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Barista Job Skills: What Do I Actually Need?

The guys over at Starbucks and Costa make it look easy, don't they? They might look like they're making a simple cup of coffee, but then they turn around and hand over the most glorious Grande, sugar-free, extra shot vanilla latte with soya milk you've ever seen. Even if you're not familiar with all the variations the old cup of coffee can be turned into, there are a particular set of skills you're going to need to keep your customers well caffeinated at all times. Here are the most important barista job skills you need.



Obviously, you know that it isn't just a case of pressing a button on the espresso machine. Creating a delicious cup of coffee isn't the easiest of tasks if you're planning on becoming the finest barista in the land. You need to have a personality, you need to have confidence and you need to have the skills that will allow you to work well under the steaming pressures. The barista job skills you need are:



You're not expected to thrive in every aspect of working in a coffee shop from the moment you walk in, but working on these skills over time will help you develop as a barista and progress up the ladder.


1. Handling Cash

Handling cash is important in any retail role, especially in a fast-paced environment like a coffee shop. While you have those customers that come in and spend the morning reading a newspaper with a cup of piping hot coffee, there are those that are in a quick rush. They want to be in and out in a matter of minutes so they can get to work, so it's down to you to handle cash efficiently but correctly.


There's nothing worse than handing over the wrong amount, whether it's too much or not enough and that's a mistake that can be easily avoided if you understand and have the skills of handling money. That includes placing the correct notes and coins in the correct slots in the till, being able to operate cash registers, being skilled enough to accept cash and other forms of payment from customers as well being able to count the cash at the start and at the end of your shift. This is something you might be taught in training, so be sure to take it all on board and be able to deal with cash confidently.


Your employer needs to be able to trust you to handle money. This means not getting change amounts wrong and handing over a cash till at the end of each shift that the manager can see balances. Making sure that the till is tidy and correct, where the coins and notes are in the right spot, will make their job a whole lot easier too.


After a while, your manager will know that they can depend on you and might even train you to balance the till after closing time. But, for now, concentrate on getting each transaction right and handing over the correct change. For that, you need good mental arithmetic...


2. Mental Arithmetic

Cash tills that work out change amounts are there for a reason, but that doesn't mean they're always going to work and make life as a barista easy for you. You can't just rely on these machines to do all of the work either, as there's no guessing when one might stop working. That's why having basic maths skills is vital, as you can add and subtract in your head if the worst does happen when customers are placing their orders.


Also, even when the till is working and telling you to give £7.06 change, there will be a customer who says, "Oh, can I give you a £20 note and 6p instead, actually?" and you'll have to recalculate the change yourself.


It improves your calculating skills, so you'll be understanding the calculations in your head during transactions as it encourages actual understanding of sums - even if the till does end up working. Again, with customers in a rush at times, you might be put on the spot and need to do calculations very quickly. As the wise Big Shaq once said...



3. Building Customer Relations

One of the key skills you need to be a successful barista is being able to build customer relations. Don't just treat each customer exactly the same. The fact that the same faces are coming back over and over again means they're loyal to you and the coffee shop where you're working. So, leave an impression by going out of your way to show your appreciation that they're regulars.


Building simple relations can go a long way. Walk around and offer a top-up if their cups are empty, chat to the regulars and refer to them by their name so you're building a rapport. That's something management will be happy with too. As building these relations can result in customer retention, the customers are more willing to refer and recommend you to their friends and family and all of that means increased profits. Increased profits for the business means you're a barista the management will remember.


4. Fancy Coffee Designs

Don't get too overwhelmed. Unless you already have experience being a barista, nobody is going to expect you to create incredible coffee designs in the cream. However, this is a skill you can practice over time and by learning new techniques, you'll achieve your goal of impressing the customers and continuing to develop.


Have a keen eye for detail and build on your level of accuracy. Maybe start with something simpler as opposed to elaborate, such as the heart below, and continue practising until you're confident that it's a design your customers will love.


Image Credit: USA Today

As impressive as the heart looks, nobody is going to expect you to go all-out while you're still learning this skill. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to design something as crazy as this in your coffee one day?




Having this skill in your arsenal is a very useful tool, as it allows you to show off your artistic side and leave others impressed. However, it's not the most important so don't get too caught up on chasing this skill and focusing on fancy pouring techniques rather than the other skills. You don't want to become one of the 'hipster' coffee shops that McDonald's recently spoofed. If the company prefers the over-complicated process, then do it. If not, then don't force it.


Remember, how it tastes is always more important.



5. Teamwork

Teamwork is important in any setting, and it's no different when you're a barista and you're working alongside your colleagues. It's important to have this skill because you need to show that you can be relied on by the rest of the team and that you can count on them too. By communicating regularly with them, you're all able to work out each other's strengths and weaknesses, so you can help each other where necessary. This might include educating a customer on a certain type of coffee that you're not familiar with, or you might need extra help operating certain equipment.


It helps build unity. You want to feel like you're part of something bigger and that you're one of the many cogs in the machine that keeps the wheels turning. The benefits of being a good team player are endless. Your productivity is increased, you become more motivated, you feel a greater sense of accomplishment and even help solve bigger problems. 


6. Good Memory & Product Knowledge

  • Order 1: Tall, half-caff, soy latte at 120 degrees
  • Order 2: Quad, nonfat, one-pump, no-whip mocha
  • Order 3: Iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip



You won't be blamed for having the exact same reaction if those types of orders are read out to you. Coffee shops don't want to be the same anymore, there's a desire to be different and that includes the interior, the cups coffee is served in and the strange, borderline obnoxious names that are given to them. However, being a barista, you're going to be fully expected to know exactly what to create when a long coffee order is read out, and all of the ingredients that go into it.


That's why having a good memory is an impressive skill to have. It allows you to quickly process the orders in your head, so that you're not having to go back to the customer to ask what they ordered, or even ask a colleague what that coffee even is.


So, use the memory skills to learn what each coffee is and brush up on your product knowledge. At first, you might be forgiven for not knowing the ins and outs of every type of coffee. Over time, though, you'd be expected to know what each coffee is and how to make them. For reference, check out the image below highlighting 38 different variations of coffee.


Image Credit: Pinterest


7. Cleanliness & Hygiene

This is a big one. Knowing how to clean the workstations and machines is a skill every barista must have. The job goes beyond just making and serving coffee. You also need to make sure that the equipment and cups are clean before serving to customers, as you don't want to give a negative impression because of poor hygiene.


Have the necessary skills to wipe the tables and mop the floors, making sure you don't leave any dirt waiting around. Also, maintain personal hygiene by making sure your uniform looks neat and tidy and that you're well-groomed.


As a barista, you're the face of the coffee shop so having these skills means you're leaving a good impression, as the customers that expect a spotless environment. If you don't have these skills, it might be time to brush up on them before your first shift.


8. Health & Safety In The Workplace

Finally, having health and safety skills that you can apply in your workplace will go a long way to ensuring you, the customers and your colleagues are never in any danger. A skill might include you having taken a first-aid course, which means you'd have the responsibility of being on the scene if there's ever an accident and requires immediate attention.


Our blog on 6 health and safety tips for baristas explains the skills you need.


However, one of the biggest dangers of being a barista is that you're prone to slips, trips and falls as they are the most common workplace accident. In this type of environment, it's often difficult to avoid spillage as you're constantly making coffee and liquids are bound to spill on to the floor. Although it's important to maintain cleanliness and clean up the spills as soon as possible, it's avoidable if you're wearing the correct slip-resistant footwear that can help avoid these hazards, or even suggest to management to invest in slip-resistant mats.


Having these health and safety skills means that you're a barista that can be relied on for more than just making coffee - something that employers will love.


Keep Yourself Safe At Work With Safe, Comfortable Footwear

As you're on your feet all day, it's important that you avoid any injuries by wearing appropriate, comfortable slip-resistant shoes. You need to have shoes that will protect your feet and your posture, and since you're on your feet all day, you need shoes that will last and will get you home safely.



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