Josh Adcock: What it’s like working at Costa

Josh Adcock is back with another peep into the world of the overqualified graduate working at Costa, as per Esther McVey’s totally non-patronising instructions.

baristaWorking 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.


How to get a job at Costa, by Josh Adcock

esther mcvey costaJosh Adcock is an obedient chap, so when Esther McVey told him and other graduates to “get a job at Costa“, he obliged. So Josh is now one of the overqualified Costa  baristas, taking an unskilled job from the unskilled while the job he wants is done by an overworked and understaffed team somewhere. Josh has agreed to share with us how he managed to land the fantastic opportunity.

By Josh Adcock

The news is in. The economy is in recovery. The economy officially grew by 0.8% in the first quarter of 2014 (huzzah! All hail George Osborne!). The government has confirmed that it will withhold JSA from anyone who has been unemployed for more then two years who does not attend a jobseekers’ meeting every single day, the ungrateful sods. This seems perfectly reasonable, if you consider how much revenue all the privatised bus and train companies have lost, up until now, in the potential ticket sales lost from jobless, feckless, scroungers going in to the job centre only once every two weeks.

Jobseekers will also be obliged to take job offers with zero-hours contracts, lest they feel the righteous fury of the taxpayer, the treasury, and the employed, and thereby lose their precious £56 per week. The solution? Get a job, scum. And why not get a job with a company which can soak up all of you benefits-subsisting jobseekers: Costa.

The caffeine giant now opens three new stores every week, and there are now so many that surely the only reason anyone could possibly have for not being employed is their own inherent laziness, or an inexplicable aversion to lattes. Even you, proud graduates, rather than holding out for a graduate-level job which would make use of the skills and knowledge you gained in those three booze and lecture-filled years, should find a low-paid caffeine distribution function, instead of blaming the government for your dire predicament.

Unlike all the jobseekers with their heads in the clouds, I have submitted to the call of the coalition, and have forsaken all hopes of a quick ascension on the graduate career ladder. I am a graduate, and I am a Costa Coffee Barista. I am here to guide you through the world of under-employment, in the hopes that you shall answer the call of Employment Minister Esther McVey, and follow in my footsteps.

My journey began with the Job Centre. As a self-respecting individual, I wanted to get off the JSA. Not because I found the £56 per week insufficient. Not because I found the fortnightly meetings demeaning. No. Not that, at all. I was ashamed to be subsisting on the tax-payer, an evil visited on us by socialists and beard-stroking intellectuals. I heard that vacancies would soon be opening up at one of the Costas in town, so I spoke to the manager, and my journey began. First I undertook a trial shift. It seemed to go well. Then, I waited for the phone call, which came two days later.

It went something like this:

“Hello? Yes, this is the manager, we thought you did very well on your trial shift, and we’d like to give you the job.”

“Woohoo! When do I start?”

“The end of the week.”

The next day:

“Hello? This is the manager at Costa. I’m afraid we made a mistake. We already hired someone else for the position I called you about yesterday. Very sorry. Go away and live your miserable little life somewhere far from my sight, you puny worm.”

The last part may have been distorted in my memory: I can’t imagine any benevolent employer saying something like that, so I must have imagined it in my jobseeker mindset. I was, needless to say, disappointed that I had not proven myself worthy to leave the benefits system. But, undeterred, I left a message with the manager, begging to know if something came up. The manager called again a week later, to say that a third person was now required. So I had a job. An honest-to-God job, three years after starting university, in a privately owned, highly profitable business, on an hourly wage just a smidgen over the legal minimum, but one which pays about as much in one shift as JSA pays in a week. Why did I not tell them to stuff their job up their metaphorical coffee grinder? I wanted to get off JSA, I wanted to pay off my student overdraft and I wanted to learn to drive, and to do that I had to swallow my pride. So I started the following Friday.

Anyone who wants a low-paid job with Costa or similar need only swallow any pride they still have and be willing to beg for a job. And there are plenty of jobs going with Costa. At least, plenty going for those with the right experience: I must admit that we often get inadequate individuals coming into our store asking about vacancies, handing in their grubby little CVs. Sadly, most of them sit on a shelf for several months before being forgotten about and eventually buried in paperwork or, I would presume, eventually being thrown out. Most of these people are woefully under-qualified for a job pouring liquids from one container to another, heating liquids and moving chairs, tables, and boxes of solids-soon-to-become-liquids: degrees in art, business, finance, tourism, hospitality, work experience at TV production studios, restaurants, fashion retailers and so on, all turn up sooner or later. Yet none of these people seem to understand, for some reason, that if you don’t have several years of experience in a public-facing role in a shop, restaurant, pub or cafe involving interacting with customers and working shop, then you’re just not worthy of earning just above minimum wage.

Still, none of that should be a barrier to getting a job: I got a job with Costa, so I can only conclude that people choose to not have the right experience. Although it actually wasn’t that easy for me; but that’s obviously down to bad luck and my own incompetence, and is not due to any systematic flaw in the jobs market or professional incompetency on the part of employers, anywhere, ever. It’s all the jobseekers fault. Forever. Praise Cameron that I’m no longer one of them.