The aroma of coffee grounds and sweet vanilla milk pervade the air as the hiss of the milk steamer played like a soundtrack, only to be interrupted by the barista behind the counter calling out the names written on the white cups with the trademark green siren.
There is no rest at Starbucks. There is only the constant movement produced by the wave of customers desperate to get their fix of caffeine. An everlasting line of cups is stacked in the sizes of: tall, grande, or venti; iced or hot.
In the midst of all the pandemonium is Hanako Saeki, 23, a student manager at Starbucks who is put in place to levy the chaos. Her green apron is painted with milk splatter and her black non-slip shoes are sticky from sugary residue. Her shoulder-length hair tied in a low pony and tucked into a black cap to match her black collared shirt and black pants. This is Saeki’s uniform when she has to tackle the floor.
Being a student manager, for Saeki, adds to the burdens of a working college student. Saeki is an Environmental Design, Policy and Planning major, taking five classes and has an independent research study. Saeki works five days a week, and her shifts can range from four to six hours at a time but sometimes can extend to ten hours. According to Saeki, she gets a 15 minute break if she works four hours, and 30 minutes if it is five hours or more. Saeki has so little time in between work and school that when asked if she had time to talk, she blatantly said no.
“It is manageable but I do have to cut out my social time,” Saeki said. “My friends tell me to cut back some hours so we can hang out.”
At 5’2”, Saeki’s height and petite frame causes her to be more careful at work, especially with the duties she is allocated. As Saeki got to the floor she started her routine: three buckets of ice, six gallons of milk, refilling stacks of cups and lids, cleaning up the counters, and directing the rest of the staff, which includes students and the Faculty Student Association’s unionized workers.
As with many student managers at Starbucks, they are expected to be interim shift supervisors. Saeki, along with other student managers, must train new staff members to learn policies and recipes for the green siren company. Though their job is to overlook the floor, they are allocated duties that are not listed in the job description and are demanded even when the green apron is off. It penetrates into their everyday lives with duties like fixing scheduling issues and finding staff to cover those who call out or just don’t show up. Supervisors who are hired through the school’s FSA are responsible for preparing the student managers in their areas of work; however the training of student managers is often left out of the process, according to Saeki.
“Having better communication between student managers and the managers, in terms of keeping the team updated with any changes in procedure or with current issues, would be more helpful,” Saeki said in an email. “The store would run more smoothly if we are all on the same page. My position as a student manager would be more effective, and as a result, the rest of the staff would be more successful.”
Back at the storefront, Saeki runs from one side of the floor to the other, bustling as she picks up cups, puts food into the oven and maintains her workplace simultaneously. Even at 3 p.m., the middle of the day, there was still a rush of five to six people. There was only one Japanese girl behind the register managing two other employees, when the minimum amount of staff members is four.
One of the biggest problems is being understaffed or having staff who are not knowledgeable of or are unaware of regulations. This leads to a bigger problem, which may harm the company in a more serious matter than who shows up for work.
“0, while at the same time maintaining a clean and organized workspace,” Saeki said in an email. “Keeping up with the health codes and staying in compliance with Starbucks procedures can be another challenge during peak hours of operations.”
Aside from the slips and falls at the workplace, student managers like Saeki have to deal with the stress factor of pressure from the staff and employers, as well as customers who expect Saeki to be the leader at Starbucks. But the pressure has become a routine since she has dealt with it every day for the past two years, since the Fall semester of 2012. It has helped her structure her weeks and keeps her busy.
“I manage all my school work but it can get busy but it’s manageable.” Saeki said. “I like when my days are busy because it keeps me preoccupied and it gives me more structure to my days.”