Whether it’s a big chain store or a small cafe, a coffee shop lives and dies on how good the baristas are. The cafe industry is a service industry after all and part of the cafe experience is an experienced barista filling out your order whether it’s a simple black coffee or some bizarre secret menu item you read about online. With baristas being such an integral part of the cafe experience, you might wonder how will you decide how much to pay them. Several factors go into making that decision.

To determine how much to pay your barista consider these things:

  • Your budget and the possible non-monetary incentives

  • Experience and the tasks you’re asking them to do

  • The local cost of living

  • The type of coffee house you’re running

Your Budget

Many baristas are often underpaid. According to ZipRecruiter.com, most baristas make around $24,000 a year. In some states, this is below the poverty line and often requires baristas to take on second or even third jobs. While you have to stick to your budget, you have to remember to pay your workers well. Workers that are exhausted are more prone to making mistakes that could result in having to issue more refunds and getting bad reviews.

One factor you’ll likely consider is whether or not the baristas are tipped. For tipped workers, the minimum wage is lower. You can also adjust your tipping policy. Some cafes allow individual baristas to keep the entire tip. Others practice tip pooling, where all the tips are split evenly between all the baristas on a given shift.

You must also keep things like the local and state minimum wages in mind. Others may have different laws on how to do tip pooling and at the time of this writing, tip pooling rules are under review at the Federal level. There may be some variance on what holidays are mandatory as well. It is important to research all these issues before you finalize your budget.

How Do I Determine How Much to Pay My Barista?

You can also offer non-monetary incentives. Many baristas struggle to pay for health insurance for example. This can be a good public relations move as the new generation of customers, many of whom currently or have worked in service industry jobs with low pay and almost no benefits are more sympathetic to other service workers. Paying your baristas well can draw in more consistent Millennial/Gen-Y customers.

Experience, Tasks, and Hazards

When you’re deciding what to pay your barista, you should remember all the work that goes into the job. Experienced baristas do more than pour coffee. They make specialized drinks for customers. These drinks can often come down to split-second timing. A button pressed too early or too late can ruin a drink and leave a customer dissatisfied.

One could argue that being a barista involves a degree of artistry. For every customer that just wants to get a black coffee and get out, many want their coffee prepared specially. They want the milk foamy or they want some specialty preparation they read about on a website that neither you nor your baristas have ever heard of. Maybe they will want your barista to replicate something a friend got at a different cafe. While you should instruct a barista to tell the customer to stay on the menu if the request is too complicated, you might also want to encourage them to at least try the simpler experimental drinks customers come in with. These experiments take some skill if all they’re going by is a customer’s description or a picture on their phone.

Specialty knowledge

Baristas are also expected to be knowledgeable. If you’re opening up a cafe where cafes aren’t especially common, you’re going to have a lot of customers whose main experience with coffee is either store-bought or coffee from fast-food establishments. Those customers are there looking for something different and they often won’t know exactly what different means. It is usually on a barista to help a customer make a selection based on several questions that a barista will ask to get a feel for the customer’s preferences that often have to be asked in rapid succession while keeping track of everything else going on in the cafe.

Baristas are sometimes typically required to have advanced knowledge of coffee from farm to the coffee cup that many customers do not have. This is particularly true in upscale markets. The advanced coffee-related knowledge of the barista could cover a lot of things, especially when dealing with coffee connoisseurs who are at your cafe for the education about coffee as much as they are for the coffee. Some of the knowledge could include but isn’t limited to whether or not the coffee is fair trade, what fair trade means, to any amount of minor historical details about where your coffee comes from.

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You must also remember that a barista, like any service job, is more work than our culture gives it credit for. A cafe can be a chaotic place, particularly on a busy morning. Customers are grouchy and in a rush to get to work. Anything going wrong can and will set a customer off. A barista must be able to make the drink have a good and welcoming attitude and a sunny personality even when the people around them don’t.

When deciding what to pay your baristas, you should also factor in hazards on the job. In most cases, a barista could be standing and running around a cafe their entire shift. This can lead to leg and back problems. You should also remember that a barista is working around scalding liquids most of their day and burns are an issue.

When cleaning the cafe, something that should be done frequently to stay on the good side of health inspectors, baristas will often work with caustic chemicals. This is particularly true when cleaning bathrooms, which can also contain biohazards if something has gone wrong with the plumbing.

You should also be aware of mental health hazards. Dealing with customers is mentally draining Many service workers report higher instances of depression and anxiety. If you can pay your workers better, that will alleviate some of these problems.

According to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University, “The higher prevalence of mental health problems may be linked to the precarious nature of service work, including lower and unpredictable wages, insufficient benefits, and a lack of control over work hours and assigned shifts,” 

Cost of Living

Your barista is a human being. They need to eat and have a place to live. If at all possible, you should factor in your area’s cost of living into your budget. An underpaid barista will likely leave for a better job the instant they can get one. Meaning you have to train someone entirely new on a routine basis.How Do I Determine How Much to Pay My Barista?

Having to constantly retrain people is inefficient as having a constant stream of new employees leads to more mistakes being made during training periods. While it can be more expensive, having a well-paid and consistent staff does have benefits. Many customers will often come back because they have a favorite barista who knows them by name. Having “regulars” is an essential part of building your business.

Your Cafe

One of the major factors in deciding how much you’ll pay your barista is your cafe itself. There are some lower-end that focus strictly on coffee and drinks that require less skill. You can justify paying them slightly less. Fancier cafes with drinks that require lots of preparation and fine motor skills could require a slightly bigger paycheck.

Controlling for Bias

As a final word, you should control for biases in pay and promotions. Making sure you’re paying your workers fairly will avoid legal troubles that can bring you bad publicity and bring down your business.

How Do I Determine How Much to Pay My Barista?

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What other ways can I compensate my barista?

You should always make sure to pay them what they’re worth but there are some other benefits you can offer. Many baristas feel more valued when you invest in them. Do things like having them professionally trained in more advanced techniques and knowledge. This tells them that you care about their development. It also makes your cafe better and the baristas can teach any future new co-workers the techniques they learned. This helps maintain continuity of good service.

2. What should I do regarding promotions?

You should always try to promote from within whenever possible to keep morale up. If you import people from outside when you don’t need to, baristas who have worked for you for a significant amount of time will feel under-appreciated and it may cause conflict between the staff. You should also make sure that you compensate a promoted employee rather than just giving out empty titles. Employees know the difference between an empty title and a promotion that is worth something.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.