Once Upon a Time, I almost got fired from Starbucks

Even though it was 17 years ago, I can still taste the feelings of desperation, confusion and frustration that I felt when signing off on my final written warning in the backroom of that Starbucks.

I was still new; less than 2 months in;  a Retail-Manager-In-Training. I had under my belt 5.5 years experience at McDonalds, another year working at an Indigenous Catering Company/Food stand, and one fantastic month at another Starbucks’ location, where I had learned the basics of being a barista.

I knew how to handle cash.

But, for the manager following due process, I suppose my excuse didn’t matter. My cash register balances were out day-after-day.

“I don’t understand how this is happening. I know how to handle cash.”

“Please be more careful when counting change.”

“I am careful. I know how to count.”

“Your balance has been out every day. This can’t happen again. This is your final warning.”

She left me sitting in the backroom, shaking, tears streaming down my face. I was going to get fired.


Because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Surely, how can I change if I don’t know what to change.

I pondered whether I was being framed – an elaborate set up involving someone stealing from my till with complete disregard of me because I was both new and temporary. Maybe it’s because I said that I preferred N’Sync over BSB. Maybe it was a race thing. Maybe it was because I came from McDonalds.

I cried and cried and cried.

One of the baristas, Jen, came and sat beside me, asking what was wrong. I told her my truth, sparing her from my conspiracy theories. She held my hand and said, “we’ll figure this out.”


There is an inner strength that comes from being believed.

With this glimmer of hope and faith burning in my heart, we talked through my last few shifts. She recognized the common thread: I was assigned to the auxiliary cash register. Everybody hated that till – which is probably why I was assigned to it so often (new and temporary).

We walked out to the front and she asked me to mimic my order taking process, while being assigned to that till and calling down the line.

  1. call the line – ask their order
  2. punch order on the primary or secondary till
  3. suspend the order; take customer’s payment
  4. call it up on my till, count change

She asked what I thought was a silly question.

“Did you double check to make sure the suspended order you pulled up was yours?”

“No. I was the only one on that till. No one else would need to suspend an order.”

“Some people do all the time.”


“Because they don’t want to delete cancelled or changed orders. They could get written up if they delete too many lines.”

<<Light bulb>>

We go to the till and pull up the suspend order screen and see the source of my cash handling problem; a loophole to avoid one cash handling problem had caused mine.

I hadn’t seen this issue at my first store, because I didn’t run a closing shift. I realized that the closing till at every store ended up needing to delete multiple orders – because they were left in the suspend transaction screen.

When I got to my next store, one of the first things I did was turn that feature off.

The company followed suit a few months later (remember, this story is from 17 years ago; I have no idea what their practices are now)

If that barista hadn’t taken the time to help me figure out what I was doing wrong, there is no doubt that I would have gotten fired. It would have destroyed my confidence and changed my life in ways I don’t want to imagine.

I ended up working at Starbucks for 6 years at 10 different stores – it was a joy and I met some of my closest friends there.

Policies are black and white; managing people has nuances and it is critical to consider the person you’re dealing with in every situation. There’s also something to be said about ensuring you’re addressing the ‘problem’ when you’re disciplining. Make sure the person understands and agrees with what they’ve done wrong and what the solution is to prevent reoccurrence.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s