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“2% or Skim?” and Other Inane Questions I Asked to Earn a Living

   Posted On: January 12, 2016  |    Posted In: Career  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

“Good morning, may I take your order?”
“Tall, grande or venti?”
2% or skim milk?”
“Whip or no whip?”
“And what’s your name for the order?”

During my first six months in New York City, I started most of my mornings with those questions. At 4:15 I’d suppress the impulse to throw my alarm clock across the room as I rolled out of bed and fumbled into my black pants and polo. I’d toss my mandatory black ball cap on my head and trudge along the streets towards to the train. Some mornings I headed to work as the bars on my block were closing down. I’d give a friendly nod to the bouncers who made sure the throngs of drunk guys didn’t hassle me.

An hour after my wake up call, I started up the espresso machines, brewed a batch of pike and one of whatever bold bean was on-tap that week and stocked the pastry shelves. In the fall and winter months, the sun hadn’t risen by the time we were serving our first customer.

IMG_0142Only one month prior I’d graduated magna cum laude with a double-major from a private university. Now, I could barely get a passing grade in milk steaming (guys, a bone-dry cappuccino is tough.)

I didn’t move to the Big Apple in order to master the art of foam hearts and pulling the perfect espresso shot. In fact, I had a “real job” working as a page for a popular late-night talk show. However, with odd hours and not great pay, I couldn’t even make rent. I’d applied to a variety of other part-time jobs with flexible hours. A mega-coffee chain was the only one willing to take a chance on a recent college grad with no food-industry experience.

Motivated by my well-honed financial survival instincts, I picked up babysitting in addition to being a barista in the morning and a page in the afternoon. I routinely worked from 4:30 am – 11:30 pm multiple days a week. For over a month I didn’t have a single day off. But, for nine dollars an hour, plus tips, I would paste a smile on my face and repeat the same inane questions over-and-over, because I had to pay my bills.

The worst part wasn’t the hours, but the insufferable people who need some perspective in their lives.

For example:

Lady walks in talking on her cell phone. She stays on the phone while saying to me: “I need a mocha. Operative word being need.”
Me: “Okay, would you like whipped cream?”
Lady with-disgruntled-look-that-I-am-interrupting-her-conversation: “No.”
Me: “And a name for the order please?”
Lady looking-at-me-as-if-Hades-himself-would-have-nothing-on-her-wrath: “Beth.”*

First glaring issue with this exchange: never would a person need a mocha. Crave? sure. Want? absolutely. But a milk-based espresso drink with several pumps of chocolate and whipped cream on top would never be essential to human survival.

Second issue, no matter the situation if you have a conversation, however brief, with another human being please have the decency to tell the person on the phone you can call him or her back. Don’t get irritable with someone asking questions to avoid you sending an order back because of any combinations of the following: whipped cream, no whipped cream, foam, no foam, not enough foam, decaf instead of regular, regular instead of decaf, sugar free instead of regular syrup, one more pump of syrup, one less pump of syrup, wrong flavor of syrup, 2% instead of skim milk, skim milk instead of whole milk, 3 spleendas not 2, sweet-n-low not equal, not exactly 145 degrees, not exactly 120 degrees, wrong size or the wrong drink entirely.

Yes, all of those happened at some point during my barista career.

However, there were people who restored my faith in humanity. One regular customer made a point to learn all the baristas’ names and address everyone personally in the morning. On one particularly bad morning he actually moved me to tears by asking how my day was going. In my defense, I hadn’t had more than 4 straight hours of sleep in several days.

My story isn’t unique. Scores of college-educated millennials are working part-time, minimum wage jobs whilst trying to figure out their next move or supporting an internship they hope leads to a paid job or just because they need more money.

However, for those who move back in with Mom and Dad or continue to live-off parental welfare because they “can’t find a job” please reconsider your stance. There are jobs out there. None of them are beneath you. A diploma and lofty career goals should not excuse you from earning a living.

*Names have be changed to avoid sue-happy Americans!

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25 responses to ““2% or Skim?” and Other Inane Questions I Asked to Earn a Living

    1. Thanks, Cat! I was certainly a humbling experience in my life that transformed the way in which I treated others in the service industry.

    1. That became my new mantra. I even felt lucky I could get hired at Starbucks because I didn’t have any food industry experience and it can be hard to break in here.

  1. Great reminder! I am now 23 years old and still staying in my parent’s house. There are really jobs out there, we just to keep looking until we find the best job for us.

    1. Something is out there as long as you don’t think a college degree keeps you from getting certain types of jobs.

  2. Can’t appreciate where we are if we don’t remember where we started right?

    I’ve gone back to where I started for six months by driving for Uber. Making much less money and having to deal with customers really made me appreciate what I have. I’m all about making close to minimum wage again.

    It’s good for the soul!


    1. It’s really interesting to me how many successful folks I’ve heard of that drive for Uber (or just from chatting with Uber drivers that do it for fun). It also seems really popular for retirees who just want to get out of the house and have some social interactions.

  3. There is a way to make it out there … for those that are struggling, hang in there and make a little time for your own personal grwoth each day, no matter how hard.

  4. First, I just want to say that I love your blog.
    I used to think that I could never work at Starbucks. My only stint in the food industry lasted a grand total of two weeks when I worked at McDonald’s (first job in high school). Now that I’ve been working for the government for over a year, I often think that being a barista doesn’t sound all that bad. Sure, the pay isn’t as good but at least things are moving and generally exciting/entertaining. Still, to put in that much work as a recent college grad in NYC is a pretty amazing feat!

    1. Thanks so much, Darrian.

      Starbucks as a company was pretty great to work for, it was just grumpy New Yorkers that turned out to be a major bummer!

  5. Great post, you managed to explain most important things in few words. I was enjoying reading this article, especially liked part in which you explain about Lady who walks and talking on her cell phone.

  6. I was lucky enough to work at a bakery in high school and we had our share of disgruntled customers. There was one guy we called the “cookie monster” who would freak out if we ran out of chocolate chip cookies before he came in.

    I liked your part at the end of the blog that no job is beneath you. I took a job that I “thought was beneath me” right after I graduated college, lived at home with mom and dad, and thought it was the end of the world. Turned out I saved $7k in five months and then ended up landing my dream internship at the US Olympic Committee. It all worked out! I definitely have a different perspective now and am glad I am no longer thinking like I did just out of college.

  7. I can definitely relate! I worked at a bagel shop throughout high school and college. So many customers would give vague instructions for their order and then get frustrated with me when I would ask them questions.

    I actually had a customer one time who said in a very irritated tone, “Do you have any more questions for me or can I finally go pay?” It’s frustrating because you know they’ll want you to “fix” their order later if you don’t ask the questions.

    1. I bet you’re super empathetic to other people when you go into shops. I was checking out at a grocery store recently and my mom had just called, so I was on the phone and mouthed “Sorry!” pointing to my phone to the cashier. She seemed to appreciate the acknowledgement.

  8. Your post reminded me on days when I just finished college. Like you said, any job isn’t beneath you. Most important thing for everyone is: You must work to be noticed, if you are sitting home nobody will notice you and your chances to get better job offer are much lesser. My first K50$ job offer I received in bar where I worked. One regular customer offered me job since he loved routine which I use to handle job. I worked for his company for seven years before I opened mine.

    1. Thanks, J. Money. It’s one of my personal favorites! Glad to have it on here, but sad for the now defunct original host site.

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