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Barista! Assistant Managing

One of the really repugnant things about my corporate coffee chain is that anyone can be hired right into store management. Well, they get hired as "assistant managers" (although they have no power to delegate in the manner that their title would otherwise allow, seeing as how they have never made a latte) and breeze through the process to learn the business in a matter of weeks.

And when I say "the process" I'm talking about earning the barista dues like the rest of us, learning the ropes and what it takes to run an actual coffee shop, as opposed to say, a nail salon or a pizza place. One of my former district managers came from Pizza Hut. So she sorta had some vague idea of what was going on . . . our product was, after all, edible.

Then, only after you've seen and served the lowest of humanity as a barista; once you've witnessed with thine bare eyes, the ranges of human emotion that coffee and sugar can invoke, months, sometimes years later do you merely become a shift supervisor. As a shift supervisor, the only thing you get for a buck or so extra per hour, is ten times the responsibility, and the privilege of working at a higher level . . . so you can be the first to catch the shit rolling downhill.

To me, the life of a barista is like that of an innocent child. I often catch myself blankly staring at my baristas, dreamy with envy, as I watch them come and go on their four-hour "princess" shifts. How sweet they are, so affable and careless.

So after being a shift supervisor, for any duration, and only if you seem fit, are you promoted to assistant manager, where you endure a whole crap-load of drawn-out trainings and relocating, and finally a salary (even if it is lame), and a lot of waiting and kissing ass and waiting some more, mostly for the district manager to get his shit together and relocate you again to your own store to manage. Eventually, years down the road, you are finally a full-blown manager with your own store to show it.

The process is long and grueling, but so is the job at the very base of it all. It should be difficult, and competence should be tested to rule a store. One of the best co-workers I ever had was everything any employer could ask for, and she spent the last four years going through the process, with a major delay in the supervisor to manager training section. I met her in 2003, as a supervisor wanting to be a manager, and she just got her own store a couple months ago.

Whereas District Manager Nimrod scoots on over from Pizza Hut without ever drinking a cup of coffee and barks orders at the people who have espresso endlessly caked under their fingernails. Regardless, the system doesn't always run so oiled under these conditions. Not only because I don't think my friend needed all four years to prove her managerial talents to the company, but also for the sake of store morale - something that should be a priority to keep high, under the supposed partner-centric goals of the company. Keep your pound of coffee each week; give me some dignity back instead.

What gets me revved on this topic, is the sudden addition to my store - an assistant manager hired into the company as virginal and naive as those baristas in my mission statement training workshop. Speaking no ill of her specifically, I feel ill on the situation, and this ongoing policy. Prior to now, our low-volume store has functioned smoothly with only our manager and three shift supervisors at the helm.

At $9 per hour, I am not paid enough to do all the mandatory daily responsibilities that are already required of a shift supervisor, let alone interrupt my progress on those said responsibilities by having to train my assistant manager on how to make a drink. All while she gets paid far more than I do.

Not to mention the worst part of it all, which is that forty hours from our payroll must be snatched away from the three shift supervisors in the store, because the assistant manager needs to have her forty first and foremost. So in a week or two, my hours are literally cut in half, which is when she finally gets to start delegating under her official title. We must be done training her by then.

Once again, my company thinks a job can be summarized and learned through a series of workshops and workbooks, with little experience in the actual job. But as most of us know, the only way to truly know a job, is to do it; to stumble upon the common mistakes and learn from them; to take shit from customers who you want to backslap into last Tuesday; to smell like espresso and be a walking stain at the end of the day, to subsequently try and maintain a relationship outside work, as a stain; to handle the rush and juggle the coffee travelers and know the language and the lingo and how to glide rhythmically behind the bar; or even how to clean the bathroom without ever so much as touching a surface, nor even entering the bathroom, if you have long arms like me.

It all comes with time and experience. Not to say that our new assistant manager won't learn the ins and outs of coffee in the next couple years, but until then, she's soaking up our hours and cramping our collective store style through her incubation period. And still getting paid way more than me, I might add.

And worse, it will take her years to run a store as well as my friend who did her time. She will not be of the same caliber as someone who was originally a barista, and her store will noticeably reflect it. I've seen the difference between direct-hires and promoted-withins, and since my company is so strict on quality control, they should have a tighter grip on their policy to hand out undeserving titles to anybody who applies.

*

Maude Perkins is The Beachwood Reporter's pseudononymous service industry affairs editor currently serving time as a store supervisor for a large, publicly-held corporate coffee chain. Catch up with the rest of her heartwarming tales from the front here.



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Posted on January 23, 2007


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