Night Owls: The Starbucks Barista, From Dusk to Till Dawn

By Alyse Borkan  |  Nov 2, 2014
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Craving a late night latte? In New York — and across the world — some Starbucks baristas will serve you an Irish coffee at night, and a red eye in the AM. In the city that never sleeps, it’s not hard to find coffee any hour of the day or night.

So what’s it like to man the counter of America’s favorite coffee shop late at night? Austin Thomas* shares his Starbucks secrets, but wouldn’t budge about the rumored “secret menu.” He tells us what happens when you get a jolt of java at 2am, while the rest of the city is sound asleep.

I did my research when I decided to work at Starbucks. I had just finished college and moved to New York to pursue acting. I spent a lot of time there before I started working to see if it was something I’d be into. I’ve always been a night person, and I loved the health insurance benefits made available to partners. Working the night shift also meant a jump in pay, and time for auditions during normal hours. So I was on board!

Thinking he would avoid a crazy afternoon Frappucino rush, it seemed ideal.

Anyone who’s ever worked a “Frappuncino Happy Hour” can tell you how hellish they can be. Lines out the door with people waiting to get a dollar or two off. At 3:00 am, a group of 15 Australian students came in.  They all ordered Strawberry Frappucinos, their chaperone got a grande coffee. You get a lot of cleaning done because not a ton of people come in, but you also get those people who just have to get their thing done. 

He encountered plenty of bizarre happenings . . .

One time a lady (probably homeless, unfortunately) came in and went to the condiment bar and started grabbing napkins and wiping herself in her private area. Of course, she did not do this privately but started talking and apologizing to every person around her. It wasn’t during the rush, but there were plenty of people inside the store. I went up to her and asked her to please stop and she kept saying that she was sorry and she had to do this, and I said please not in public and she would need to leave. Eventually I got her to pull her pants up and get out, but it took a little bit.

Starbucks, the perfect date spot? Maybe not.

Working late at night you see at least two couples a shift violently making out, but it usually stops quickly.  I’ve had to prevent people from going to use the restroom together though.  The strangest, unromantic incident?  I was working at 3AM and a drunk couple came in and the girl started accusing him of cheating and she started throwing coffee bean bags at him. We had to call the police.

Have you spotted any celebs? What were their orders?

The coolest, Bryan Cranston. Right before season 4 of Breaking Bad. I didn’t ask him why he was up so late, but he ordered a coffee. Nicest guy ever.

Once, Bruce Willis came in and asked to use the bathroom. It was out of order and I couldn’t let him. He was cool about it, but I felt really bad. He also ordered a regular coffee.

Our baristas favorite part of the job? His co-workers, and meeting new people.

I’ve always been nice to people, no matter what. I’s just a good thing to do, but also, you don’t know why someone is coming to Starbucks during the graveyard shift. Anyone who has a night job, can understand how taxing working those vampire hours can be. Also, I’ve actually made a ton of friends. Just have a really short conversation to end their night or start their day with them. The good thing is you can somewhat relax yourself and just be awake at 2 or 3am and feel the city around you.

* Names changed to protect night owls’ identities.

 

Randi Newton is based in New York City.  She currently is a contributor to The New York Observer, and also writes for LA Weekly, Newsweek, TheFix, and TheGloss.com.  You can follow her on twitter at @WorldOfRandi, and visit her blog.

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