Starbucks Holidays: From The Barista’s Perspective

Ella Sharrers, Copy Editor

On a cold winter day, there is nothing better than a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Surrounded by the sounds of peaceful conversation, shockingly loud espresso machines, and repetitive Christmas music, you feel serene in this space. Where are you? Starbucks. As wonderfully cheerful as the coffee shop seems, there are more layers to your favorite holiday drinks than you think. This is Starbucks, from a barista’s perspective, circa the holidays. 

As written in an article by Entrepreneur, Starbucks’ “sales are back to nearly pre-pandemic levels thanks to a ‘wildly successful fall promotion.’” As pumpkin spice lattes are removed from displays (however, still available to be ordered) and holiday drinks begin receiving the spotlight, there is no doubt that Starbucks sales are through the roof. Early Issaquah graduate Olivia Ross, a barista of two months, says, “since the official holiday launch, business has picked up significantly vs when I started…. It can be overwhelming at times, but the fast paced environment can also be super fun and makes the shift go by faster.” Starbucks is notoriously busy, with this pace picking up even more during the holidays. Year-long barista and senior at Skyline High School Ashley Lisonbee says she definitely feels the store gets busier during the holidays, elaborating, “People just gather together and meet up more in the winter. Extended family and friends visit each other, and Starbucks is good for that.” Even with Starbucks’ easy atmosphere and presence as a central meeting place, it can be stressful for baristas to stay on top of orders with so many people in the store. Senior Eugene Park, who has been working at Starbucks for about four months, says that he feels “more stressed during the holidays not necessarily because the drinks are more difficult to make, but rather because of the increase in customers. We are flooded with orders which means there is not much of a break.” Despite the shifts going by much faster when there are more customers, feeling pressured to stay on top of so many orders is inevitable. However, the chance of waiting longer for your drink than you typically would does not always mean that customers will respond rudely to a barista. Senior Katie Dennis, who has also been a barista for over a year, comments that “people tip a lot more during the holidays. People can be more impatient and strict, but can also be more generous and friendly.” The increase in business and customers during the holidays can be stressful, but there is no doubt that with a little bit of holiday cheer, everybody can stay patient and bright while the baristas work hard to deliver the best drinks possible. 

An iconic Starbucks tradition during the holidays is the iconic Red Cup Day. Red Cup Day is a day where, if you order a holiday drink, you will receive a free red cup with your order. Every year’s cup design is different, but this year, the cup featured minimalistic white star designs all over the red base color. This year’s Red Cup Day took place on Nov. 17. As fun as this day is for customers, some baristas dread having to work on this day, and some baristas take the business of this day to express some strong opinions against Starbucks as a company. This year, as written by Fast Company, “Starbucks Workers United, the largest collective of unionized workers in Starbucks history, will go on strike at 113 Starbucks locations across the country for Red Cup Day 2022. The union says the strikes are meant to call attention to Starbucks’s alleged refusal to adhere to fair contract negotiations and the company’s alleged attempts at union busting.” This strike caught the attention of news channels everywhere, and allowed for the attention of the day to not only be centered on the excitement of the free cups, but also on the treatment of baristas in the company and the overall stress of the day. But for those who did work on this notorious day, Ross says, “It was definitely the busiest I have seen the store. I arrived at 6:30 am and by 7:00 there was a line to the door. I started on main bar that day and the drinks did not stop coming the entire time I worked…. We all got through it and I am just thankful that we were properly staffed.”  Senior Ryan Chiang, a 15-month barista, says, “Red Cup Day is the smartest, yet dumbest idea ever. It brings a lot of customers but it does not advertise it as limited stock, [that the cups are] only for a limited time. I worked this year’s Red Cup Day and it was not as bad as I thought [it would be], to be honest. A lot of customers did not even know about it, but the ones who did know were pretty demanding about it.” A focal point of the reasoning behind Starbucks’ Red Cup Day tradition is to benefit the environment. Ross continues, “The idea of red cups to me seems beneficial. Customers are inclined to reuse them to gain extra stars and that money back, which in theory is beneficial to the environment.” Chiang expresses, “The cups are a waste of plastic so its kinda counterintuitive of Starbucks’ goal to go green or whatever.” Regardless of your opinions on Red Cup Day, there is no denying that Starbucks business soars on this day, and that will not change at any point in the foreseeable future.

Starbucks may begin to get even busier than usual during the holidays, but why? What are people coming in for so often? The holiday drinks on Starbucks’ menu this year include Caramel Brulee Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, Sugar Cookie Almond Milk Latte, Irish Cream Cold Brew, and the Peppermint Mocha. You can also get Peppermint Hot Chocolate, a Peppermint White Mocha, or a Peppermint White Hot Chocolate. While it is more intensely promoted during the holidays, you can order a peppermint mocha year round, not just in the last two months of the year. The additions that make the peppermint mocha specifically promoted in the holiday season is the inclusion of dark chocolate curls on top of the whip cream – but besides that, if you want a peppermint mocha in April or May, there is nothing stopping you. 

 In regards to food this holiday season, Starbucks is dishing out the Reindeer Cake Pop, Snowman Cookie, Cranberry Bliss Bar, Sugar Plum Cheese Danish, and the new Chocolate Pistachio Swirl. But with all of these options, which drinks are worth your money? I have been working at Starbucks since August of this year, and my personal favorite holiday order is a Peppermint Mocha and a Cranberry Bliss Bar. Issaquah ‘22 graduate, Inaya Rizvi, who is a freshman at University of Washington Bothell, and a barista for over a year, says that her favorite holiday drink is the Chestnut Praline Latte “because it is the yummiest,” but the most popular drink is the Peppermint Mocha or Caramel Brulee Latte. Park and University of Washington Bothell freshman and Issaquah graduate Jiwan Tib both agree that their favorite drink is also the Chestnut Praline Latte. Rizvi believes the least popular drink is the Peppermint White Mocha or the Irish Cream Cold Brew. Senior JK Carroz says that his favorite drink is the White Chocolate Mocha, and claims that the Peppermint Mocha is also the most popular. Dennis, Ross, and Lisonbee all say that their favorite holiday drink is the Peppermint Mocha. Chiang says that his favorite drink is the Sugar Cookie Almond Milk Latte, but with oat milk. If you are looking for a new drink to help ring in the holidays, take recommendations from these nine baristas, and trust that Starbucks will certainly have a drink perfect for you to enjoy with a holiday movie by a warm fire. 

The holidays are a busy, enjoyable, and well-loved time of year. If your perfect holiday season includes many trips to Starbucks, keep in mind that the process of being a barista is not nearly as hitchless as it seems. Remain patient and kind, and you will still be pleasantly surprised with the service you receive in any Starbucks location this season, no matter how packed the cafe is.