Apart from obvious differences in the size and layout of individual shops, all Starbucks are basically the same. On the surface this appears to be the case in China and Japan as well: the signature coffee-toned decor, the blond-wood furniture, the usual line of mugs, thermoses and other souvenirs, though Japanese Starbucks offers a wider array of coffee-making devices. Some shops come with national or ethnic flavors. The Beijing Starbucks that opened across from People’s University in 1998 (one of the earliest Starbucks in China) featured Ming Dynasty-style hardwood furniture, until the busy branch was shuttered without explanation ten years later, as often happens in the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of Chinese businesses. Local architects are designing some stunning new Starbucks in both China and Japan. These differences are mostly top-down, dictated from the corporate leadership.
All Starbucks baristas are trained of course in the same professional routines. They are cut from the same cookie-cutter mold and delightfully anger-proof against the most obnoxious customers (of which the US probably exhibits the largest share). Like American baristas, Chinese baristas are polite in a down-to-earth way; one is hardly aware of being in a different country. As they are required to speak some English, they are typically college-educated, unlike the usual young migrants from the countryside employed in the service industry. Still, the Starbucks worker I had a fling with back in 2004 told me they only paid her eight Yuan per hour ($1 at the then exchange rate), before she got fired for accidentally damaging the espresso machine. They are paid more now, though only proportionately so. (How do you come on to an attractive Chinese barista? She sashayed right up to my table and brushed her hip against me. I got lucky; it hasn’t happened again.)