A day in the life of…a Barista

I love going to coffee shops. It is more than just a drink – it is a habit, part of waking up every day. The good time music playing as I stroll in, still half asleep but already starting to wake up to that wonderful smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked treats.

Watching the Barista take care and pride in making my Long Black and making idle chit chat while I wait. The staff always seem so happy! No suits and ties, the freedom to express themselves through plaid shirts, handlebar moustaches and an aura of coolness!

So what is it really like to work as a barista when you are on the other side of the counter?

Here is my take on a day in the life of a Barista:

A Baristas Day 

The Set-Up 

5:30 am and BOB the Barista rolls out of bed, checks his beard in the mirror before rushing out his front door to brace the dark, cold February morning and the 40-minute bus ride to work. 

6:25 am and BOB arrives at work, opening the front door to squeeze past the 20+ bottles of fresh milk, bread and pastries that were delivered overnight. These early morning, pre-coffee moments are sacred and after a reciprocal nod good morning to his colleague BOB1, the music goes on and they both go about setting up the shop:

  • packing away the deliveries – did I mention the meat, fruit and veg deliveries that just arrived?;
  • putting out the tables and chairs, not to mention the cutlery pots, menus etc. (depending on what Covid Tier we are in);
  • turning up the till (which is much quicker now they don’t take cash anymore);
  • dialling in the espresso – often overlooked but the most important part of setting yourself up for the day is finding that consistent and perfect balance between sweet and bitter;
  • Setting up the food display – artfully placing the pastries and bread alongside the breakfast cakes (what a great category of food this is) and of course the customary avocado on toast. 

All in the 30 minutes they have to set up for the day.

Organised Chaos

7:00 am and they’re ready to go. The lights are on, the music echos through the empty shop and that wonderful smell of coffee layered with freshly baked treats swirls in the air. They both enjoy a sip of coffee, take a breath and open the front door with that friendly coffee shop smile.

Immediately, the morning coffee rush starts! Regulars start rolling in and the coffees start rolling out. Everything is takeaway nowadays but the morning rush is always both stressful and fun…organised chaos is the best way to think about it. This is the part of the day when, pre-covid, the dishes used to pile up and all that mattered was keeping your station clean and getting the orders out. Ideally having a quick catch up with the guests as you go.

Cleaning, Cleaning, Cleaning!

10:00 am They’ve been cleaning all morning, not just spills and general mess but the group head has to be purged, portafilter emptied and milk jug rinsed out…..all before you can start that next drink. As the morning rush starts to fade, it’s time to start catching up on those dishes that pilled up during the morning rush, topping up the coffee, food and all the takeaway packaging from the morning rush. All caught up, BOB can finally relax into his day and enjoy his favourite part – catching up with the slower but steady stream of regulars.

Thankful for Regulars

70% of people at BOBS shops are “Regulars”, the days shining rays of light. He knows very few of them by name, yet knows all about their lives. Their dogs’ name, what role their kids have in the school play, that they have an interview that afternoon or that they had a big date last night…and of course what their coffee order is. Knowing they like their flat white with 1 ½ shots of espresso and extra hot oat milk is a key part of the job. As is making it without any judgement or grumbles under your breath.

To give you an idea of just how much the local coffee shop is ingrained in peoples lives, let me tell you a tale of two customers. Let’s call them Jack and Jill, who used to get their morning coffee at roughly the same time every day. One day, Jack got the final stamp of his loyalty card, he was in a good mood and instead of putting the free coffee back in his wallet he told us to give the next customer a coffee on the house. Cue Jill. Jack was still waiting for his coffee when Jill got her free coffee and of course, Jill said thank you and they struck up a conversation. A few years later and they now come in for their morning coffee together although Jill is on the decaf now. I’ll leave you to guess why.

Equally, we have also had two regulars decide our cafe was the perfect place to sign their divorce papers. You get all aspects of life unfolding in a coffee shop and regular or not, being that person who gets to brighten their day makes it all worthwhile.

Lunchtime

11:30 am and BOB starts making space for lunch, playing Tetris with the food display as he swaps out banana bread for homemade pesto toasties, the porridge for soups and stews and the breakfast muffins for quiches and sausage rolls. All while catching up with the steady stream of regulars still coming through. 

As soon as lunch is up on display, backup arrives. BOB2 arrives for their afternoon shift and to replace BOB1, BOB is on a double so no going home just yet although it is time for his lunch break. Lunch normally comes on the house, they like the team to eat from the menu so they can honestly answer that age-old customer question – “what’s good?”. BOB wolfs down his lunch in the 20 minutes he has before jumping back on the shop floor. BOB2 is all caught up on the day and BOB1 packs up and heads home as BOB settle back in for the afternoon shift

The Afternoon Slump

14:00pm and the morning rush is now a distant memory, lunch is all but done and we face the afternoon slump.. The afternoon, or “closing” shift as BOB calls it, is not his favourite shift although he knows it is just as important – he loves the hustle, bustle and organised chaos of the morning and lunch rush. The afternoon though is all about 2 things:

Trying to sell out of stock

Most of the food BOB serves may have a shelf life of a few days but the display life can be very different. Most things can only last one day on display and whilst safe to eat the following day, it just won’t taste nearly as good. BOBs afternoon is all about trying to sell out of the stock that will otherwise go in the bin (or taken home by BOB and BOB2 or given to someone more in need on their way home). As the day moves closer to the end BOB performs the last dance of the food display – going from two to one shelf, so it still looks full but with only half the stock on display as earlier in the day.

The Guest Experience

Probably the most important aspect of working in any hospitality job, but especially as a Barista, is Customer Service and the Guest Experience. This is probably both the best and worst part of being a Barista. The good is all those regulars that we grow to know in our own weird and wonderful way, that bad is that customer you dread coming in…we all know the one I’m talking about, whether they’re grumpy, entitled, too flirty or just plain old rude!

That triple-shot, oat milk Latte (with one of the 3 shots a decaf) is coming, we know you’re in a rush but we politely told you there was a 5-minute wait before you ordered (only 2 minutes ago). We are going as fast as we can, Prince or pauper (and I have served both), there is no queue jumping.

That said, most guests are amazing and many become friends over the years. They really appreciate what BOB and the team do. One of the best things about being a barista is you get the chance to make people smile all day – even the grumpiest of people.

The Great Wind Down

16:00 pm and it’s the tail end of the day, with the finish line now in sight. BOB and BOB2 split the tasks up between them, with one doing the paperwork (staff meals, wastage, recording any issues or complaints that happened during the day), the other with the most important task – topping up stock and getting the shop set up for the morning team. 

Now it is that time to clean, clean and clean again! Even in a pre-Covid world, this was always the case but now it is even more important and despite there being less to clean (no tables, chairs crockery etc.) it takes them longer to do.

Once the door closes the music gets turned up, as do their sleeves, and they get out their tools of choice – storage boxes, cling film, blue roll, colourful cloths, anti-bac sprays, henry the hoover and the trusty mop and bucket (all 3 of them).

Finally, about an hour after closing the door BOB is ready to turn off the lights. He picks up his goodie bag to take home, to the delight of his flatmates, locks up behind him and starts that 40-minute commute back home, once again in the dark.

Would I do it all again?

It’s a common misconception that those of us working in hospitality do so because we don’t have any other options. For some this is certainly true, but for the rest, we love what we do. It may be a side hustle, it’s also a dream career. 

Not only is it a mentally as well as physically demanding job but learning to make coffee itself is hard. To become a barista, you will likely have to go through a variation of the following process:

  • Interview and get hired.
  • Work as a cashier until your Manager deems you worthy(ready?) of being trained as a Barista.
  • Take a coffee history & science class at our local roastery.
  • Complete 2-6 weeks of training sessions.
  • Take a certification exam.

It’s hard, but worth it too!!

It’s fun, social, you get endless coffee and it’s like riding a bike so it allows you to work anywhere in the world. You get flexibility, a chance to show your creative flair and the best part – you can make somebody’s day, everyday!

The people you meet and friends you make are amazing, both customers and colleagues. You can be creative, have fun and work with freedom in a structured environment. My only piece of advice to anyone looking at becoming a Barista is this: you will be on your feet all day, after my first 3 days my feet were killing me (although you easily get your 10,000 steps in!!). Before learning coffee and having fun, the first thing you need to do – get the right shoes!!! 

Whatever the reason you become a Barista there is one thing you will learn to appreciate – coffee is a craft.

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