What’s Up With Starbucks?

Named after a character in the novel “Moby Dick,” Starbucks Coffee prides itself in the quality of its coffee beverages, its customer service and its community feel. Because of its monstrous expansion and popularity, Starbucks is also usually very convenient. While the first item is understandably not on the forefront of the campus Starbucks experience, it is a shame that the other three aspects have also gone by the wayside here at the UC Irvine establishment.

Issues with Aramark, the “single source” owner of nearly all the campus dining options, have been discussed ad nauseum in the past. Complaints over its monopoly status, its rising prices for meal plans and already high prices for on-campus eating options are common around campus. But Starbucks has not always been part of the discussion. The drinks are priced the same, and the convenience of having one on campus was an enjoyable luxury. The lines moved fast, it is open 24 hours during finals week, and they even offered $1 pastries past a certain hour. This year however, the quality of the campus Starbucks has taken a precipitous hit, an unacceptable representation of the Starbucks name.

This year, the New University staff, as frequent patrons of the Starbucks on campus, has noticed an egregious amount of errors, both in terms of its quality and the frequency of said mistakes.

The key problem lies in its inadequacy in making drinks beyond simple coffees or, well, iced coffees. Lattes have too much foam and not enough espresso – the pumpkin spice latte tastes like it is just pumpkin and milk. Many times, a drink will be missing an element, such as milk or sweetener. These are all seemingly nitpicky problems, but it gets worse.

If you look closely at the pastry display, there are often times small flies inside, flying around on the very same delights that you will soon eat. Drinks will simply disappear or never get made, with no gift card of apology like in outside Starbucks. There is no toaster, and thus no hot food or toasted sandwiches available. Ice chunks hang out in the frappucinos. Even worse, pieces of plastic have found their way inside iced coffees!

All of this would be more forgivable if at least the employees were more friendly and gracious. With the exception of a few cheerful employees, the vast majority of the current Starbucks workers seem ambivalent, frazzled and overall disinterested in trying to “inspire and nurture the human spirit,” as the Starbucks mission statement says. Part of this is due to the long lines and the lack of time to maintain any conversation, but a simple smile would be nice.

The main reason for the aforementioned problems is probably the high turnover ratio among employees. Workers are paid as Aramark employees and not Starbucks employees, and there is no tip jar or gratuity factor at all, which weighs heavily against employee satisfaction.

In addition, an ex-employee of both the campus Starbucks and an off-campus “real” Starbucks revealed that the training process for the on campus Starbucks is concentrated more on just making the drinks, rather than the details behind what Starbucks is selling and serving. The lack of such a holistic, overall training is also hampered by the less tenured “trainer” on campus, compared to the assistant manager who would train new employees at a real world Starbucks.

Other locations, run by corporate Starbucks, conduct customer surveys on their receipts that help accurately judge the success of each branch. While Aramark runs customer satisfaction surveys sporadically throughout the year, having a more Starbucks-specific and visible one may be helpful.

The UCI Starbucks is among the most frequented Starbucks in the nation. It will probably always sit at one of the best locations on campus. There is no doubt that it will continue pilfering money from the UCI faithful for years to come. The least they could do is offer their employees higher salaries (baristas make the same campus minimum as every other dining place) by having a tip jar, and increasing the tenure of employees. Because Aramark mandates that all their employees make the same amount, this may mean putting tip jars everywhere, including Mesa Commons and Jamba Juice. Better yet, bring Starbucks out under the treacherous wing of Aramark, so that the campus branch can match up to all the outside locations. Discussed ad nauseum or not, the current Starbucks set-up is making us nauseous and something needs to change.

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