SAMPLE STUDENT ETHNOGRAPHY #1
This paper scored a B+. While it's a solid paper, it appears to represent at least 10 but less than 15 hours of fieldwork. And, while it's clear that the author is engaging her sense of cultural relativism, she would have done better if she had incorporated some specific anthropological terms and/or theories.
My thanks go out to former student, Stacy Wenzel, for allowing me to use her paper as a guide for other students.
Anth 3, Lauren Hasten
The World of Starbucks
Being surrounded daily by one of the world's most bought and sold items must be insanely busy and thrilling. It is what the thousands of employees at Starbucks encounter everyday on the job -- coffee. For my ethnography paper, I researched the Starbucks culture, more specifically Starbucks employees who are either in high school or college. The people who I interviewed, participated with, and observed are around the ages of 17-22. And I went to four different Starbucks -- Hacienda, Santa Rita, Hopyard, and Kitty Hawk -- and got to know about one to two people at each location.
chose to do my research on Starbucks employees because I was interested in seeing
what it is like to work at Starbucks and to be a part of their culture. I absolutely
love coffee and I go to Starbucks all the time and even know some Starbucks
employees, but I never talked to them about their job and the coffee culture
they are constantly surrounded by; they are surrounded by all forms of coffee
during their shifts and by customers who enjoy it. Many of the employees are
baristas and their main job is to make the customer's desired drink, ring them
up at the cashier, and handle the pastries. They have to be knowledgeable about
coffees and how to make them, even those complex drinks that some customers
specialize. I studied the employees during their work hours, after their shifts
and on their days off, and them as Starbucks customers and their love, or distaste,
for coffee. I used participant observation and I interviewed my informants,
Suggs (2002) did in his research. Before I began my research, I did not
know anything about the inside of the culture, what it is like to be a part
of it, and what it is like to be a part of a massive and highly successful corporation
like Starbucks. I
hoped to learn more about the company's policies and how much their culture
and their lives revolve around their work, customers, and coffee.
for me, my friend Alex
has been working at Starbucks for about a year now. During my senior year of
high school I tutored him, which allowed the interview process to go very smoothly.
He was my first interview and he became an excellent informant, helping me to
realize the direction I wanted to take for this essay. He looks like the typical
17-year-old you would expect to see behind the counter at a coffee shop; he
is tall and thin, has long shaggy hair, and his demeanor is calm and laid back.
His taste in music reflects his mature personality -- he listens to the old
classics, like John Lennon and The Beatles, which is sold and played at Starbucks.
This is Alex's first job and he is a junior in high school.
my interview with him, I gathered him and two other male employees for lunch,
as well as for my notes. I wanted to see how they would interact with each other
-- they all worked at different Starbucks -- and what they would discuss about
their jobs before I interviewed them separately. Not surprisingly, the majority
of their discussion revolved around their dislikes and annoyances at work. Alex
did not have as many complaints as the other guys because he said, "I only
work one to two days a week and I work in the mornings, like from 9:00-5:00.
I used to work more like four days a week, but I had a lot of band practices
for a while and had to lessen my availability. . . guess I forgot to mention
the practices have been over for a while." Consequently, one of the few
good things he said at lunch was "the managers are flexible about scheduling
and your availability." About two hours after lunch I picked him up for
the individual interview, which we held at Starbucks of course.
He did not mind conducting the interview at Starbucks on his day off and seemed comfortable. But we did not go to his Starbucks, even though he claimed he would not have minded that, either. After we got our drinks, which he paid for using his employee discount, I began by asking him if he ever makes his own custom drinks. "That's the highlight of this job! But you can only do it if it's not busy. If my experimental drink tastes bad, I just give it to a co-worker for laughs. I've gotten some bad drinks before, too." His favorite personalized drink contains the coffee base for frappachinos and toffee nut and vanilla bean syrups, which tastes like captain crunch cereal; ironically, my other male informants knew about that particular drink, too. When asked about his favorite job to do at work, he quickly said, "the bar (making drinks) is the best because people don't usually nag when you are making their drink, but at the register about one out of every ten customers is awful. You're always doing something at the bar, whereas you may be bored at the register and be forced to clean stuff if it is slow." Trash duty was another fun job because "you get to go outside and you're not working -- it's like a break." And his least favorite job was cleaning the mats, which also requires excessive mopping and sweeping of the floor.
"Working isn't that bad because my co-workers are cool people and I get along with them. My managers are pretty relaxed and flexible, too. I really enjoy the environment at Starbucks, there's a calm mood at a coffee shop, unlike in the restaurant or retail businesses. And the customers make it fun, especially the regulars. They are nice people who aren't usually rude."
Alex also enjoys working there because he gets a 30% discount on all merchandise, including food: "It's nice we sell food because when I go on my breaks I don't have to leave the store and waste time buying food somewhere else. In fact, I sometimes don't pay for things, like sandwiches. When a manager sees me take something, he'll inquire that I'll pay for it later, and I say, 'yeah I will,' but I usually don't. They know we all take stuff on breaks or lunches without paying for it, but they never check up on it or punish us if we don't." He buys all kinds of merchandise from his store; CD's, coffee mugs, and chocolates are just some of the items he has purchased for either himself or for others. "I buy a lot of my gifts from Starbucks, which is great because I get a huge discount. I also get one pound of coffee beans or tea per week, which I give to my parents -- I don't drink straight coffee."
He told me he likes the environment at work, but what he doesn't always like is the music that's constantly played. They are given discs to play each day and they are not allowed to change the discs until they are done playing and they cannot pick their own discs they want to play. "We're given horrible music, like polka or opera, and we have to listen to it all day. Sometimes they give us cool music, like John Lennon or some decent indie band." Starbucks also plays their own music, or the CD's they sell, since they bought the rights from the record labels and from the artists to do so.
During our lunch with the other Starbucks employees, Alex displayed frustration with the customers. He did make clear that usually customers are nice "because you are making their drink, so they don't want to tick you off" and the regulars are fun to talk to and get to know, but there are the occasional rude ones that can ruin the day and the mood. "Sometimes they are just in bad moods and they take it out on you, but sometimes they are just mean and over particular. Women are especially over particular, so they're usually the rude ones; they make the most modifications to their drinks and then they watch you make it and tell you what to do next, but they're always wrong. They think they know how to make drinks, but they don't because they don't work at Starbucks."
customers also get frustrated and angry at the employees if their desired drink
cannot be made due to some machine breakdown. And he has noticed that certain
types or groups of people commonly order the same drinks. "Middle-aged
men get black coffee or mochas and Indians get extra hot chai lattes. You start
to notice what type of drinks people get according to their weight -- larger
people usually order frappachinos with whipped cream and skinny women and girls
get non-fat or low-fat drinks with no whipped cream -- and by their age and
ethnicity. I play a game with my coworkers based on this: when a customer walks
in we try and guess what he or she is going to order. Usually someone gets the
order right, or at least mostly right. But sometimes we are just way off and
the person surprises us. It's a fun way to keep ourselves entertained on slow
days. Our managers don't like us doing that because they're afraid a customer
might overhear us and be offended by it." This information has made me
conscious of what I order and that the employee taking my order probably guesses
it before I even say it.
informed me of some things I was clueless about. He said any two people of different
ranking cannot be married, dating, or living together "to prevent favoring
and to keep jobs and breaks equal between employees." He said he likes
that rule because it keeps everyone balanced and so people do not fight about
others personal lives and relationships: "it's good to keep work and personal
lives separate. Otherwise, people would be fighting all the time and making
impersonal situations and arguments personal. I want to keep my job separate
from my home and school life." In addition, he receives mail, or what he
calls "propaganda," from Starbucks on a weekly basis. The mail states
updates on revised policies, stories of weekly baristas, and stories about bean
farmers and how the company fairly treats them and gives them a good percent
of the profit, which is why their coffee is expensive. "I suppose the mail
is for keeping up morale and a sense of unity and belonging for all of us [the
employees]." He usually does not read the mail anymore, since it discussing
the same subjects; he just throws it away now. It was unknown information like
this, along with the intense and detailed answers to my questions that made
Alex a helpful and key informant.
my interview with Alex, I went straight to my second interview with *Erick.
I went from one Starbucks to another across town for Erick's interview and he
was kind enough to buy me my second drink that day using his employer's discount
-- my project has its perks. Erick is originally from Wales and has that charming
accent. He is 22 years old and is in robust shape (he rides his bike everywhere
and rarely drives). I met him a few years ago at my first job, but after he
was fired he began working at Starbucks. He enjoys it there much more than his
former workplace, but he does "prefer to make sandwiches over coffee."
The calm and collected environment at Starbucks fits his personality very well;
he is an easy-going guy and even when he is mad he never shows it, he always
remains composed. After he introduced me to some of his coworkers, I began conducting
began asking him about his coworkers and if he sees any on his days off. Erick
replied by saying, "I get along with everyone; I don't like lazy people
because they slow down the whole coffee-making process, which becomes painful
on busy days, but no one here is like that. I don't have friends that work at
other stores, but I have gotten to know people when I work at a different location
sometimes. I work at other stores if I need more hours or if stores are short-staffed
and request to borrow employees. I like working at different stores because
each one has a different vibe to it and usually the people I work with are cool;
it's nice to get out of my regular store and try a different one for a change
every once in a while. But you know there are always some people I like more
than others. Unfortunately, I don't really hang out with anyone I work with
because most of them are so much younger than me. Some 16 year olds are. . .
a different species [chuckles]."
wanted to know why Erick chose to work at Starbucks in general, opposed to a
local independent coffee shop or opposed to a different company, and why he
chose, if he did choose, the particular store he currently works at. He told
me how he hated his former job and felt he had to get out of the company: "one
day I was just walking by the store and it said 'now hiring' and I thought I
needed a new job, so I went in and got it after a brief interview. It was a
spur of the moment thing; I saw the sign in the window and thought 'what the
heck, I'll try it out.' Plus, it is close to my home, so I don't have to ride
my bike that far." When I asked him about why he chose to work with the
company he said, "I was already friendly with regular customers because
I was one myself, the employees are good workers, and the management is good
-- there's no personal distance between you and the manager, they're personable.
They're pretty flexible with schedules, too. And again it's close to home."
The generous discounts seem enticing, as well.
was curious to know if he goes to Starbucks on his days off. "I sometimes
go if I have homework to do because I can concentrate there if it's not busy.
The Starbucks near Home Depot is always quiet and has books, too." I was
amazed. I had no idea some Starbucks had books. He told me a few other stores
that also have books in them you can use. Next, I asked him if he goes to his
store on his days off or if he avoids his store: "about 80% of the time
I come to mine, but if I drove more I would go somewhere else because it's crowded
in the lobby and the chairs are squished together. But we are remodeling our
store in two weeks; there's going to be more space in the lobby and they're
installing one or two plasma TV screens in the wall that will advertise Starbuck's
new music label and other merchandise. I'm excited for that!" Like most
people, he doesn't prefer to visit his workplace on his days off, but sometimes
he just needs his coffee.
favorite job is making drinks at the counter because "the register's boring.
It's just customer after customer." He also enjoys trash runs because he
gets time to himself and to relax, "but you have to do it fast or else
people get on your case." He even got acknowledged for the fastest trash
runs, awarded by a coworker for fun. His least favorite job is cleaning the
drains. "There are hairs and other stuff in the drains. You have to spray
the chemicals and let it sit for a while, and then you have to take the chunks
of stuff out (like 'fossilized' dirt and hair). I also don't like cleaning the
mats because they're dirty and the day-old water is stagnant and pongee."
During our lunch with the other guys, he voiced more frustration with customers than he did during our private interview. Overall, he likes the customers, especially the regulars. "The regulars are nice, but strangers half the time aren't." He said once the espresso machine broke, so they could not make most of their drinks and the customers would get furious at him when he informed them he was unable to make any coffee beverages. We also discussed customer's behavior and the little things Erick has noticed about some particular customers. He told me that regulars tend to give exact change, "so they can avoid giving a tip" and that they usually stay and sit for a while, rather than take their coffee and go. "I have one guy who drinks 200º coffee right away and is fine!"
addition, I was surprised to learn more about what kinds of drinks people order.
"It depends on the demographic -- lots of local workers get coffees or
lattes during the week and kids and teens get frappachinos and specialty drinks
on the weekends. I have also noticed that Asians usually get cappuccinos and
americanos, middle schoolers and freshman boys and girls get caramel frappachinos,
and middle-aged men get black drip coffees." Apparently, the most common
drinks are usually the new specialty ones or vanilla lattes and lattes in general.
told me more about the store's upcoming remodeling, which he is looking forward
to. He said beside the TVs there is going to be book for customers to use and
there will be new furniture, too. "They're going to modernize it. I am
not sure if it will keep the same feel and look [the artwork, lamps, etc.].
The best part is they're adding a third register to make lines go faster, so
it won't get as crowded as it usually does now." Although he loves all
Starbucks, he is biased against the Starbucks located in Safeway stores because
their employees "are not trained the same. Regular Starbucks has a structured
training program, so the drinks are made the same at every store. But Starbucks
in supermarkets do not train their employees with the same program other stores
use, so their drinks never taste as good." Erick was filled with useful
information and helped me get more insight into the world of Starbucks.
day later I met with Lauren,
who's from my history class, for an interview. We met downtown at Tully's Coffee,
which she requested over Starbucks. She is 19 years old and has a rock vibe,
but she is low-key and also relaxed. The work environment and the music match
her personality and preferences, too. I did not know her at all -- in class
I overheard her say she worked at Starbucks and I asked her if I could interview
her -- but she was very friendly and talkative. It was easy interviewing her
because she would give me details about everything and she spoke on her own,
going off on tangents about her work and the company without being asked to
do so. Hence, she was one of my best informants and gave me tons of useful information
I had not yet heard from the others.
after just three months on the job she broke her arm and has been on leave for
about two months now. "One day at work I slipped on some water on the floor
as I was turning around and I fractured my hand and my thumb. I have this cast
on my whole hand up to my elbow because of that accident and it's been on for
so long because I fractured my hand in two places." When I asked her about
what happened after she fell and how the manager dealt with the accident she
said, "the manager that was there that day was the new assistant manager
and she is crazy. She doesn't know what she's doing -- when I close with her
I get out a half hour late -- and she's picky about everything. When I slipped
and my arm was hurt she sent me to the wrong hospital!" Lauren explained
to me that when you get hurt on the job Starbucks sends you to the certain hospital
that they use health coverage with. Since she was new she did not know which
hospital to go to so she would be covered and the assistant manger sent her
to the wrong hospital. "I get workman's comp for hurting my arm because
I slipped on the wet floor while working. Starbucks has really good health benefits."
She has been out of work for a long time, but management is nice about it and
will accept her back anytime.
Like the others, she told me the managers are very nice and friendly, just not the new assistant manager. They are not strict and they treat everyone equally. They are flexible with the schedule and if someone is sick or has a personal emergency to deal with. She also likes her coworkers, but says "the only problem is people slacking off; because I'm new people are always asking me to do their jobs, which I hate, but I usually agree to do them because I need to learn how to do the jobs and I don't want everyone hating me for not helping them out. I figure I'll stick with it for a while and then they'll ask the next new person for help."
she was a recent employee, I asked her if she has do to certain jobs more than
others because of her low status. She said her bosses put her on the register
because she is new, but she likes working at the bar much more. "The bar's
better because it's not as monotonous as working the register; counting change
gets boring. And about 90% of people don't tell the person at the register what
size they want, so you have to ask and it gets really annoying. But the bar
can be stressful when you get behind in making the drinks." Remembering
what Alex and James said, I thought to ask her if customers watch her make their
drinks and point out what she is doing wrong or what the next step is. She replied,
"No. Since my store is in the mall it's not that big and the bar is not
open, so customers can't see what we're doing." She did not know that customers
did that at other stores and was glad that she works at one where it is hard
to see the bar.
Lauren is health conscious, so when she customizes her drinks she always substitutes milk with soy milk and prefers tea over coffee. She was the only informant who did not care for coffee and was the only one who drank tea. Since she had not worked there for that long she said she "listen[s] to how other people make their own drinks and I get ideas from them, but I always use soy milk." The drinks are very fattening there -- one medium drink can be around 800 to 1,000 calories -- so asking for low-fat milk or no whipped cream helps. Something I was not aware of was that you can purchase their syrups, "just not seasonal ones." Furthermore, she told me for cold drinks the most commonly ordered are caramel frappachinos (which is also one of their most popular drinks in general) and either hot coffee or lattes are the most common warm drinks.
Her favorite job is being on the bar making drinks because "customers can get annoying and rude." And her least favorite job is working at the cash register. "I would rather be doing dishes or cleaning things up. I feel like I have to help the customer all the time and it's hard to not get upset when someone is rude. I also worry about marking the correct things on the cup so the baristas know what drink to make; I don't want to mess up the order because they get blamed for making it wrong and then they get upset at you for writing the wrong thing." Too bad she usually works the register now, but she says "you can ask a manager if you can work the bar before leaving and doing the register first. They usually let me do this if I ask at the start of my shift."
asked her if she avoids going to Starbucks on her day off and if she goes, does
she go to her specific store. "Yeah, I go once or twice a week. I'm always
at some Starbucks. I just go to whatever Starbucks I'm near; if I'm at the mall
I'll go to mine and visit my coworkers, but I don't go to mine as much because
my arm and I don't know everyone there yet."
Although she had only worked there for a few months, she seemed to know everything about Starbucks. She informed me that the company is "pushing drink customization. There are a lot of ads telling people they can customize their drink. I think it's to let people know there are more options than shown on the menu." Surprisingly, Starbucks offers a variety of health conscious foods. "We have lots of low-fat food and foods that have no trans fat. Our sandwiches and fruit platters are good and we serve organic drinks, too. But when I went to Santa Barbara their pastries were completely different than ours."
makes contributions and efforts towards helping others, as well. She said, "We
sell Ethos water and profits go towards bringing clean water to people in Africa.
Starbucks also sponsors charity events for employees to participate in and sells
more expensive coffee because they don't take advantage of coffee bean farmers
-- they pay them fair prices. And they have a fund program to help people in
crisis or in need. People can donate even $1.00 to the fund." The free
drinks during shifts, the good health benefits, and the gradual raises are more
reasons why she enjoys working for the company.
Before I began my project I had some expectations about what my informants would discuss and what the company would be like. I assumed they would either all love coffee or would be tired of it and would have great things to say about their work and the company. During and after my interviews and participant observations, I noticed that none of them loved or needed coffee, but they all enjoyed it and drank the beverages constantly, either on their breaks or on their days off. I did not expect them to say they go to Starbucks during their days off, especially not their own store, but every one of them does go and usually to their particular store. I thought they may want to talk about the company's policies and how it seems to be taking over little independent coffee shops, but most of them did not say anything about the policies, unless I asked, and rarely mentioned the Starbucks entity and its rapid growth and replace rate. Instead, they discussed their personal experiences, their coworkers, managers, and especially customers. They also liked talking to each other about jobs and creating their own unique drinks. Moreover, rather than talking about the coffee culture they are a part of, they spoke about aspects of their jobs and workplace.
During our lunch they gossiped over their managers and their dislikes, but during their personal interviews they gushed about how good their job was and that they liked the majority of the people they worked with; they had bad things to say when they were together sharing stories and then they had great things to say when I was alone with them. In hindsight, it is clear that each store is like a little community -- the employees work and have fun together and they are also close with their customers. They get to know each other in their laid back environment and they know many regular customers, too. Due to this observation, I agree with Timmermeister (2005), who says Starbucks is successful because of its principle: "They know that people need and want 'community'."
In addition, my informants kept repeating all their specialty drinks, which are very popular, and how they customize their own. It made me realize that Starbucks is famous and successful due to their limitless selections of coffees and their specialty drinks. Lyons (2005) also agrees that Starbucks has replaced so many coffee shops because of the differences between homogenized coffee and specialty coffee served there. The competition cannot keep up with Starbucks' variety in drinks and foods. I have always loved Starbucks, but I love it even more now. The community and the fun, calm environment found at each store, along with the delicious coffees and the charitable programs they are a part of makes Starbucks a successful and admired company its employees are proud to be a part of.
upon informant's request.
Lyons, J. (2005). 'Think Seattle, act globally'. Cultural Studies, 19(1), 14-34. Retrieved Tuesday, February 06, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.
Suggs, D. N. (2002). A bagful of locusts and the baboon woman: Construction of gender, change, and continuity in BaTswana. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Timmermeister, J. (2005). The Starbuck's Principle. PSA Journal, 71(8), 44-44. Retrieved Tuesday, February 06, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.