendered the loyalty of customers like Starbucks. Since opening in Seattle in 1971, the company has developed a rabid following, with more than 70 million customers stopping in for a drink or bite at one of its more than 30,000 stores each week.
While you may be familiar with the company's menu, what goes on behind the scenes may surprise you. From those rumors about a secret menu to the differences in employee aprons, these secrets from Starbucks employees, straight from Reddit, might just have you second-guessing everything you know about your favorite coffee chain.
And for more, don't miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
There's no secret menu—if you want an off-menu order, know the ingredients.
Starbucks' famous Unicorn Frappuccinos and zombie-inspired beverages are definitely real, but they're not part of a secret menu. Starbucks employees are quick to dispel the rumors that there's a list of off-menu orders somewhere. "Customers really do believe we have a secret menu and can make anything comprising a dozen ingredients off the top of our heads during a rush. And worse is when they complain about the taste like I'm supposed to know the flavor profile of a PokéBall Frappuccino," wrote one barista on Reddit.
"It's not necessarily irritating if you know what the ingredients are," wrote one barista of off-menu orders. "It's really only frustrating when people come in and say something like 'Let me have a Twix Frap!' and they expect us to know how to do it and say it is on the 'secret' menu. We do not have an actual secret menu, it's just a website that takes people's original ideas to make custom drinks."
Starbucks will give you a birthday gift.
Your grandmother isn't the only person who still gives you a present for your birthday; your local barista is ready to dish out gifts on your big day, too. Starbucks cardholders and those who have signed up for the company's mobile app can enjoy a free drink or food item on their birthday each year. Even better? You don't have to make a single purchase to enjoy that free treat.
But there's a limit.
While you can get a free drink on your birthday, there are limits. One barista revealed on Reddit that the company will only give you eight shots of espresso at one time, although customers have been adamant about getting more.
There's a Starbucks treat just for dogs.
If your canine companion is taking a trip to your local Starbucks with you, they're in for a treat. Starbucks employees will make you a "puppaccino"—that's a small serving of whipped cream—for your pooch if you ask for one. "That's actually one of the things we like giving out the most. Especially through drive if we get to watch the dog enjoy it," wrote one employee. "Takes less than 10 seconds to grab a sample cup and fill it with some whip."
There's no standard law enforcement discount.
While uniformed police officers, firefighters, and members of the military will often get a discounted or free beverage as a thank you at certain stores, it's not a company policy across the board. "Discounts for law enforcement are not corporately supported, but many customers and baristas (myself included) will go out of their way to pay for their coffee," wrote one barista.
Many baristas consider Starbucks a career.
While some people wrongly believe service-industry jobs are stepping stones, your Starbucks barista may be on a career path already. Not only are many Starbucks employees earning degrees through the company's partnership with Arizona State University, but Starbucks' eagerness to hire from within also makes many baristas aspire to higher positions within the company. "Honestly, at the beginning, it was just a job to get me through school, but now that I've been with the company for almost 3 years, I could see myself moving into the head office and working here my whole life," wrote one barista.
There's a specific standard for mixing drinks.
That perfect foam atop your Starbucks iced tea was earned the hard way: through lots of shaking. According to one Starbucks barista, the standard for mixing teas is 10 shakes. However, during peak hours, don't be surprised if your barista gives it just one or two.
You can hack the menu.
While Starbucks employees will make you practically anything your heart desires, what they aren't likely to tell you is how you can get your favorite drinks on the cheap. Luckily, one brave barista dished the dirt on how to slash the price of iced lattes: "An iced venti latte is ~$4, a doppio (two espresso shots) is $1.95, and a cup of ice with two [added] shots is $1.20. Because you can add as much cold milk as you want from the condiment bar (that island full of sugar packets and carafes) to whatever you're drinking, you can ALWAYS ask for an iced venti doppio, pay $1.95 then add the milk yourself. Half-price lattes."
Drink recipes differ from country to country.
If you've noticed that your usual Starbucks order tastes different when you're away from home, that's not just your imagination. One barista who transferred from a U.K. Starbucks to one in the U.S. revealed that stateside drinks contain half the espresso. Another barista confirmed on Reddit: "I'm fairly certain it's meant to be stronger in the U.K. because U.S. customers seem to just want sugar with a lil' bit of espresso."
Some baristas will serve you decaf if you're rude.
While most Starbucks baristas deny that any serious food tampering goes on at their locations, a few admit to giving cranky customers a cup of decaf instead of regular coffee. "When you think you're entitled to anything and complain about a non-issue, you're getting decaf and I'm not apologizing about your minor inconvenience," wrote one barista on Reddit.
That low lighting in stores is no coincidence.
The mood lighting Starbucks seems to favor isn't just a ploy to get you to buy more coffee. In a bid to be more environmentally friendly, Starbucks became a member of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2001, creating LEED-certified stores across the globe beginning in 2008.
Don't be afraid to order ice.
Those horror stories about the cleanliness of various fast-food ice machines are enough to have anyone ordering hot drinks in mid-August. Fortunately, Starbucks employees say that stores don't mess around when it comes to ice. "I worked for Starbucks for 4 years and picked up shifts at 4 or 5 stores at different points while I worked there. Every store I worked in was very diligent about cleaning the ice machines multiple times a week. Empty it out, and wipe it down when it's slow. Not that complicated," wrote one former employee.
They don't care if you're using the right lingo.
Your barista probably isn't judging you when you order a large instead of a venti. "I'm never going to correct you," wrote one barista. "You say the size you want, and I'll work with you."
The black aprons baristas wear mean something.
Those black aprons on certain baristas aren't just to keep coffee stains hidden. In fact, baristas wearing black have been certified as coffee masters through an education program provided by Starbucks.
Iced coffee is the best value for your money.
"The best drink to get if you want something cheap is iced coffee," says one barista. "You can add any syrup for free and make it taste way better than the lattes. Also, ask for steamed iced coffee if our coffee is too weak. The baristas will most definitely look at you funny, but we literally have to do anything you tell us to."
Don't expect a Starbucks kiosk to offer the full menu.
If you find yourself in a Barnes & Noble, Target, or another store with a Starbucks kiosk, don't expect a full menu. One Redditor recounted the harrowing experience of trying to explain the variation in menus from store to store. Be kind to your baristas; they're not the ones who choose what the store sells, after all.
The employees are happy to have you work there.
Those big tables and ample outlets at your local Starbucks are there for a reason: employees are happy to have customers work there (when it's not during the pandemic, of course). If you've ordered something, don't be shy about staying a while to catch up on emails or chat with a friend. "I think those people are delightful," wrote one barista of customers who get comfortable. "They are fun to talk to and are taking advantage of the '3rd place' that Starbucks sought to become in 1987."
Brightly-dyed hair and body art are no-nos for employees.
Your hipster style may fit right in at your local Starbucks, but that doesn't mean all body art is welcome. Starbucks policy dictates that employees can only wear two earrings per ear and have to take out facial jewelry, aside from nose studs. While the corporate policy says that ear gauges should be kept small, one employee wrote on Reddit that, as long as they have plugs in, gauge size is not an issue.
And while Starbucks is known for its diverse staffers, that dyed hair won't cut it. Not only are unnatural hair colors against the rules, but one long-time barista even claimed in a YouTube video that he was fired for his artificially flame-red locks.
Employees get a steep discount.
Starbucks employees aren't going hungry at work. Not only do team members get one free food item and multiple free drinks per shift, but they're also entitled to 30% off food and drinks when they come in on their off-days. And they get even bigger discounts around the holidays.
Fizzy drinks are no picnic to make.
Starbucks' carbonated concoctions are among the most time-consuming for baristas to create. "Please don't order the berry sangria, or any carbonated drinks for that matter," pleaded one staffer. "We hate making them, they are simply the biggest pain."
You don't need a résumé to work there.
Want to become a barista? Don't sweat it if you don't have a lengthy résumé. "Starbucks does not ask for nor require a resume or cover letter for barista positions. Your interviewing SM/ASM/SMT may glance at it as a courtesy, but it is 100% not needed nor expected," revealed one Starbucks employee.
Starbucks employees pride themselves on cleanliness.
Have you ever noticed how spotless even busy Starbucks locations tend to be? That's no coincidence. Employees say that the chain makes cleanliness and safety top priorities. In fact, the drinks are so fresh that there's a "99% chance the milk used in your drink was first opened an hour prior," according to one barista.
The pastries aren't made in-house.
While Starbucks' drinks are made to order, the pastries aren't baked in-house. According to employees, the baked goods are shipped in frozen, and it's up to baristas to defrost them.
Different stores have different prices.
Don't blame your barista if your latte costs more in Oakland than it does in Omaha. "The price of drinks is purely based on region," wrote one longtime barista. "They are mostly standardized throughout the country, but local and state taxes will change the final price of drinks."
Most drinks can be made vegan-friendly.
Think your ethical eating habits mean Starbucks is off-limits? Think again. "As a barista who worked for a vegan company and had to research what's vegan at Starbucks, none of the regular syrups have milk in them, though the caramel drizzle and the thicker syrups (white mocha, pumpkin spice, and caramel brûlée) do. Regular mocha is vegan, though," revealed one employee.
Ordering a Frappuccino during rush hour will get you some dirty looks.
Frappuccinos are delicious, but they're also time-consuming. Baristas admit that customers who order Frappuccinos when the store is packed are often on the receiving end of some ire.
Baristas can get discounted Apple merch.
Starbucks food and drinks aren't the only things that employees get a discount on. Through the chain's partnership program, Starbucks employees can get significant discounts on pricey Apple products.
Your barista could be a champion.
That barista you're ordering from might just be a champion in their field. Baristas who have honed their skills in latte art, new beverage creation, and coffee pairings may be eligible to compete in the Starbucks Barista Championships. Finalists not only get two plaques recognizing their efforts but also a trip to Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.