Order Online -OR - Call


Order Online -OR - Call


How To Look and Act Like a Professional Barista

How To Look and Act Like a Professional Barista

If you are going to be working as a professional barista (or as a professional anything), here are some words of advice that you should heed above all else: "What is crucial to your success is your ability to get along with your customers, your co-workers, and your managers. Having outstanding technical skills will not bring outstanding success. Having outstanding interpersonal skills is even more important."

Most interpersonal skills are merely common sense, but many of us haven't spent much time thinking about them at a concious level. You should focus on your interpersonal personal skills and work daily to improve them, just as you focus on your barista techniques and think about how to improve those. And there are a few interpersonal skills that are not automatic, and do not come naturally, but they can be cultivated.

Most interpersonal skills are merely specific cases of "The Golden Rule," which is to treat others the way that you would want to be treated.

First Impressions

You will never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Amazingly, and whether you believe it or not, most of us form fairly firm opinions of other people within the first three seconds of meeting them. And like it or not, a lot of the impression formed is based on visual input. Once those opinions have been formed, it takes a long time for those opinions to be reversed.

Therefore, how you look is very important. By this, we are not talking about whether you are good looking. You were born looking however you look; your good looks (or absence thereof) are not that relevant in professional relationships. Whether you are good looking is not a manifestation of your character, which is what people are primarily looking at in professional situations.

The first manifestations of "who you are," which will be scrutinized the most in the first three seconds (and will therefore be the basis for whatever impression that you make in those first three seconds) are your dress, your grooming, and your personal hygiene. And after that, when you open your mouth to speak, be attentive to how you express yourself. Things like slang, or an accent that you deliberately overemphasize will send a signal to others that you are trying to be identified as a particular stereotype.

There is no reason to "pigeonhole" yourself this way. No matter what the stereotype, there will always be some subset of your customers and co-workers who may take slight offense to it. Save this kind of thing for after work when you are with your friends.

At work, speak in a manner that is natural for you. But try to use basically correct English. It is important to stay as "generic" as possible in your mannerisms and speech. If you do, you are like a blank canvass: people will ascibe positive characteristics to you, and will make you out to be (in their own minds) "a nice person" if you give them no stereotypical evidence to the contrary.

And profanity is never to be used in any professional situation. It doesn't matter if you are a bar-room bouncer, a professional football player, or a combat Marine. Profanity is uncalled for, and using it will bring you down a notch in everyone's eyes. It is just unprofessional. Don't use it.

Personal Dress, Grooming, and Cleanliness

Above all, cleanliness is essential, especially in a food-service business, but also in any business in which you come into close contact with others. Keeping yourself and your clothes clean makes three important statements to your customers and co-workers. First, it shows that you respect yourself. (And if you don't respect yourself, then why should they?)

Second, it shows that you are considerate of them. If you show up dirty and smelly, your grime and "aroma" will intrude on others' general enjoyment of the atmosphere in your shop. This is inconsiderate and discourteous. Take a shower before coming to work, and wear clean clothes and clean footware.

And third, keeping clean makes the statement that you value cleanliness in general, and hence in your work. When you are preparing drinks for other people, they want to be able to assume that everything about the preparation of their drinks is 100% sanitary. You can put out a beautiful latte, but if the customer suspects that it is unsanitary in any way, they will not want to drink it. If it is obvious that you don't take your personal hygiene seriously, then it is not a great leap to assume that you might not be careful about cleanliness when you prepare their drinks either. So cleanliness is mandatory.

Your hair should also look clean, and it should be kept neat, and should stay away from the drinks and/or food. If your hair is greasy, you will look dirty no matter how clean the rest of you happens to be. This will put you in violation of our cleanliness rule. Shampoo daily. This is imperative no matter what your hairstyle.

As to hairstyles, our best advice is the same advice that we gave about your speech. The best hairstyle is a "generic" hairstyle that doesn't call attention to itself. It allows you to remain the "blank canvass" about which people will tend to make good assumptions. If you choose to wear your hair otherwise, that's fine, but what comes with that is that some customers (however few) might decide that they don't like your looks - and hence, your shop. You should understand this, however you ultimately decide to wear your hair.

These days, and in many neighborhoods, many hairstyles (other than the standard, medium "business" haircut) are commonplace, and are of no cause for offense within those neighborhoods. It is important to know what is considered "within the norm" in the neighborhood in which you work. If you wear your hair long, keep it out of your face (and out of the drinks) while you are at work. Pull it back into a neat ponytail, or put on a do-rag if this is normal for the neighborhood. Above all, whatever your hairstyle, make sure that it is kept neat. The same is true of facial hair.

As for your clothing, the same advice holds. Keep it generic. Dress like everyone else dresses. Fit in. You should not be flamboyant in either direction. Keep the "blank sheet of canvass" metaphore in mind. Wear nice slacks and a shirt. Obviously, wearing "gang-colors" would be inappropriate. So might wearing a jacket and tie be, unless you are working in an upscale restaurant or bar where this is the norm. Avoid tee-shits, unless it is your shop's uniform. Don't wear clothing with words on it. The only way that you should stand out is by being neater and cleaner than other people.

As to jewelry and body piercings, again, don't be flamboyant. Leave your most radical jewelry at home. If you are a man who wears earings, choose small decorous ones for work (simple studs or small hoops). Leave tongue studs and eyebrow studs and nose studs at home. These things are fine when you are socializing on your own time off, but they will distract from your professional appearance while at work.

Your Bearing & Demeanor, and Your Barista Knowledge & Skills

How you stand and how you move will make a big difference in how professional you appear to be as a barista. This is just as true for line cooks. To handle peak customer traffic, you will have to move fast, and you will have to sustain this for the entire rush. To be able to do this, you will need to learn to be very efficient in how you move.

When you move, do it deliberately and precisely. Do not take more steps than required. When you are in one position at your station, rapidly do ALL of the things that are appropriate before you turn or step away. Think before you move. In this way, you will avoid unnecesary turns and steps. This will save you time and energy. Being efficient allows you to stay on top of any "rush."

When you are not in a rush, stand easily, but stand up. Don't slouch; it looks sloppy and unprofessional. If you are not in a busy period, don't lean against the counters or equipment. It creates the appearance of laziness. It is best (and much less boring) to keep busy. Staying busy will make the day go faster. There is a saying that goes: "If you have time to lean, then you've got time to clean."

This saying is absolutely true, and you should heed it. A coffee shop needs constant cleaning. If you are not busy making drinks at the moment, go out into the shop where the customers stand. Turn around, and take a 360-degree look around the room. Look for litter that should be picked up, or tables that need to be wiped down. If the back of your espresso machine has spots or stains or spills, wipe it down so that it shines.

Check your supplies and replenish them now. You don't want to make any trips to the store-room when it gets busy. Make a batch of coffee to refrigerate for your iced coffee drinks. Or pour a latte, and practice some barista art. While you won't have time to do anything elaborate during a rush, you might want to cultivate the skills to do something special for particular customers when it is slow.

It goes without saying that you should have the skills needed to make your shop's menu of drinks with competence. You should also be knowledgeable about coffee, and about the differences between your drinks, and what the flavors and processes are. Be prepared to explain these things to your customers.

If your customers ask for your advice and/or recommendations about certain drinks or things to try, be knowledgeable and have definite opinions. Don't just say "Everything is good." This is not helpful. Tell the customer what YOU like and why. Have an opinion, but don't be dogmatic.

Remember that some of your customers will have different likes and dislikes than you. You might love vanilla, and be of the opinion that it enhances a particular drink. Explain this. Your customer may happen to hate vanilla. Don't disagree. Work with him to find out what he does like.

Dealing with Customers and Other People (General)

The most important rule here is to be polite and remain calm in every situation. Most of the time this will be easy. Once in a while, it may prove challenging. Keep in mind that you are a professional, and that you are at work. If someone is rude to you, or starts to become irate and abusive, don't take it personally.

Stay calm, stick to facts, and listen carefully to figure out what the problem really is. Sometimes a customer will not directly tell you why they are uspset. It might not have anything to do with you or your shop. They could just be having a bad day. Don't join them. Don't allow them to make you upset too.

So whatever the situation, stay calm and stay polite. Mind your manners. As we've said, this will be very easy (and enjoyable) to do 99% of the time. When talking to your customers and making idle conversation with others, there are a few pointers that will help you to build rapport. These are tricks that are taught to professional sales people. While they are basic common sense things, and easy to do, many of us never stop to consider them.

First, when customers are within hearing distance (i.e., when they are in your store), do not express any stong opinions (even if you are not talking directly to them) about sports, politics, or religion. While many people could care less about these topics, there are some people who have very strong feelings about (at least) one of these topics.

If you have strong (or even moderate) feelings about your favorite Baseball team or Presidential candidate, keep those opinions to yourself when customers are around. You don't want to drive away business just because you inadvertly made an innapropriate comment about last-night's game.

And second, everyone's favorite topic for discussion is themself. Most of us never stop to think about it, but once you understand this, it is then extraordinarily easy to become a great conversationalist. Some customers will come in not just for the espresso, but also to exchange chit-chat with you.

All that you need to do is to keep asking them questions about themselves. Remember, this is their favorite subject. Use whatever they say in answer to your question to frame your next question. If they mention their kids, ask them something about their kids. If they mention that they were on vacation, ask them about their vacation. This will require very little thought or originality from you, and they will think of you as a wonderful and fascinating conversationalist.

Once you get good at this (and it is very easy to get good at it fairly quickly) customers will come to your shop just so they can fill you in on whatever is new with them. Make it a point to remember a trivial fact or two about them (the name of their dog, where they went on vaction, or that they were having car trouble) so that you can bring it up and ask them about it if they run out of things to say.

The fact that you remembered one or two simple things about them will make them feel very special. If you can strike up a rapport with people in this way, these people will become your most loyal customers.

Getting Along with Your Co-Workers and Your Boss

The penultimate rule, which should go without saying, is to be scrupulously honest. Never steal from the register, pass free drinks to your friends, or help yourself to the supplies. This will get you fired. When it does, the reason that you were fired may follow you around for years. You want your employers to trust you absolutely. Make sure that you are worthy of that trust. Never compromise it. You will only be selling yourself short.

And the final rule, which is important in general, but is especially important in getting along with your co-workers and your boss is to not gossip about them (or anyone else), and to avoid being harshly critical of them to others, even when you would be completely justified in doing so. While everyone loves to hear gossip, no one likes the gossiper.

When you become privy to hearsay about someone else, remember that it is hearsay, and that it might not be true; lots of gossip is not true. If it was told to you in confidence, don't repeat it. Only if what you've heard is not a confidential matter may you tell a co-worker (or your boss), but only if you feel that it is relevant to some aspect of the business, and that it is something that they need to know.

For example, if you are aware of (or suspect) criminal activity going on within the shop, let your boss know what you've heard. Or if you suspect that a co-worker has a substance problem, your goal should be to try to get them some help. But if what you know is hearsay, make it clear when you talk to the boss that it is hearsay, and not necesarily fact. And don't dwell on bad rumors or repeat them more than once. Above all, don't look as if you are enjoying a bad rumor too much; especially if it is a delicious one.

If you gossip, or repeat things that were told to you in confidence, people will not trust you. You will have moved down a few notches on their "respect" scale, even if the people who are in the process of losing respect for you seem to enjoy your gossiping. Gossip is unprofessional. Don't do it.

And if there is someone at work that you really don't like, even if they are well deserving of harsh criticism, don't engage in it. If you see a bad pattern of behavior on someone else's part, everyone else sees it too. You don't need to point it out. Everyone already knows. If there is someone that you can't get along with, keep your relationship business-like and professional. You can be courteous to each other without being friends. Remember: it is a business. You have to work with them, so make it work.

If you criticize a particluar co-worker to other co-workers (behind that person's back), people will not trust you, even if they seem to enjoy hearing it. They will assume that maybe you talk about them behind their backs too. Nobody likes to hear complaining, even if they would tend to sympathize with it. If you say damaging things about any of your co-workers, it will damage the business climate in general. After all, you wouldn't harshly criticize a member of your family to other family members in a mean or vicious way. Don't do it to your co-workers.

And if you happen to stumble into a conversation that is already in progress in which someone else is doing this, neither agree nor disagree, and disengage from the conversation as quickly as possible. If someone asks you directly whether you agree that "that Smitherwitz is a big stupid jerk," and you agree, don't answer the question directly. Instead, try to say something nice. Tell them that you think that "Smitherwitz makes a wonderful cup of cappuccino." Your agreement will have been tacit, but you have not spoken ill of Smitherwitz. Instead, you've said something nice. People will see you as a nice person.

If there is a destructive pattern of behaviors that you think really need to be addressed, talk to the boss, but do it in private. When you talk to the boss, keep your feelings and emotions out of it. Stick to facts. Make the discussion a constructive discussion, and frame in completely in terms of the business. Frankly, the boss will probably not care (too much) about your personal feelings, but they will care a lot if the business is being hurt.

And if the problem IS the boss, then it's time for you to move on. But when you do, keep it positive. Don't make enemies, and don't burn any bridges. Don't tell the boss that you are moving on because of a personality clash with him/her or anyone else. Instead, tell them something that you liked about how they ran the shop, or something that you are grateful to have learned from them. Tell your co-workers that you enjoyed working with them and will miss them (whether or not it is true).

Remember that all of these people will be part of your professional network. Whether or not you stay friends with any of them, you will not be doing yourself any favors by creating ill-will where there was none. Even if you didn't particularly relate to any of these people as "friends," if they think that you are honest and hard working and basically decent, they will be good references and contacts if you change jobs again in the future.

While sometimes you think it would feel great to tell-off the boss (or a co-worker) on your way out the door, in the long run this can't help you, and it might hurt you. We've all been there at least once. Be bigger than this. It is not worth it. Keep it professional, and leave on a positive note.

And wherever you wind up, don't tell the new people that you are going to work with (and your new boss) how rotten your old co-workers were, or how rotten your old boss was. They will think that perhaps you were the one that had had a hard time getting along with those people. Your new boss will not like hearing you "bash" your previous boss; he or she will wonder whether he or she can expect the same. Instead, tell your new co-workers and boss how your old boss, Smitherwitz, could make the most wonderful cappuccino.

...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers