Barista: They aren’t just a cashier in disguise.

Service industry; cringe.  I have been in the service industry for a very long time and as a manager and assistant manager, I will outright tell you that one of the hardest parts of it is finding and retaining staff.  This includes restaurants as well as coffee shops.  Its a very transient population; a lot are college students or people that just need to make ends meet until they get into their career-career.

So much money and time are wasted in training and being a barista can take a lot of training if you are going to actually be good at it.

First of all, I want to preface it with this:  Enthusiasm and employee retention is directly related to your manager and owner.  If your manager and owner is angry, hates the industry and doesn’t want to be there, becoming ever more educated about their industry, how can you expect your employees to be?

A lot of this has to do with the things that a barista really needs and it is not a coffee tattoo or a portafilter in their back pocket.  You need to combine the talents of a server, a cook, a performer and a constant desire to learn.

People Skills

I open the shop every morning, meaning I am at the store in between 6:15 and 6:30 to get everything ready and open up at seven.  Yes, it’s early.  No, I do not have coffee before.  But when those doors open I’m smiling at the people out front.  I am lucky and most of my morning customers are absolutely lovely.  They know my name and I know theirs.  I know what they get.  I know if they are trying to cut back on calories and how to ask them in a non-judgy way if they are back to getting a croissant.   I can hold a conversation with customers.  Being a barista is a lot like being a bartender that way.

I know a lot of cooks that I would NEVER let around customers.  Being a barista you have to be able to make drinks (and food) and be friendly at the same time.  This sounds normal but it is a hard hard skill to find.

On the flip side of that, your barista needs to know when to lower their voice and how to create the right atmosphere for the clients you have.  Is it social time or are people trying to work?

Food Skills

Unlike a lot of kitchens, most smaller local coffee shops will only have two or tops 3 baristas behind the counter at once.  Baristas must have food safety skills when using milk, understand FIFO, and understand how the mechanics of heat and steaming work.  That doesn’t include understanding multitasking and food safety like using gloves, dating and other safe serve rules.  Understanding how milk works is a must and if the beginning of any good latte art and just generally a good drink.

A Performer

Having a bar is kind of like having an open kitchen.  Your customers are watching you make your drink.  So your barista needs to be aware of that, enthusiastic, keep their workspace clean at all times (I can not tell you how disgusted I am when I see milk resign on the steam wand) and do it all with a smile on their face.  Yes, that can be hard but its part of the job; even when you have 20 tickets and someone is trying to order from you when the line is clearly not in front of the espresso machine.  One of the things that can really tell you about your employee is how well they perform under these conditions.  How they speak to customers while they are making a drink.  Every smile, every beautiful pour, every rosetta is a chance for your customer to hashtag your latte on social media and draw in god knows how many customers.

Desire to Learn

One of the things that people need to understand about being a barista is that its nothing like Central Perk.  You cant constantly be getting your drinks wrong, putting them in the wrong cups and then sit down and chat with your friends.  Its just not the way a cafe works.  A barista needs to have the desire to learn.  So much about being a barista is learning and adapting.  I can tell who is going to do really well by how much they are willing to learn if they are going onto youtube and watching Barista training video’s, learning about the mechanics of coffee and the complicated social and economic impacts of coffee.

Not only that, but steaming milk is a lot like cooking.  You need to know the basics.  Only after you master your milk can you move onto Latte art, which is what every new barista is enthusiastic about.


In the Coffee Series:

  • Common Coffee Questions
  • Drink Composition
  • Processes of Brewing
  • Baristas and what you should know
  • Gifts for Coffee Lovers

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