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What does a barista do?
The name barista comes from the Italian word for barkeeper. Baristas are professionals who make and serve coffee, tea and other hot and cold beverages to customers in coffee shops, cafes, hotels and restaurants. The ability to provide excellent customer service is essential in this role.
A barista can specialise in making specific drinks, such as espressos, cappuccinos, mochas, Americanos, lattes, cold brews, macchiatos, frappuccinos, bubble tea, etc. They may also prepare, handle and serve food, such as sandwiches, salads, cakes and baked goods. Therefore, what a barista does will depend on their specialisms.
A barista’s main aim is to make high-quality drinks that taste good and make customers happy. It isn’t just about making a cup of coffee. Being a barista means having the technical skills and knowledge to create balanced, flavoursome and memorable beverages. They even use art to create eye-catching designs on the foam of drinks.
Baristas will carry out many tasks, including preparing for opening, greeting customers, taking orders, answering queries, operating tills and card machines, handling money, making different beverages, handling and serving food, cleaning and tidying, cashing up, stock taking, following good practices, ordering stock, arranging displays, etc.
Baristas will work with many people within the establishment, such as other baristas, head baristas, managers, cooks, chefs and other staff. They will also liaise with external stakeholders, including customers of all ages and backgrounds, suppliers, delivery drivers, environmental health officers, etc.
Baristas can work for different-sized companies, from large multinational chain coffee shops and hotels to small independent cafes and restaurants. They can work for public, private or charitable organisations. They can also be self-employed and have their own business.
A barista’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for and their role.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Preparing the establishment ready for opening.
- Familiarising themselves with menu contents.
- Learning about different types of beverages, especially coffee roasts and blends.
- Keeping up to date on the latest developments and trends.
- Greeting customers and answering any queries they may have, including on allergens.
- Taking customers’ orders.
- Providing excellent customer service at all times.
- Grinding fresh coffee beans using a machine.
- Making different beverages using various techniques, equipment, tools and machines.
- Preparing, handling and serving cakes, sandwiches, salads and baked goods.
- Operating tills and handling payments, e.g. cash and card.
- Cleaning equipment, coffee machines and work areas throughout the day.
- Following good food hygiene practices and health and safety standards.
- Creating stock displays and replenishing shelves.
- Stocktaking and ordering new stock.
- Weighing and packing coffee.
- Cashing up at the end of the day.
- Cleaning and tidying before closing.
A barista can expect to work 40-42 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role and the company’s needs. There may be some roles that offer set days and hours. However, there may be a requirement for overtime in busy periods.
The shifts can be long and sometimes up to ten hours a day. Most of this time will require baristas to be on their feet, so they must have a certain fitness level. Enthusiasm for the role is essential.
Being a barista is not a 9-5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours. They will typically be required to work evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Some roles may require individuals to work early mornings or nights.
Most jobs are full-time and permanent. However, some employers allow employees to work flexibly, i.e. part-time or job share. There are also temporary roles available.
Travel may be a requirement for a barista if they work for a company with several establishments at different locations, which may lengthen the working day. There may also be overseas opportunities for some individuals.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a barista, especially if an individual has a passion for working with the public and customer service. Producing tasty and beautifully presented beverages that customers praise can give individuals a real confidence boost. The role allows individuals to use technical skills and be creative, almost like an artist.
Coffee-based drinks and other speciality beverages are usually treats for people. Baristas are an essential part of providing a positive experience. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made customers happy with their exquisitely made beverages, which can be rewarding.
There is no shortage of barista roles, jobs are available nationally, and there are many different drinks in which to specialise. There are opportunities to learn new techniques and work in various establishments. There are many avenues for career progression. As some barista roles do not require formal qualifications, it can be a great career choice for less academic individuals.
Being self-employed with your own business and having an opportunity to be your own boss can also be attractive. It can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression.
Boredom will never be a problem for baristas, as they will interact with people from all backgrounds who order various beverages and food. They can also develop bonds with regulars and may need to solve problems when things do not go as planned.
Even though there are positives to being a barista, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Physical demands – being a barista is physically demanding. Individuals can spend all day on their feet and may have to handle heavy deliveries.
- Mental demands – being a barista can also be mentally demanding. Customers are not always pleasant to deal with; some can be rude and even verbally and physically abusive. It can be stressful and upsetting to deal with challenging customers.
- Fast-paced – the role can be fast-paced and stressful at times. Baristas will need to make beverages while customers are waiting, and there will be queues at busy times. They will still need to maintain a high standard, in terms of quality, presentation and consistency. Being able to cope with pressure is essential.
- Difficult working conditions – baristas need to cope with working in uncomfortable temperatures. With ovens and grills, and steam from machines, it can get hot and humid. Baristas may also need to wear a uniform, which can increase discomfort.
- Low salaries – unfortunately, many baristas tend to be on minimum wage. Therefore, some individuals only do the role for a short period. However, there are opportunities to earn more in high-end establishments and if individuals move up to a head barista or management role.
- Food safety risks – unsafe food and drink, e.g. contaminated with microorganisms, foreign objects, chemicals and allergens, can harm customers. Baristas must strictly comply with HACCP systems and complete associated paperwork properly for due diligence. If customers are made ill, e.g. allergic reactions, it can damage the reputation of businesses and individuals.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Being a barista can be physically and mentally demanding and fast-paced. Working conditions can also be difficult, salaries tend to be low, and food safety risks exist. However, there are many positives too, and those who become baristas enjoy working with people and using their technical skills to create delicious well-presented beverages.
When considering whether to be a barista and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a barista
Some of the personal qualities a barista requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for coffee and other beverages.
- Knowledge of coffee types, blends, beans and roasts, and other beverages.
- Knowledge of food hygiene and health and safety.
- A good memory.
- A good level of physical fitness.
- Confident and assertive.
- Honest and with integrity.
- Cheerful, approachable and helpful.
- Excellent customer service skills.
- Excellent communication skills, especially verbal.
- Basic maths skills.
- Leadership skills.
- Listening skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Negotiation skills.
- Organisational skills.
- Technical skills.
- Creative skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to work well with their hands.
- The ability to recognise customers’ needs.
- The ability to sell products and services.
- The ability to use various equipment and machinery to make beverages.
- The ability to work quickly while adhering to high standards.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. tills and hand-held devices, and relevant software packages.
Qualifications and training
There are many routes to becoming a barista. Individuals could go to college, enrol on a private training course, do an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
It is not essential, but undertaking a college course can help individuals gain the skills to become baristas.
Some example courses that may be useful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Award in Introduction to Employment in the Hospitality Industry.
- Level 2/3 Award in Barista Skills.
- Level 2 Diploma in Food and Beverage Service.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
Private training companies may also offer courses. There are also coffee schools specialising in all aspects of coffee, such as roasting, brewing, latte art and barista schools. Some offer training on how to start your own coffee shop.
It may also be worth enrolling on low-cost online short barista courses to see if a career as a barista would be of interest. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble. Even college and community customer service and hospitality courses can count.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a barista. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that an individual is keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Individuals could do an apprenticeship to help them get into the role, e.g. a hospitality team member intermediate apprenticeship, which takes around 12 months to complete. Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Most barista roles do not require qualifications or experience, as employers will train them on the job if they have the necessary personal qualities, personality and enthusiasm. However, it would be beneficial for individuals to have some experience in catering and customer service.
Individuals can apply for barista vacancies on various job websites.
Relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills. To gain experience, they could work in catering or customer service.
Individuals may be able to work with recruitment agencies on temporary contracts in catering or customer service roles. They may also be able to apply for a job in a coffee shop in another role, e.g. pot washer, and learn on the job.
Individuals could also volunteer with charities in customer service, catering or sales. Some have cafes and restaurants on-site, e.g. heritage, hospices and conservation. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career as a barista include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Food hygiene level 1 (if not directly preparing food).
- Food hygiene level 2 (if directly preparing food).
- Allergen awareness.
- Workplace first aid.
- Health and safety for employees.
- Customer service skills.
- Complaints handling.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Equality and diversity.
- Disability awareness.
- Time management skills.
- Resilience training.
As mentioned, there are also courses specific to the barista role and coffee, for example:
- Latte art.
- Barista basic skills.
- Barista intermediate skills.
- Basic roasting skills.
- Espresso machine and grinder maintenance.
- Starting a coffee shop.
Professional bodies and associations, such as the British Coffee Association, the Specialty Coffee Association, the Institute of Hospitality, the Barista Guild, and other organisations, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become baristas and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Caterer, United Baristas Jobs, Caffè Nero UK Jobs, Costa Careers, Starbucks Careers, pretjobs.co.uk, Coffee #1 Careers, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for customer service, catering and barista roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
If an individual decides they want to be self-employed and have their own coffee shop, they will have additional responsibilities.
- Have suitable premises.
- Register as a food business with their local authority.
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability and business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Premises and utilities.
- Food hygiene rating inspections.
- Certifications and licences.
- Good-quality equipment.
- Marketing and advertising.
Further information on opening your own coffee shop can be found here.
Where do baristas work?
Baristas can work for private companies, public entities, not-for-profit organisations and charities.
Some examples of where they work include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Large multinational chain coffee shops/houses, e.g. Costa, Starbucks, Caffè Nero, Cafe 2U, Coffee #1, etc.
- Sandwich shop chains, e.g. Greggs and Pret A Manger.
- Garden centres and farm shops with restaurants and cafes.
- Supermarkets and other large retailers with restaurants and cafes, e.g. Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and department stores.
- Independent and speciality coffee shops, cafes, bakeries, juice bars and restaurants.
- Service stations, e.g. on motorways.
- Hotels, resorts, country clubs, golf courses, theme parks, holiday parks and other visitor attractions.
- Bars and pubs.
- Military bases and university campuses with pubs, restaurants and cafes.
- Catering and hospitality companies.
- Hospices and hospitals.
- Cruise ships and airports.
- Film and TV sets.
Individuals can also be self-employed with their own businesses or work on temporary contracts with recruitment agencies.
There are barista roles across the UK, and there may be opportunities to work overseas for some individuals, especially on gap years and working holidays.
How much do baristas earn?
A barista’s salary will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employment status, working hours and specialist area.
According to Check-a-Salary (these figures are a guide only):
- Baristas, on average, earn a minimum of £19,094.00.
- The average barista salary in the UK is £20,859.41.
- Baristas, on average, earn a maximum of £22,391.00.
Most baristas receive hourly pay. According to Indeed UK, the average salary for a barista is £10.05 per hour in the UK.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of barista roles to specialise in
There aren’t specific barista roles, as most baristas will need to make various hot and cold drinks on menus.
However, baristas may be able to specialise in various areas, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Brewing – using different methods and equipment to brew coffee.
- Roasting – using various equipment and methods to roast coffee.
- Grinding – using different equipment and methods to grind coffee.
- Latte art – using various milk pouring techniques to create designs and patterns in the foam.
- Bubble tea – making cold tea-based drinks containing tapioca balls.
- Speciality coffee – working with unusual coffees, e.g. single origin, artisan, green coffee, Turkish coffee, etc.
Some may specialise in making specific drinks, such as espresso, black, cappuccino, mochaccino, Americano, latte, macchiato, flat white, cortado, frappuccino, frappe, iced coffee, hot tea, iced tea, hot chocolate, mocha, cold brew, milkshakes, seasonal drinks, etc. They can also combine their barista role with front of house, cooking, waiting on or serving.
All specialist barista roles require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All baristas must have excellent technical and customer service skills and a passion for coffee. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and a barista’s intended specialist areas. Further training may be necessary for specialised roles.
If baristas do not do their roles correctly, it can mean poor quality beverages, unhappy customers and complaints. In worse cases, incompetence can make customers ill or injure them, i.e. poor food hygiene and health and safety practices. Therefore, whatever the type of role, baristas must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Standards, laws, products, beverages, menus, trends and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, baristas must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives baristas the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body or association can help prospective and current baristas enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for baristas. With more training and experience, they could become a head barista, a barista maestro (supervisor/team leader), a manager or a regional manager. They could also decide to become self-employed and start their own coffee shop business.
Knowledge, skills and experience gained from being a barista can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into a technical barista role, sales or other catering and hospitality areas. They could also move into training and train others to become baristas or become a coffee expert.