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Baristas: Tending a Counter Near You
by Brooke Jackson
Published Nov-22-2013

The other day my husband asked, "Is there a male form of the word barista?" and I promptly replied, "No. It's a unisex occupation title." Such are the conversations in my house.

So that means the jovial young man who passes your morning cup of coffee through the drive-up window is a barista. And you know that happy woman with steam on her glasses from the espresso machine? She's a barista, too. Baristas are included in the broader "counter attendant" occupation. In addition to coffee shops, counter attendants also work in cafeterias and food concessions.

Who, How Many, and Where?
It's understandable why barista is often assumed to mean female counter attendant. Linguistically, the A at the end of the word makes it sound feminine. Also, if you stop by a coffee shop, cafeteria, or food concession stand in the U.S., there's a 71 percent chance the counter attendant will be female. This is consistent with other front-line food-service occupations, such as hosts (81.5% female), food servers (71%), and bartenders (60%).

Of the 9,600 counter attendants in Oregon, about 70 percent work directly in food services and drinking places. Another 10 percent work in grocery stores, movie theaters, hospitals, amusement parks, and on college campuses. The remaining workers are scattered among a variety of other industries.

Geographically, counter attendants are concentrated in urban areas (Figure 1). More than half (54.2%) work in the Portland area (Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties), and more than a third (37%) work in other regions containing metropolitan areas.

Does this mean urbanites have a higher demand for counter attendants? Perhaps they swing by coffee shops more often than people in rural counties? It's certainly possible. In 2010, there was one counter attendant for every 320 people in the Portland metro area. In other urban areas of Oregon, there was one counter attendant for every 440 people. In Oregon's rural counties, the ratio dropped significantly, with just one counter attendant for every 750 people.

Figure 1
Being a Barista (or Counter Attendant)
In Oregon, most counter attendants are required to have a food handler card. The primary source for the certification is the Oregon Health Authority. Although food service workers do not need to have the certification when they begin working, it must be obtained within 30 days of beginning work. Once issued, the food handler card is valid for three years.

There is typically no educational requirement for counter attendants, but individuals with at least a high school diploma or equivalent have a competitive advantage in the labor market. Once hired, counter attendants generally receive short-term on-the-job training.

It takes a variety of specific and general skills to be a successful counter attendant. Based on job listings posted with the Oregon Employment Department, employers most often seek job applicants with customer service skills (Table 1). Counter-attendant employers also desire workers who can follow food safety rules, maintain a clean work environment, and handle monetary transactions. Not listed in Table 1 but still of paramount importance to employers are coffee-specific skills, such as preparing beverages for customers, operating espresso machines, and grinding coffee beans.

Since the requirements to work in the occupation are minimal, the wages are correspondingly low. Statewide, the median wage for counter attendants is about $9.50 an hour, but ranges from $9.12 to $15.14 depending on location and experience. Full-time workers earn an average of $21,600 per year. Three-quarters of counter attendants, however, work only part-time.

Although data is not available on the age breakout of counter attendants, the majority of workers in the food service industry are younger. It's reasonable to assume that many counter attendants are younger workers, a significant portion of whom are likely students.

Table 1
Counter Attendant Skills Most Often Requested
by Oregon Employers
Employment Department Job Listings, 2011-2013
Skill Statement Number of Listings
Provide customer service 297
Apply food handling rules 278
Receive payments and make change 252
Apply health and sanitation standards 246
Ability to work in a fast paced environment 228
Use cash registers 219
Receive customer orders for products or services 217
Serve food and beverages 209
Use basic mathematics 201
Measure or weigh ingredients 170
And Now?The Future
Oregon is projected to see strong growth in the counter attendant occupation, with an increase of more than 1,800 jobs (19%) from 2010 to 2020. Each year there are an estimated 180 brand new counter attendant jobs, and 760 job openings from people leaving the occupation. Most of these opportunities are in the state's urban areas.

The anticipated growth rate for counter attendants is about the same as the average statewide growth rate, but the number of projected job openings is much higher than the statewide average.

If you're interested in becoming a barista, or another type of counter attendant, you can learn more about this occupation through the Occupational Information Center on QualityInfo.org. The OIC displays current job openings, shows how the average pay varies across the state, links to resources for obtaining a food handler card, and much more.

And next time you swing by a coffee stand while you're out and about, just remember: that handsome fella brewing your cup of Joe? He's a barista, just like the lovely lady who took your drink order.