You’ve been to a specialty coffee shop. Walking in, you smell rich, thick, oily and intoxicating coffee. You might notice students or professionals camped out at a table on their laptops. A couple of friends are reunited, smiling and catching up over their drinks on some armchairs. Fancy beans and brewing equipment line a retail shelf, and you don’t even know what half of them do. But they look so cool! Do you need a goose neck kettle in your kitchen?
Looking over the beverage menu, strange latin terms are jumping out at you. Rather than show your cards, you order macchiato, because you know its popular and the one you had from Starbucks was sweet and palatable. The young man behind the counter is perky and he types away your order in a screen. You get your drink from the barista and it’s the size of a thimble and too bitter. Although you wished you ordered a different drink, you are still enamored with the atmosphere you are in. People are bustling, adding milk to their drinks, happy. The staff are plugging away keeping the line moving. You might not know much of the menu, but YOU could do that, right?
So HERE is where you are starting, like myself and many others have. You are thinking about a new job, and the cafe calls to you. Maybe you see some barista positions available on a job board. It doesn’t list any experience required! You quickly update your resume and apply, which I hope you really do if you are interested in a job as a barista. Here are some things to know and consider before you start.
Coffee is a BIG deal for millions of people. It’s a special interest that’s extremely accessible. It’s price points make it a luxury purchase that people can drop money on daily. Many expand their palate after so much time spent drinking it. Like the craft beer enthusiasts who went from bud light to an expensive IPA, the coffee drinker might go from a medium hot drip coffee to a $5.50 large low-fat latte with house made vanilla syrup. Coffee is a craft beverage that is still cheaper and healthier (and some would say MORE intoxicating) than alcohol.
There is a demand to justify the expensive specialty coffee shop. And coffee lovers around the world NEED good baristas to provide for them.
The good news is that even if you aren’t a connoisseur yourself, you can still become a skilled barista. The vast majority of cafes will hire someone without coffee knowledge, provided you can show some of these attributes:
- Being adept and wanting to learn, both standard materials specific to the cafe and on your own. While I was a new barista, a Japanese brewing method was brought up while I was in casual conversation with a customer. I didn’t know anything about it, and I hate being left out! I went home and did some simple research on it myself, so the next time it came up I could contribute to the conversation, or show off my knowledge to my boss (who may or may not have known about it anyway.)
- Being friendly. There is a false notion that all baristas have a cold, elitist air about them. In my experience, a less knowledgeable barista with a better disposition is much more valuable than one who can provide excellent drinks without connecting with customers. Plus, who wants to work all day without enjoying yourself and the company of those around you?
- Having an eye for detail. Many small things can make a difference in whether a cafe or barista is at a professional level or sub par. Tasks like keeping up with cleaning the dining room and milk station during a shift will absolutely affect how the customer views the cafe. Also, strictly adhering to specific portions and recipes for the drinks you serve will better your consistency.
That said, going into your position as a barista with an appreciation for what you do and a decent work ethic will be enough to start with. So lets look at some pros and cons of being a barista.
- Literally all the coffee you can drink (don’t make it a con for yourself). You will usually be provided food too.
- Getting to meet and talk to a wide variety of different people. This could include people from that neighborhood, or international travelers if you’re in a metro area.
- Learning an amazing craft, challenging yourself. Very true once you begin latte art.
- Working closely with awesome coworkers. In my experience, cafe employees are some of the most interesting, kind and hardworking people.
- Seeing the fruits of your labor in real time. Customers will be very forthcoming with how much they love their drink.
- Working for TIPS; cafe workers will receive tips on top of base pay which will be at least minimum wage. Establishing regulars, making them happy, and serving excellent drinks will drive tips! (If a cafe owner chooses to not allow employees to receive tips, I recommend not working for them.)
- NO LATE NIGHTS; most coffee shops close before 8pm.
- Early morning hours will have you waking up with the birds. At least you’ll get to watch the sunrise!
- Starting off, doing mostly order entries and transactions. It is simple but can be very tedious.
- It’s very likely you will be dealing with a HIGH volume of customers. You must hustle, while still taking care not to make any mistakes.
- Multitasking will make or break you. In addition to your core duties, you will have to keep track of cleanliness, inventory, and all orders to keep up. For example, nothing is worse during a rush than to realize you sold all your hot coffee because you didn’t track how much you had left. Then you will be a coffee shop without coffee (until you brew more).
- Running around during your shift can be hard on your feet. (Pro: it will keep you in better shape than someone working at a desk.)
- Once you master being a barista, it can be hard to move upward and onward. Careers like coffee roasting, cafe management and wholesale beverage sales can be good choices to move to, but are often more competitive.
There is still much more to mention, which I will try to do as I continue my series on working as a barista. I have been the new employee with zero knowledge, and worked up to management and cafe ownership (which fell through for an unrelated reason). I hope I provided you with some helpful information. Even if you are unsure or unskilled as a barista, please follow your passion and apply to be one if it calls you! At the end of the day, we are just making coffee, not saving lives.
Please comment below with your experiences, I love “talking shop”.