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14 Freshly-Brewed Facts About Starbucks

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When Starbucks marketing director Howard Schultz visited Milan, Italy in 1983 and realized the city was home to more than 1500 coffee bars, a cartoon light bulb appeared over his head. Four years later, the ambitious Schultz acquired Starbucks—which had previously only sold ground coffee in bags, with no single servings—and proceeded to turn it from a six-store Seattle operation into a global phenomenon. Unlock the secrets of your home away from home with these 14 frothy facts.

1. There’s a Ban on Smells.

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Because aroma is so crucial to the Starbucks experience, Schultz laid down the law early on: Nothing can interfere with the smell of their freshly-ground coffee. The stores banned smoking in the late 1980s, years before it became commonplace; employees are asked not to wear perfume or cologne; and under no circumstances is pastrami to be stored anywhere on the premises. 

2. The Mermaid Used to Show Nipple.

Jim Forest, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

The siren of the famous Starbucks logo is intended to represent the seductive power of coffee, with her hair tastefully covering any hint of immodesty. But when Starbucks was still a regional chain in 1970s Seattle, their logo was far more candid: The mermaid had fully-exposed breasts. Some customers commented on it, but it didn’t become scandalous until the company began making deliveries and had to put their signage on trucks. Reluctant to traffic in portable nudity, the logo was revised.

3. There Have Been Stores Made Out of Old Shipping Containers.

Starbucks

In a monument to the company’s eco-friendly attitude, several stores built out of retired shipping containers have opened since 2011. Some use run-off drains to feed rainwater to nearby vegetation; others use local materials such as discarded wooden fencing to complete the job. The recycled storefronts are typically drive-thru only, but video cameras allow patrons to see a friendly barista's face. At 1000 square feet, they’re also smaller than a typical store—and Starbucks has every intention of using that tiny footprint to burrow its way into locations previously thought to be too small to lease. 

4. An Immunologist Cracked the Coffee Code.

Infectious disease specialist Don Valencia was essentially just goofing off in 1990 when he developed a coffee bean extract that smelled and tasted just like the real thing. After neighbors couldn’t tell the difference between his sample and fresh coffee, he tried it out on a barista. Eventually, word got to Starbucks executives, who hired Valencia in 1993. Using his discovery to branch out into retail sales, Starbucks quickly became a top-seller of bottled coffee and super-premium ice cream—for a time, they even outsold pint-sized king Häagen-Dazs.

5. Managers Were Forced to Play with Mr. Potato Head.

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Eager to ramp up efficiency in the face of stiffer competition in 2009, Starbucks dispatched executive Scott Heydon for some updated managerial training. To demonstrate how employees can cut down on idle time behind the counter, Heydon instructed managers to assemble a Mr. Potato Head toy and then put him back in his box in under 45 seconds. At least one supervisor was able to pick up the scattered pieces and re-assemble the spud in under 16 seconds. 

6. The Starbucks CIA Location Is As Secretive As You’d Expect.

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Like most office buildings, the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va. runs on caffeine. But it doesn’t run like a typical Starbucks: Baristas undergo background checks and aren't allowed to leave their posts without a CIA escort. Customer names cannot be called out or written on cups due to security concerns. Despite the precautions, it’s still a social atmosphere: According to the Washington Post, one key member of the team that assisted in locating Osama bin Laden was recruited there.

7. The Employee Dress Code is Very Specific.

Starbucks

When Schultz opened his line of Il Giornale espresso bars in 1985, he mandated employees wear the bowties and crisp white shirts common in Italy. The current dress code [PDF] has relaxed on the Pee-Wee attire but still insists on a certain kind of conformity. Rings cannot have stones; brightly-colored purple or pink hair is not welcome; untucked shirts can’t expose your midsection when bending over; ear gauges should be less than 10mm. Think you're going to sport a face tattoo or septum ring? Mister, the only thing you’re brewing is trouble.    

8. Nonfat Milk Resulted in a Corporate Stand-Off.

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When Howard Behar came to Starbucks as an executive in 1989, he was dismayed to find that many customers had filled out comment cards voicing their desire for nonfat milk. But Schultz and his team had decided they didn’t like the taste and that nonfat wasn’t authentically Italian. Behar argued that customers should get whatever they wanted. Store managers protested, but when Schultz personally witnessed a customer walk out over the lack of options, he relented. Today, half of the company’s cappuccinos and lattes are frothed without fat.

9. They Have a Ski-Thru.

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Skiers in Squaw Valley, California looking for a caffeine fix don’t have to take off their equipment: the Starbucks at the Gold Coast Resort is open to visitors via a Ski-Thru. They also take orders from the aerial lift. What could be better?

10. You Can Get A Butterbeer Frappucino.

RosieTulips, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

The preferred thirst-quencher for Harry Potter fans, Butterbeer isn’t really available outside of the books or the Universal Studios attraction—but you can get a pretty good approximation by requesting a Frappucino with caramel syrup, caramel drizzle, and toffee nut syrup.

11. The Round Tables May Help You Feel Less Lonely.

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Feeling self-conscious about sitting in a Starbucks by yourself? Don’t be: the round tables are there to help. The company believes that circular dining areas can make a space feel less empty when compared to the stern edges of a rectangular or square table. They don’t want you to feel alone. So, so alone.

12. The Disney Starbucks Has Magic Chalkboards.

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When Starbucks opened at Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, some of the company’s trademark features were tweaked to fit their magical affiliation. The chalkboard was re-imagined as a 70-inch touch screen that can render illustrations in real time. Customers can also “draw” on the screen using their fingers, take selfies, and see what visitors in Disney’s Anaheim Starbucks are up to.

13. Some Stores Have the Technology For The Greatest Cup of Coffee Possible. 

Starbucks cares a great deal about serving an excellent cup of coffee. Employees never let brewed pots sit for more than 30 minutes, and stores use no artificially-flavored grounds. The next giant leap in bean prep might be the Clover, a proprietary machine engineered by Stanford that costs $13,000 to install and uses a vacuum and elevator system to shoot coffee grounds upward with precision water temperatures; the result is said to be a peerless experience. If you’re lucky enough to be near a store that has one, expect to pay up to $5 a cup.  

14. Even If You’re Not in a Starbucks, You Might Be In a Starbucks.

Starbucks is both a progressive and staunchly familiar brand. They want to innovate without alienating their loyal customer base. One solution has been to design and open a series of “stealth stores” that serve Starbucks coffee while going by another name, like 15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea in Seattle. Freed from the trappings of a conventional location, these undercover stores can offer live music and serve beer or wine. The company has eyes on opening roughly 100 similar locations in the future.

Additional Sources: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time.

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The Top Excuses Employees Give for Being Late to Work
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Expecting staff to just get out of bed and show up on time seems like a low bar for an employer to set, but some workers have trouble meeting this bare-minimum obligation. Their stated reasons can almost sound believable.

Job placement site CareerBuilder.com recently conducted a survey and asked 800 respondents in various age brackets how often they were late for work, as well as over 1000 human resource managers for data on missing workers. Overall, one in four employees admitted to being tardy at least once a month. Those aged 18 to 34 were the most frequently late, with 38 percent clocking in past their expected arrival. Only 14 percent of workers 45 and older were less-than-punctual.

As for excuses: 51 percent said traffic was the most common reason they straggled in. Around 31 percent said oversleeping was an issue, while bad weather (28 percent) and forgetting something and having to return home (13 percent) plagued others.

According to human resources managers, some workers claimed that they were late because their coffee was too hot; that they fell asleep in the parking lot; that it was too cold outside to travel; or that their false eyelashes were stuck together.

Not surprisingly, CareerBuilder also found that 88 percent of workers were in favor of a flexible work schedule.

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14 Secrets of Costco Employees
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Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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