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The Smell of Service: Key Tips for Becoming a Great Barista

by | CAREER TIPS

Being a great barista is about much more than dialing in water temperatures and making fancy latte art. Those things are important to the specialty coffee experience but they are skills you can develop while you work. 

Our interview with coffee shop manager Fefe Schillagi is a clear example that the most important skills a barista can have are soft ones. His warm personality and dedication to customer service took him from his first barista job to a manager position in less than a year.

To help put you on the same path as Fefe, we’ve put together a few crucial tips for you to keep in mind as you start your barista career. 

A people person = a good barista

Yes, as a barista you must have a specialized set of skills that allows you to make high quality coffees quickly and consistently. However, these are skills that you can learn on the job and pick up rather quickly. It may look complex but after you make enough flat white and cappuccinos the process becomes second nature.

The hard skills you need to become a barista can be picked up in your first months on the job. What your coffee shop manager can’t teach you is how to be outgoing and talk to people. The most important soft skill a barista can have is the gift of gab and a genuine interest in others.

The first social interaction of the day for many people is with the barista at their local coffee place. You should take that opportunity to help your customers start out their day on a good note. 

Not only should you make them a delicious cup of coffee to their liking, you should deliver it with a smile. If it’s a regular customer with a regular order, you should already know it and get to making their drink as soon as you greet them. If you have the time, try to ask them how they are doing and learn a little bit about them. That personal touch to service is what will keep people coming back again and again.

Baristas will often have regular customers and that attention to detail can go a long way. This type of clientele are essentially an unpaid marketing team that will tell their friends about you.   

Keep it clean

Used coffee grounds scattered about, splashes of milk here and there, spilled sugar from clumsy customers all over the self service bar–a coffee shop can get incredibly messy in no time, especially during a busy morning or post-lunch rush. It’s your job as a barista to control the mess so the coffee shop is always sparkling clean.

This can be challenging because coffee shops are often solo operations, especially if they focus on coffee to-go. If you’re the only barista in the shop, you need to manage your time wisely. You must find a way to serve all customers in a timely manner while also always making sure the shop is always presentable. 

After working in your shop for a few weeks, you will become aware of the busy and down periods of each shift. Use this to your advantage and do the majority of your cleaning when you are less busy instead of sitting around waiting for customers. It’s okay to bring a book to read during slow periods but you should only reach for the book if all other tasks are done and the shop looks great.

During a rush of business, most little messes can be dealt with once the storm has passed. However, if someone spills an entire coffee on the floor, that must be dealt with immediately. You don’t want other customers to step in it or someone’s dog to lick it up! If this happens, kindly tell the customer you’re serving that you need to deal with the spill and you’ll be right back. 

Once you’ve cleaned up the mess, offer to make another coffee to replace the spilled one, free of charge. Always make the customer happy, even if the spill was their fault.

Look after yourself

When most people think of the work of a barista they likely think of the refined skill set and finesse required to do the job. These aspects are what define the work of a barista and set them apart from someone who just makes coffees at a restaurant or bar. However, many probably never think of barista work as a job that is also physically and mentally demanding. Well, they should.

If you are going to work as a barista you must be ready to spend long shifts working in small environments, often on your own. A common shift for a barista is about 6 hours in length so that can be a lot of time spent working on your own. For some people this is no problem at all but if you prefer to work as part of a team it can be a major challenge.

You should also be physically fit considering you will be spending most of your shift on your feet making coffee. This type of work can be stressful on your legs and back so it’s a good idea to stretch a bit before and after each shift to avoid injuries. 

Beyond the daily wear and tear, a coffee shop presents a number of other potential dangers. Because you’re dealing with liquids, things can get incredibly slippery behind the coffee bar. It’s important to keep an eye on this and clean up any significant spills that could be a problem.

Not only are you dealing with liquids, they’re also incredibly hot. If you’re not careful behind the espresso machine, you could end up badly burning yourself with coffee or steamed milk. To avoid this, you should always work at a calm, safe and sustainable pace no matter how many customers are in line.

Find your dream barista job today!

Working as a barista is a great way to get your start in the hospitality industry. If you have a passion for coffee and a love for serving others, it just might be the perfect career for you. Check out the open barista positions available on Hosco and find your dream coffee job today! 

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