Barista/Coffee Shop Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Baristas prepare coffee for customers in coffee bars, cafés and restaurants, using special espresso machines. They often prepare and serve tea, hot chocolate, iced drinks and juices, too, and may serve meals and snacks, including sandwiches and cakes.

The main job of a barista, though, is to operate the espresso machine. This may be:

Manual - which involves pulling a lever to push the water through the ground coffee.

Semi-automatic - which uses an electric pump to push the water through the coffee grounds, with the barista deciding when to turn off the flow.

Automatic - which turns on and off after a preset amount of water has been pushed through the grounds.

Baristas also prepare frothed milk for cappuccino and flat milk for latte, and decorate the surface of the milk with latte art and etching or a simple design in powdered chocolate or cinnamon.

The barista role usually involves:

  • Grinding coffee or measuring out pre-ground coffee.
  • Filling the machine with the correct amount of coffee.
  • Ensuring the water temperature is correct.
  • Taking coffee orders from the customer or from a colleague.
  • Making up the order with the right coffee, type of milk and any flavourings.
  • Decorating the steamed milk.
  • Checking the coffee machines regularly throughout the day
    keeping the machine and work area clean.
  • Reporting any problems to a manager.

They often have more general duties, too, such as:

  • Setting up the café ready for opening.
  • Refilling salt, pepper and sugar containers and making sure there are sauces, napkins and cutlery available for customers.
  • Arranging and restocking display counters with cold drinks and pre-packed food.
  • Collecting food from the kitchen and returning empty dishes.
  • Preparing hot and cold sandwiches and simple salads.
  • Dealing with customer queries, requests and problems.
  • Taking payments and operating a till.
  • Helping with general cleaning and tidying around the kitchen and counters, tray and waste collection points, tables, floors and toilets.

Baristas in large coffee bars work in teams with food service assistants, back kitchen staff and managers. In smaller coffee shops, they may work alone or with just one or two other service assistants.

Coffee bars, cafés and restaurants are often open long hours and at weekends and bank holidays. Baristas tend to work on a rota and part-time work is very common.

The job involves standing for long periods in what can be a hot, noisy and busy environment.

High standards of hygiene are important when working with food and drink, and baristas need to be especially careful when working with hot liquids.

Some employers provide a uniform.

Starting salaries range from around £9,000 to £11,000. Experienced baristas may earn up to around £13,000.

Baristas with management responsibilities may earn up to around £16,000.

Baristas may even be paid an hourly rate of between around £6 and £8.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Baristas work in specialist coffee bars, including the big chains and smaller independent coffee shops. They also work in cafés, restaurants and hotels.

There are opportunities throughout the country, mainly in towns and cities. Staff turnover is high, so vacancies are frequent.

Jobs are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres, in local newspapers, in the coffee shops themselves and on employers' websites. There are also websites specialising in catering jobs, including www.caterer.com.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications for becoming a barista. Most employers look for people with a friendly personality and flexible approach to work and then provide the training they need. Some may ask for GCSE's in English and maths.

Work experience in a food outlet or a customer service role is an advantage.

Coffee bars that are licensed to sell alcohol usually only employ people over the age of 18.

Some people take a general hospitality or catering qualification at college before starting work or study part-time while working. Entry requirements vary, so applicants need to check with individual colleges.

The City & Guilds (C&G) Level 2 Award in barista skills is a nationally recognised qualification. The Diploma in hospitality may be relevant.

It is also possible to train as a barista with an independent training organisation:

The London School of Coffee offers the C&G qualification, basic, intermediate and advanced barista training and specialised courses in areas such as equipment maintenance and latte art.

Coffee Community offers the C&G qualification, an introductory and progressive skills course, as well as training in coffee knowledge and latte art.

Many coffee importers, roasters and suppliers of coffee and equipment run training courses. Trainees usually have to pay for these courses, though baristas already in a job may get support from their employers.

Apprenticeships in hospitality and catering are also available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is usually on-the-job under the guidance of a more experienced colleague or supervisor. Larger chains have their own training programmes, carried out in-house or through a training organisation.

Baristas may work towards qualifications in food safety, customer service and cleaning and NVQ's in areas such as food and drink service, food processing and cooking and hospitality.

Baristas may take further training to extend their skills and there is a World Barista Championship for those who want to test themselves internationally.

The Specialist Coffee Association of Europe has a three-stage certified barista programme. Baristas can apply to be tested on their skills gained at work or on formal courses and take exams at basic, certified and master level.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A barista needs to be:

  • Friendly, polite and helpful to customers.
  • Focused on customer service.
  • Able to work well in a busy environment and keep calm under pressure.
  • A good communicator.
  • Aware of food safety.
  • Good at working in a team.
  • Able to do basic maths, for taking payments.

Your Long Term Prospects

In chains and larger coffee bars, baristas can go on to become an assistant manager and then manager. The larger chains tend to have career development programmes with in-house training. It is very common for managers to have started out as baristas.

Small coffee bars may not offer any opportunities for promotion, so it may be necessary to move to another employer to progress in the job.

Some experienced baristas go on to open their own coffee bar business or take on a coffee shop franchise.

Get Further Information

Beverage Standards Association, 68, The Balk, Walton Wakefield,
West Yorksire, WF2 6JX
Tel: 01364 645761
Website: www.beveragestandardsassociation.co.uk/

Coffee Community, Midway House,
Huddersfield Road, Meltham, Huddersfield HD9 4AF
Tel: 01484 340033
Website: www.coffeecommunity.co.uk

How to Start a Coffee Shop
Website: www.howtostartacoffeeshop.co.uk

London School of Coffee,
2 Princeton Mews, London KT2 6PT
Tel: 020 8439 7981
Website: www.londonschoolofcoffee.com

People 1st, 2nd Floor, Armstrong House,
38 Market Square, Uxbridge UB8 ELY
Tel: 01895 857000
Website: www.people1st.co.uk

Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (UK Chapter)
Tel: 01258 471843
Website: www.scaeuk.com

Springboard UK,
3 Denmark Street, London WC2 8LP
Tel: 020 7497 8654
Website: www.springboarduk.net

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