Hot Coffees and Hand Sanitizer, the COVID-19 Barista Life

In a time where everyone is being ordered to stay inside, Starbucks’ drive-thru lanes are more packed than ever.


It’s safe to say quarantine has turned everyone into a different version of themselves. Sleep schedules are being flipped, days tend to bleed into each other, and masks have become a necessary staple in spring couture. Nothing has been as necessary to modern life though, as a venti hazelnut latte from Starbucks coffee.

As of March 21, 2020, Starbucks closed down its cafe-only stores and began operating as a drive-thru only business. Being a barista myself, I was extremely relieved at this news. My store is very busy, and not having to worry about customers coming in the lobby ordering and spreading germs inside seemed like a great solution to COVID-19.

Until I realized our drive-thru would be flooded for the foreseeable future.

Every day, there are 10 to 15 cars lining the store, with no breaks in between. It became pretty obvious after the first day of closing our lobby that people would risk getting an illness to sip on their iced coffees or white chocolate mochas.

It’s not just “essential” workers coming to get their coffee before a shift, there are families and friends, couples, and even baristas from closed down Starbucks locations driving to open stores like mine to get their fix.

This doesn’t apply to every Starbucks drive-through open at the moment. Some are hardly selling and some are selling moderately. Then there’s my store that made $57,000 dollars in one week, the busiest in our area.

After about a week of my fellow baristas and I pumping out hundreds-probably thousands-of lattes, refreshers, Frappuccinos, and teas, we were all asking each other “Why are people still coming here? Everyone should be staying home”.

So I began asking the customers themselves why they were at my store, when the line was easily 15 to 17 cars long and had wound itself around the parking lot. Most of them said “This is our outing for today”, or “We’re about to go grocery shopping and need our coffee.” While they waited for coffee at the window, I would ask them what their plans were for the day, the answer was usually “This is it.”

Life in quarantine, where going to Starbucks is your one chance to get outside and see something outside of your own room.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people see Starbucks as a place to come and treat themselves, even if it is on a daily basis. It’s our job as baristas to make connections within the community especially now that times are tough. The issue is, with lots of different people coming in high volumes to the stores, there’s no way to ensure that the virus isn’t being spread further, whether to customers or the baristas still working.

Starbucks has taken measures to protect its partners during this time. We’re required to wear masks on the job, we are provided with gloves to wear and plenty of hand sanitizer available if we don’t wear gloves. Those handling cash and cards at the window can’t make or prepare drinks unless they wash their hands before and after.

Regardless of these measures, customers are still paranoid.

“Are you guys wearing gloves?” “How often do you wash your hands here?” “Can you give me a separate lid for my drink?”

One customer in particular asked me to use their hand sanitizer they brought to the store, then take the lid off their drink, wash my hands, grab a new lid from “the middle of the stack of lids” and place it on the drink before handing it to them. The explanation was that their wife was at high-risk for getting coronavirus due to prior illnesses, so they needed to be sure the drink was as clean as possible.

The truth is, that customer was just concerned for their safety and their health. They have every right to be. However, if you’re going to break quarantine to get some coffee, don’t harass your baristas about their handwashing habits or demand they make special arrangements just for you.

We’re putting our own health at risk just as much as you are by providing a service to the public.

If you have loved ones at home at a higher risk of catching COVID-19, then maybe wait until the pandemic has lessened and quarantine has been lifted to get your sweet drinks. Starbucks should be a place people can come to get their favorite coffees, teas, etc., especially when times are gloomy like this. But please, respect the baristas that make it happen and respect social distancing.