November 15, 2012

Bullied by a barrista ...

I do a lot of fun posts and share a lot of antics that are such an amusing part of my life as a military spouse on my blog, but occasioanlly I get serious. This morning, I was on the mean side of a cruel joke, unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.

Sure, in school I wasn't one of the popular kids, and I had my share of awkward moments that made me want to melt into the floor like I never existed, but I feel like people today are so quick to speaks words without thought to their effect.

Here is my story ... in a letter to Corporate Starbucks ... (please excuse any typos, I will edit tonight so that I can look at it with "fresh eyes".)

Today I had a very disturbing experience at a local Starbucks. One that, as the day goes on, I just cannot ignore.

Monthly, I participate in various networking events at Starbucks throughout Houston as the Director of Education and Marketing for a Houston-based law firm. This is my second-time participating in the event held at the Starbucks 5118 Fairmont Pkwy, Pasadena, Texas.

Now, I was very excited recently when my husband, who is stationed in Korea, sent me a replacement Starbucks cup for the one that I’d gotten when I visited him earlier this year, but tragically fell victim to a toddler’s slippery hand. So, I made sure that it was clean and anticipated taking it with me to the event.

When I arrived at 7:30 a.m. I stood around talking with some of the professional partners we’ve worked with in the past and meeting new ones. At about 8 a.m., I decided it was time to get some coffee and breakfast and offered to escort a new participant through the process. I stood in line and when it was my turn, I handed over my cup.

The barista turns it over, and I said, “I’m not sure what size it is because I got it in Korea and the sticker is in Korean.”

“Why would you get a cup in Korea?”, she asked.

“My husband is in the military and we were stationed there,” I answered.

“Why don’t you go get your coffee in Korean”, she said in what I hope was an attempt at a joke.

I smiled awkwardly as I noticed another staff member (male), walk up.
“I thought maybe you could estimate from the size,” I said hoping to get back on track with my order.
“I don’t read Korean!” she said as she turned it over again and handed it to the other staff member. He looked at the sticker as she continued to insist she couldn’t figure out what size to charge me for because it was “Korean”.

“Can I get a salted caramel hot chocolate?,” I asked, now completely embarrassed that people were starting to look, and the new networking participant I’d been chatting with before, shift backwards and start to play with her phone.

“It’s probably grande, if I had to guess,” the male staff member said, smiling with a vain attempt to get her to the next stage of my order. “Luckily, I can read Korean!”
I had to laugh. “I guessed it would be a grande too, but wasn’t sure.”

She started to fill my order but not without further comments. In fact, I had to tell her my drink choice two more times before she put it in the register because she was too busy making jokes.

“I’d like the egg and sausage breakfast and the classic coffee cake too,” I whispered, after she stopped long enough to ask what I wanted to order.
“Well, it’ll take a minute to get the coffee cake because I have to get it in Korea,” she said laughing as the male staff member looked clearly uncomfortable at the registered beside her.
He looked at me and smiled sheepishly, and I asked, “Does she get paid extra to be a comedian?”
Then when she dismissed me, I asked if she needed my name for the sausage and egg sandwich.
“No, I’ll just call 'Korean' and you’ll know it’s for you,” she said.

Quite humiliated at this point I walked off as the new networking participant turned away and looked at her phone. I stood off to the side waiting for my drink, then sandwich. Sure enough when my sandwich was ready, she started to call from across the room, “Korean! Korean!”

Head low, I went and grabbed my sandwich and sat in the corner. Later, when I’d finished, I walked towards the new networking participant and asked if she had meet many new people. She mumbled “yes”, said thanks and left … the event.

Thoroughly embarrassed at this point, I returned to my seat in the corner and a friend and long-time professional partner asked me why I was so uncharacteristically quiet. I explained what had happened and she said she’d heard, but didn’t know who they were talking about as she was talking with someone.

When she sat to eat, I excused myself to go get napkins for us and as I passed the counter, the barista called out, “Hey my Korean friend.” I ignored her, and hurried back to our corner. A few of the people who we’d worked with in the past came up and we chatted, but I was not my usual outgoing self for fear of calling attention to myself from the employee again.

Sure enough, at 9 a.m. I joined my friend who was sponsoring the event as she went to pay, and the employee saw me. “Hey, Korean!” she yelled across from the serving area, “What are you still doing here?”

I mumbled something to my friend and went to wait for her at the front door as people watched me openly with curious stares.

Now I have spent 8 years as a military spouse and nearly twice that as a marketing professional and I have NEVER been made to feel so embarrassed, humiliated and singled out! I am a strong, confident professional who rarely lets anything negative bother me for long, but this stayed with me all day. When I returned to the office my boss and co-workers all commented on my “quietness’’. As I went through the day to meetings and such I kept coming back to those comments. I certainly didn’t bring my coffee cup in with me to my meetings because I didn’t want someone to notice it and ask me about it.
I have never been is a situation where I felt bullied or singled out, but if this is what I felt like as a confident, supported adult, I can’t imagine what an insecure adult or teen would feel like if they were on my side of this exchange with a service professional.

The employee’s attempt at a “joke” was in poor context and if I had been more aware I may have thought to get her name, but I just wanted to hide. I wished I could have left, but my commitment to my job prevented that. The other staff members were clearly uncomfortable with the hour-long exchange and barrage of “Korean” comments, and let’s all pray that there was no one of Korean descent who was there to hear it. I would hope that she was taken aside afterwards by staff to discuss her behavior, but her comfort with the continuous loud and obnoxious comments leads me to believe that she somehow feels it is acceptable, if not a regular occurrence.

Not only was my husband’s service mocked, but I had mentioned several times prior that I was with the business networking group and in business attire that would warrant some professional courtesy as we obviously bring business to that store. There is another location less than a mile down the road, and I don’t think that the event sponsors would be the least bit upset if we had to move locations if it meant that their businesses and service was respected. I would hope in the future that employees were trained in the value of customer respect, not just prompt service so that others do not have to suffer the humiliation and embarrassment that I felt today.

I think it may be a while before I feel comfortable returning to that Starbucks, instead traveling further to ones whose staff show courtesy and respect to customers.

(The 'offending" thermos)

Until our next cup of tea ...

1 Tea Party Guest:

jenicini said...

I'm so glad that you decided to write this. (love)