We all know that a coffee shop is only as good as its baristas.
A quick chat at the counter with the friendly guy or gal whipping up your cappuccino has the potential to make your morning. On the other hand, a bad interaction before you’re caffeinated can be enough to make you start brewing your coffee at home.
Considering the unique needs of your cafe in tandem with the traits that make a great barista will help make your shop a success, so here is a guide to making sure you are hiring the right baristas for your coffee shop.
First, there are a few essential traits to look for when hiring baristas, and these are:
- Effective Communicator
- Quick Learner
- Attentive to Details
- Able to Improvise
And while the ideal barista displays all of these skills, the traits that you want to prioritize has a lot to do with your individual coffee shop. Here are some factors to consider:
- Are you a new coffee shop?
- What kind of training can you provide?
- What’s your shop’s personality?
- Where are you recruiting from?
- What are your shop’s unique needs?
- What kind of work experience should I look for?
- What should I ask in the interview?
For a little more context, this is how those skills come into play practically on the job.
When interviewing your potential employee, pay attention to how they communicate. Seemingly small details like eye contact and frequent smiles speak volumes as to how they’ll interact with customers. Having someone friendly behind the counter will make customers much more likely to return. Perhaps more important is how they will interact with their coworkers. Busier hours that tend to be more chaotic will run more smoothly if baristas can divide tasks and work together efficiently. If they have past experience working on a team in some capacity, that is a bonus. Your employees will not only be physically close but have to share tasks and coordinate with one another, so lack of cooperation is not an option.
Being a barista requires acquiring lots of new information in a short period of time. From pulling good espresso shots to learning how to work the register, it takes a significant amount of time to get accustomed to working in a cafe for the first time. Even if they have barista experience elsewhere, chances are there will be details specific to your shop that they will need to learn, so the faster they can pick up information, the faster they can contribute to the running of the shop.
Attentive to Details
The ability to keep track of information and pay attention to detail comes into play quite often for baristas. One aspect of the job that demands attention is complicated coffee orders. You remembered someone wanted whipped cream and an extra pump of chocolate in their mocha, but did you remember to make it with soy milk? The more the orders pile up, the harder it gets to make orders right consistently. If your shop specializes in expensive or higher quality drinks, this skill becomes extra important.
Able to Improvise
As a manager, you may not always be available to put out fires. Your employees should be able to cope with the inevitable dilemmas that arise. If a machine breaks, another employee fails to show up to their shift, or you run out of an item, they should be able to problem-solve without panicking until a solution can be reached.
Some of the unavoidable realities of working as a barista are long hours, rude customers, and long stretches of time with no breaks. There are also typically tasks that some people don’t associate with being a barista like doing dishes, clearing up messes, cleaning bathrooms, etc. So if they are only willing to do the enjoyable parts like making fancy drinks and chatting with the customers, they might not be the best person for the job. Although it may be hard to tell from an application or an interview, try to find applicants who aren’t likely to give up after the first hard day.
While the ideal candidate displays all of these traits, you may need to prioritize one or two of them based on the unique needs of your business. All coffee shops are not created equal, and a barista who is a good fit at one shop may not be at another. In fairness to yourself and your future staff, consider how you can create a harmonious work environment with employees who are well suited. There are factors on your end that may influence who you hire, such as:
Are you a new coffee shop?
Are you creating your staff from scratch? For the first people that you hire, you may want to specifically look for people who have already worked as baristas elsewhere. Not only will it take them less time to learn the ropes, but they might be able to give you suggestions and insights about how to make the shop better. (If you are a newbie yourself, check out our helpful guide here.)
If you do hire people who are brand new to barista-ing, be sure that your new hires are teachable and willing to adapt to all of their new responsibilities. Anyone you hire should also be prepared to help build the business and be aware that it might be rocky at the start.
Which leads to the next question,
What kind of training can you provide?
Make sure you account for any gaps between what your new hires already know and what they still need to learn. Again, if you’re a new coffee shop, you may want to hire people who have already had some barista experience in order to save money and time. They can also be invaluable to later employees who have less experience and can pick their brains. If you have the resources to give lots of training then you can focus mostly on hiring people with the core skills mentioned at the beginning of this article. A few items to include in training are how to make the drinks, hygiene requirements, and any other items specific to your shop. General how to’s on making espresso and how to correctly steam milk, as well as knowledge of the menu is an obvious training need. Additionally, some employers in food service require that all employees take a session on food safety training. Typically only a couple of hours long, training includes basic information about best practices when working with food. Lastly, items like how to clean the bathrooms, run the register, and open and close up shop should be included.
What is your coffee shop’s personality?
Identify the style of business you are and consider who would be a great fit. If you’re more of a Starbucks-style shop, the customers coming in will likely be more interested in getting their coffee quickly than having a painstakingly crafted pour-over. In this case, it’s going to be most important to look for the skills that are essential to a fast-paced environment like the ability to improvise and work quickly. If quality is the hallmark of your shop, they should be able to pay great attention to detail to get that perfect pour required for latte art or explain tasting notes of the drip coffees that you serve. Or if you’re a beloved neighborhood café, you need cheerful, chatty baristas at the register to add to your inviting atmosphere.
Where are you recruiting from?
Lots of coffee shops attract high school and college-aged workers because the job can easily be a part-time position, it’s flexible, and simply because it’s fun! If you want to go that route, which can definitely be a great one, just know that they likely won’t be a hardcore coffee savant. You might want to start looking for baristas close to home. Regular customers are perfect candidates because they usually already know about coffee and have a feel for your shop. So put up “now hiring” signs up and post on your social media profiles as a first step.
What are your shop’s unique needs?
What are some specifics to your business that might affect who you want to hire? A very obvious example is that a cat cafe requires employees that are willing and able to be around lots of kitties. But there are other things you may find that you want to prioritize with time. Maybe you notice that you have lots of regular customers who come in multiple times a week. Look for employees who are likely to learn these customers’ names and orders and make them feel at home. Maybe it’s not something that is a priority for every coffee shop, but it might be what makes people keep coming back to yours.
What kind of work experience should I look for in a resume when hiring a barista?
- Teamwork – Whether it be through an internship, another job, or a school project, any experience the candidate has working closely with others is great preparation for a barista position.
- Other food service jobs – There are many similarities between working in a coffee shop and working in a restaurant. Someone who has waited tables or been a food runner will be able to adapt to a fast-paced environment because they have worked under similar circumstances before.
- Food safety training – If they’ve already gone through this before, it’s one less thing you have to worry about for this particular employee!
- Leadership or managerial experience – If you are looking for a shift supervisor they should display clear leadership qualities and ideally have leadership experience elsewhere.
- Customer service – Any experience your employees have had in customer service previously is great preparation for a job as a barista. Anything from front desk secretary to bartender will do, as long as it has involved interacting with customers regularly.
What should I ask during the interview?
In the interview, keep it light in order to get an accurate idea of your interviewee’s personality. This will help you gauge whether they will get along with customers as well as yourself and your employees. Here are a few questions to ask during the process:
- Why do you want to work here?
- What do you think would make you a good barista?
- How would you solve [an example of a potential problem]?
- Are you willing to be flexible with your hours?
- What’s your favorite coffee drink?
Whether you’re preparing for your grand opening or looking to fill a gap on your existing staff, taking these factors into consideration will make it easy to filter through applications to find the best baristas. Don’t be afraid to take your time hiring if you have it – it is better to delay the process a little longer than to rush into a bad hire. You’ll be doing yourself, your employees, and your customers a favor. But don’t forget that coffee shops have a high turnover rate, so don’t despair if you don’t get the perfect staff on your first round of hiring. Chances are a good portion of your staff are young or college-aged and aren’t looking to make a career out of being a barista. Therefore, if someone isn’t a perfect fit, you probably won’t be stuck with them forever.
Above all, trust your gut and enjoy the process! You know your business better than anyone, which makes you the most qualified to identify who will be a great addition to your staff. So make the most of meeting lots of new people and building relationships with those who will help you make your shop a success.
Frequently Asked Questions
A typical shift at a coffee shop is between 6 and 8 hours with a couple of breaks. You can loosely break up shifts into morning, midday, and evening with some overlap. Generally, two people working at one time is sufficient during the day with an additional person for the busiest hours.
According to payscale.com, the average barista gets paid somewhere between minimum wage ($7.25 per hour, but possibly higher depending upon your state) and $12.82 per hour, the higher end usually applying to shift managers. If your resources only allow you to pay minimum wage, know that your job posting will mostly attract first-time baristas and students. A more seasoned barista is probably looking to get paid more than they did at their last job or be hired as a manager or supervisor.
This depends on the size and availability of your staff as a whole, but as a general rule, there must always be at least one supervisor working at all times. Take on as many supervisors as you need to ensure that one is on shift whenever you are open.
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.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun
My adventure in coffee began when I first launched my first coffee shop back in the early 2000s. I had to figure out so many things on my own and to make it worse within 2 years of opening two large corporate coffee chains moved in just blocks away from me!
As I saw smaller and even some larger coffee shops in the neighborhood slowly lose customers to these giant coffee chains and slowly close up shop, I knew that I had to start getting creative…or go out of business.
I (like you may be) knew the coffee industry well. I could make the best latte art around and the foam on my caps was the fluffiest you have ever seen. I even had the best state-of-the-art 2 group digital Nuova Simonelli machine money could buy. But I knew that these things alone would not be enough to lure customers away from the name brand established coffee shops.
Eventually, through lots of trial and error as well as perseverance and creativity I did find a way to not only survive but also thrive in the coffee/espresso industry even while those corporate coffee chains stayed put. During those years I learned to adapt and always faced new challenges. It was not always easy, however, in the end, I was the sole survivor independent coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of my location. Just two corporate coffee chains and I were left after that year. All told the corporate coffee chains took down over 15 small independent coffee shops and kiosks and I was the last one standing and thriving.
Along the years I meet others with the same passion for coffee and I quickly learned that it is not only “how good a barista is” that makes a coffee shop successful, but the business side of coffee as well.
Hence why I started this website you are on now. To provide the tools and resources for up and coming coffee shop owners to gain that vital insight and knowledge on how to start a coffee shop successfully.
Stick around, browse through my helpful blog and resources and enjoy your stay! With lots of LATTE LOVE!