INDUSTRY: The Value of Barista Training

Friday, 23 April, 2021

Baristas can make or break your coffee business. They are the frontline of a cafe, the ones who spend all day, every day serving the customers with soft skills, big smiles and amazing beverages. 

Recently, a coffee shop in Pretoria, posted an advert on a popular barista group which read “Wanted - Seattle or Woolies trained baristas” in their advert to attract staff to their cafe. This raised the hackles of many of the group members. It was seen as a blatant and lazy move to gain well-trained and experienced baristas without investing any of the time and money to make it possible, and maybe just offering the baristas slightly more per hour, which in today's economy is hard to turn down.

Coffee Magazine investigated this further as it raises a lot of questions, both on the part of the barista, on the part of the Cafe owner and on the part of the coffee community in terms of highlighting the importance of barista Training skills and, once again the importance of the Barista Wage Calculator and making it the best it can be. 

We contacted the person who placed the advert. He does not own the establishment but is one of the Senior staff members there and directed us to the owner. The owner gave us a long story about the background of the businesses, their goals and ambitions and all the wonderful staff who work for them… but she did not answer the questions we had asked of the business. 

When we followed up and thanked her for the reply as we do love to discover cafes, but would she please answer the questions relating to staff, wages and training, she replied with “we have provided you with all the information we can.” Understandably, these are difficult questions and transparency in this sector is hard to come by and has been under a shroud until now.

Why is this so problematic, you may ask?  There are several reasons. 

  1. All Customers and Cafe Owners want the very best baristas in their cafes. Wouldn’t you want an award winning barista making your coffee everyday? Sure you would - but like any profession, this takes initial training, continual upskilling, a great working environment, good remuneration and a career path with defined goals. 
  2. Many Baristas will work for almost nothing just to get a job. This drives down the wage expectation of cafe owners and can lead to a general undervaluing of the skill. 
  3. Many coffee companies - like TriBeCa (responsible for W Cafes) and Seattle in this case -  spend hundreds of thousands of rands a year on training baristas - so understandably there is going to be a backlash when they invest time, money and resources only to have their staff poached and maybe in the long term, this is not in the best interests of the barista either. 
  4. The rider here is, that once these coffee companies have trained people into baristas, are they paying them enough to retain them? And do they offer a future career path? See point 1. 
  5. What should be the appropriate and respectful method of canvassing for new staff members?  The advert has since been removed from social media. The barista has left the group. I truly wonder and hope that he has not been the fall guy for lazy management and been punished because suddenly the cafe is being asked difficult questions by industry stakeholders like ourselves. 

In the words of the Cafe owner in question…”Seems that ‘being controversial’ will get you noticed, although that was not our intention.” What the reaction to this post does show us is that Barista Training while expected is not always valued in terms of the barista being remunerated accordingly (If you are a barista, you can still contribute to the survey so we can get a clearer understanding of whether training is remunerated). And the only way this will ever improve is if we talk more openly about it.

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