Higher pay for baristas is always a hot topic…
among, you guessed it; baristas. The conversation can get heated, and the overwhelming consensus among baristas is the pay should be higher (obviously). After all, being a good barista is a position that requires a lot of patience, skill, and time to master. Plus, beyond that you need to memorize a menu, recipes, and have your customer service on lock. Along with the higher pay conversation is whether you can actually be a lifelong career barista.
Yet, when you actually sit down and think about it from the café owner perspective things aren’t quite as clear. Most positions, regardless of the business, have a pay scale that will eventually top out. The length of time at a job can’t just equal a constant stream of pay raises. Even though someone is a skilled barista, there is a point in their work where they reach their full money making potential. Without taking on new roles or new responsibilities that earn the business more money the boss can’t just pay a barista more.
I’ve heard a lot of ideas on how to increase barista wages. From having solely full-time employees to minimize staffing, slightly increasing the prices of all menu items, and even bringing on products that are quite a bit more expensive than your average coffee beverage. In the end these all sound possible in theory, but in practice they could be trickier than they seem.
For example having only full-time employees could the most likely way to develop as a career barista. But it could lead to issues with getting shifts covered and vacation time. At some point you will need to also provide things like healthcare, which are expensive for small businesses.
Increasing menu prices could work, but only from the cafes opening day. You run the risk of upsetting your customer base if you all of sudden increase prices. Lastly, adding needlessly expensive items to try to increase profits to then increase pay is a very short sighted and risky. These will raise your costs as well, so it may have exact opposite effect than what is desired.
Having now spent some time in a cafe and getting more of a behind the scenes look at the costs of operating, outside of payroll, its clear that paying barista's more is quite an ask. In the end my thoughts are if you want to continue to progress in the specialty coffee industry you will slowly need to let go of time behind the bar. Of course you don't have to let go completely. If keeping a shift or two on the bar is important to you your employer will likely understand that.