Perks of the job

<strong>How Starbucks Saved My Life</strong>

Michael Gill <em>HarperCollins, 272pp, £12.99</em>

Michael Gill went from being a successful advertising executive to unemployed and penniless at 63. Then he took a job in Starbucks and it saved his life. In this memoir, he learns that poor people aren’t as bad as he thought, and that – whatever your job – if you arrive early and kiss up to your boss, you’re likely to become a much-valued employee.

I once worked in Starbucks for about six months. For me, the perks of baristadom were modest: 50p an hour more than I had been getting in my previous job, and as much eggnog latte as I could drink. What lured Gill – then suffering from a brain tumour – was more substantial. Admirably, in the US, Starbucks offers comprehensive health insurance to all employees and their families.

We hear a lot about “the Starbucks philosophy”, and each chapter is headed by a motivational platitude from the side of a Starbucks cup. Here, your boss doesn’t give orders, but asks you with a smile if you wouldn’t mind doing her a favour. Needless to say, the possible consequences of refusing to carry out these “favours” go unexplore.

Starbucks may be great if you live out of range of the NHS, but the stuck-on smile grated with me, and I soon threw aside the green apron for good. I only ever wore it as a favour.

Matthew Taunton is a Leverhulme Fellow in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, and is currently working on a book about the cultural resonances of the Russian Revolution in Britain.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Spies and their lies