Working at a Costa is akin to going to the dentist. You ache afterwards and you get covered in powders and fluids you can guess at but can’t identify. Or, it’s like opening the first page of a book that you don’t want to have to read: you wont enjoy slogging through, but you know that, in the end, it will be rewarding. It will be rewarding. Because the government says so. And we can’t doubt the honest intentions of the political elite now, can we?
Last post I talked about how I got my job at Costa. This week I’m going to talk in a bit more detail about the nature of working at such a fine representation of the capitalist system. The store at which I work is situated in a small town in the Home Counties, and is part of an open-air shopping precinct; we open at 7 in the morning, and close at 7 in the evening, catching the going-to-work trade in the early hours, often serving breakfast to our fellow retail-drones, and mostly spend the last few hours of the day plodding along, cleaning and preparing for the next day’s trade. Sometimes this can be a challenge, involving the unclogging of toilets, mopping of floors, and clearing the shopping bags, old shoes, soiled underwear, MacDonald’s Happy Meal bags and other foreign detritus from the holy sanctity and sacred temple of Costa. This is, I’ve come to feel, a rightly difficult and challenging time, because there’s no greater incentive to the repressed masses to work harder, and scale the coffee career ladder, than mind and body-numbing hard work.
In between those points we have the real meat of the day, show-time. We grill food, make drinks, clean the store, wash the dishes, serve food and clear away the drinks leftover once customers have decided that they don’t really like what they’ve ordered. In between we deal with customers asking for non-existent products, clean up bodily fluids, unclog toilets, and generally wipe up the sodden entrails of disposable products, lives lived in the shadow of the church of consumerism. Sorry for the purple prose, got carried away for a moment and lapsed into intellectual tendencies. Never again.
We term the sudden appearance of a long queue a ‘rush’, with lines forming out the door, and this surge happens in regular patterns each day. Mornings, lunch, and the end of school day are the usuals. There are three Costas in this small town, but people just can’t get enough, flooding in for our delicious treats; we can be at the coffee machines for hours in a row, never looking back for fear of seeing the length of the queue; at times like this I tell myself these words of wisdom: “Shut up and make coffee!”
In accordance with damned EU law, we are legally permitted 20 minutes of rest in a shift of 6 hours or more, though Costa generously gives us 30 minutes. Shifts often last 8, 9, or 10 hours, however, so Costa are admirably getting the most to of their ‘human resources’. We use this time to eat, drink, soothe our wounds and aching feet, or occasionally leave the store for fresh air, free to ponder the great joys of being employed.
Weekends, I must admit, have ceased to be ‘week-ends’, and have instead become ‘I’d-really-rather-work-in-the-week…..days’. Why? Well, after a long week at work, the employed and unemployed people of the area alike want to spend their hard-earned wads of cash/undeserved benefits on some retail therapy. On Saturdays, out in the provinces, Costa isn’t a fast-service coffee shop. To the masses it becomes an all-purpose cafeteria, restaurant and creche. People queue for literally minutes to get their caramel lattes, our most poplar beverage by far, and rightfully complain when we fail deliver a near instant service. The place is packed to the rafters with young mothers, excitable little children and older customers expecting table service. We also look at weekly feedback, including ‘Listen and Learn’, wherein we beggar ourselves for knowledge, debase our selves at the knee of the general public, in the earnest hope that we may learn better how to meet their needs and learn how Costa might manage to squeeze out an even bigger profit margin next year.
The final Fridays and Saturdays of the month are particularly busy, as most people get paid on the last Friday of a month, and these days can prove the greatest test of patience, endurance and stiff upper-lippedness, even for the most self-defacing employed tax-payer. Apparently many customers haven’t heard of overdrafts! The banks need to be kept in business you know! Although, I suppose that enough people pay for their £20 orders at Costa on credit card to give the banks and credit companies their due. The wheels of consumerism must be greased. I mean, what else are people going to do with their money? Or, rather, their bank’s money? Save it up for old age? Pay into a pension? Invest? Pay off their mortgages and wonga loans? What a ridiculous thought! Or pay into the tax system? God forbid! Spend it! And pay Costa their rightfully earned profits! Oh, and my wages, I suppose, although that’s a much, much lower priority, of course.
Nevertheless, despite the trials of these bumper weekends and difficult Fridays, I soldier on, never complaining that this is not what I signed up for when I got my UCAS application in, four years ago: I serve the besuited businessmen with fewer qualifications than I, as my dead-eyed stare meets theirs at 8am, passing them their sugar-laden lattes, secure in the knowledge that ahead of me is a fulfilling day of preparing refreshments for the well-heeled mercantile classes, OAPs who have no idea what an americano or a flat white might be, and the window washers and labourers who pronounce “latte” with no t’s. Clearing up the coffee grounds, cardboard refuse and endless quantities of empty sugar sachets, I can’t help but somehow feel a sense of satisfaction. All those books at university, all those all-nighters killing myself to get a good degree, and all that unpaid and voluntary work has led to this: preparing skinny-decaf-half-shot-suger-free-caramel-lattes, processing payments through the till standing stock still for hours at a time, carrying bags of rubbish and emptying plastic bin-liners while strange and unidentifiable liquids seep onto my shoes.
It’s good to be employed.