Baristas, Perking Us Up One Cup at a Time

by Shawna Sykes

May 19, 2017

Baristas are not just makers of coffee, they are everyday superheroes, changing lives one cup at a time. Whether your favorite drink is dark roast coffee, a chai latte, strawberry smoothie, or a nitro cold-brewed coffee, baristas know just how to get your day off to a good start.

Baristas are included in the broader "counter attendant" occupation. In addition to coffee shops, counter attendants also work in cafeterias and food concessions. Statewide, there were about 8,100 counter attendants employed in Oregon in 2014, with the highest concentrations in the metropolitan areas of Portland (31%), Salem (18%), Central Oregon (17%), Linn-Benton (11%) and Eugene (10%).

Barista or Bro-ista?

According to the 2016 Current Population Survey, 67 percent of baristas/counter attendants in the U.S. are female and 33 percent male. Although the term barista can be used for male or female workers, male baristas are also fondly called “bro”istas, at some coffee shops.

Be Perky

Which skills are important for a good barista? Well, making good coffee, of course. Most baristas learn how to measure out and grind coffee, use commercial espresso machines and make specialty drinks on the job. Having a positive attitude and good customer service skills is also essential. Isabella Sykes, a barista at Starbucks in St. Helens says, “Listening and connecting with your customers is really important. You need to learn to make the most of your time, be efficient, and take advantage of slower times to restock and prepare for the next rush.” Other skills that are important, according to Sykes, are staying calm under pressure and being a team player.

There are typically no educational requirements for baristas/counter attendants, but those with a high school diploma or equivalent have a competitive advantage in the labor market. As with most food service jobs, workers need to use safe food handling techniques and health and sanitation standards in the workplace. Basic math is important for calculating orders, receiving payments and making change. Workers also restock supplies, empty trash, and perform janitorial duties.

Bella started working at Starbucks about three months ago. Starbucks employs a combination of computer-based lessons and hands-on training for new workers. Bella did taste-testing to learn differences in the types of coffee they serve, the methods of roasting, and how that makes the coffee taste different so she can describe those differences to customers. She learned how to write up orders, the step-by-step process for making each drink they serve, how to use the point-of-sale registers, and methods of ensuring product quality.

High Demand for Coffee

Oregon is projected to have strong growth in the barista/counter attendant occupation, with an increase of more than 1,200 jobs (15%) by 2024. Because of the high turnover rate in this occupation, there are projected to be over 600 openings annually, with about 80 percent of those due to workers leaving the job (replacement), while one-fifth are from new job growth. Most of these openings are in the state’s urban areas.

Not Just Beans

Wages for baristas start at minimum wage and range up to over $15 per hour in some areas of the state. Baristas can also earn tips from customers, increasing their income significantly, depending on the customer volume. Some companies like Starbucks also provide their benefits-eligible partners (employees) with other perks like college tuition reimbursement, a 401(k) retirement plan, stock purchase options, health care insurance, and more. Sykes says, “It’s great to work for a company that values further education, since I am pursuing a Bachelor’s degree.”

When asked what Bella likes most about her job, she says, “Connecting with customers and co-workers. It’s fun to be part of a team, helping each other and our customers.” That attitude must spill over to the customers too because every time I visit my favorite coffee stand to get my java, the baristas are improving my life, one cup at a time.


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