10 Things I Hate About Being a Barista. ~ Jolee McBreen

Via on Apr 25, 2011
Photo: Jake Liefer

My years working in customer service have been good and bad, dreadful and fantastic, completely loathsome and absolutely wonderful. Whether it was blending smoothies, answering phones, swirling fro-yo, or pulling shots, I’ve loved and hated every minute of it. The only thing that has pulled me through is that I’ve worked with and met some of the greatest people… and the tips don’t hurt.

These people became my release from a boring shift alone, my dancing partners, my once upon a time roommates, my friends, and above all, the only people you can bitch and moan to about “Soy Tea Latte Lady,” and all of the other ridiculous, rude, and baffling things customers do and say.

Anyone working in the customer service industry knows you’re bound to encounter some less than desirable patrons. As with everything there’s good and bad. I’m not here to necessarily bash my, or any other costumers. Think of it more as a slap on the wrist. A wag of my finger if you will, I won’t say which.

Photo: Gail P.

1. Get Off Your Cell Phone!

This should be a no brainer but it still seems to be a continuing problem. It takes five seconds for you to order your medium vanilla whatever. It could take me even less than that to ring you up. You wouldn’t hold a conversation with another person while on your phone so I’m not sure why you feel it’s ok to do it to me. Who raised you? Kim Kardashian? We get it, you’re important, now get the f*ck off your cell phone!

2. The Sincere Belief That I am Stupid

I get that this may not be the most challenging of jobs, but it does require some skill. And no, this isn’t my life goal. I do happen to do other things and am working towards achieving such things other than being ‘Master of the Steam Wand.’ So when you order a small latte with an extra shot and ask me if I understand, or, when you raise your voice to my co-worker and tell her you obviously don’t have to be smart to make coffee, you’re overreaching my bounds of customer service and two seconds away from second-degree milk burns.

3. You Want More Products… For Free

In a perfect world I would give you all the shots of espresso, extra steamed milk, and pumps of sweet flavor your heart desires. However, I can’t. Not only could I get fired, I also don’t really want to give you more steamed soy milk when you’re standing in front of me, clearly drinking your latte, then informing me that, “it’s a little light.”

4. This Isn’t Your House

I know you have headphones in that backpack of yours, not everyone wants to watch old episodes of Seinfeld. Yeah that chair is cushy and comfy, but did you really need to take your shoes off? If I know that your socks don’t match, you’re too comfortable.

5. I Smell Like Milk

That’s it.

6. Your Thievin’ Ways

I’m not sure how that medium chai sounded like a large blended mocha with whip, but I don’t appreciate the eye roll from medium chai. We all know that’s not your drink and no one is sure why you’re taking it. Mistakes like these aren’t done on purpose, but are apparently always the baristas fault. I’d be happy to make a new one but with the added scoff and “Oh my God,” I feel like letting you and blended mocha duke it out for the remaining beverage. Just leave me out of it.

7. The Oversharer

You always seem to come in exactly at the moment I’ve run out of productive things to do. I try to act busy after chatting, making your drink, and hopefully sending you on your way. Unfortunately you take this opportunity to hang around at the bar and chat about your day at work, what you’re going to make for dinner, why you can’t have dairy anymore (in excruciating detail) and how your aunt broke her toe yesterday. I’m sympathetic and understanding, but I don’t want to know how many hours you have or have not spent on the toilet because you opted for cheese ravioli for dinner when you knew better. Besides, you’re a bit off your rocker and my face is starting to hurt from smiling.

8. The Pick-Up Artist

I’m sure you’re nice, really, but I can see where this is going and it’s about to get awkward. This question can be asked in a multitude of different ways such as, “When do you usually work?” and “I don’t usually see you at this time…” All fantastic openers and all prying at what my work schedule is. If I lie you’ll find out anyway, and asking my co-workers isn’t any less creepy. You’ve winked, you’ve called me Peaches, and held onto a handshake for way too long that wasn’t appropriate to begin with. I’m partly flattered, but more so hoping you’ll find a new “Peaches” at a different café far, far away.

9. Money Throwers

After you’ve ordered I extend my hand and instead of handing me money or a card of some sort you choose to throw your money on the counter in front of me. This is one I will never understand. It’s the smallest gesture and the number one thing that I’ve heard fellow baristas gripe about. Nothing says you’re unimportant more than this dismissive and completely infuriating move.

10. You’re Late, You’re Late

I get it, I hate being late too, but you standing, staring, and sighing isn’t making time move slower or make my hands move any faster. I can steam milk and pull shots like nobody’s business, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that I have a line of drinks in front of yours. It’s not my fault you only have five minutes and you’ll be late. Maybe you should have just ordered a small coffee or better assess your time management skills.

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I personally don’t care whether or not you call something the right name, tall, small, whatever. What this boils down to is kindness… or lack thereof.

I’ve witnessed and been the brunt of abuse time and time again and you just get used to it. I heard myself saying something similar recently and then paused and thought… why the hell should I be used to this?!

Photo: Jesus Gorritie

My patience has been wearing thin in all aspects of my life when it comes to people’s excuses as to why they feel entitled to treat others like garbage. I don’t care if you’re late, you’re having problems with your wife, your husband, your dog, your mailman… All your problems have absolutely nothing to do with me. Taking three minutes out of your day to treat yourself to some delicious coffee should be a joyous experience. Instead I find customers that come in toting their black rain cloud overhead, point out how incapable I am of doing my job, or are so frantic to get in and out they lack any basic social skills at all.

I understand that everyone is going through something, stress from work, family, friends, money woes, being overworked and overly tired, whatever it may be. Well medium, non-fat, sugar-free mocha, welcome to the real world. From what I’ve heard those things are bound to happen here.

A job is a job, but I genuinely like mine. I adore the people I work with and it’s not a bad gig to have when the rest of your life feels like a swirling tornado six days a week. However, it takes just one ass hole to throw a monkey wrench into the whole day.

Don’t think this is entirely up to the customers, baristas can be known to have diva ‘tudes as well. Some, more than others, have a hard time keeping it in check.

I’m not naïve in asking, can’t we all just get along? We won’t. But it’s important to remember the people behind the counter are actually people too. And until we get machines to replace us I say suck it up and smile. At the very least, take a cue from a very wise bunny and “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

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Jolee McBreen is a student at the Art Institute and whips up delicious coffee concoctions at a coffee shop in Denver. When she’s not avoiding homework or steaming milk she can be caught with her family, friends, snuggling her two adorable dogs, or dancing… pretty much anywhere.

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10 Responses to “10 Things I Hate About Being a Barista. ~ Jolee McBreen”

  1. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Oh, I feel your pain, Jolee! I've never worked in food service, but I worked in retail, and people can indeed be repugnant. The fact that I was in an upscale retail establishment merely meant that there were class overtones to the general rudeness. Not, as you say, from everybody, but enough to be a blot. Good luck with your studies–in school and out!

    • Jolee McBreen says:

      I've worked retail a bit as well and it sadly doesn't seem to change much!
      Thanks so much for the comment!

  2. [...] prove to myself that boundaries could work and I could get back on my feet and be okay. Sitting in coffee shops buried in a book was a pretty damn good antidote to having some drug-selling ex-boyfriend running [...]

  3. rejuvenate38 says:

    I LOVE this post, and as a fellow barista in college, I can relate to every point on your list. But like you, I have found that some of the most amazing people gravitate towards working at coffee houses – the coworkers make everything worth it.

  4. Monique says:

    Awesome article! Just wanted to add that, if you DID want to be a barista for the rest of your life, there would be nothing wrong with that. In my previous career as a floral designer, I used to get infuriated when people would ask me what I was studying in school and then look askance at me when I said "Floral Design at the NY Botanical Garden." Like it wasn't a real career or even a real job. People often use occupation and perceived socio-economic status as a way to belittle others. Jobs that some people may think of as "menial" are weigh-stations for some, but lifelong vocations for others. And those that do them are no less deserving of respect than the doctors and lawyers of the world. Thanks for the piece!

  5. Bronwyn says:

    Hi Jolee,

    I completely empathise. I worked at a pizza shop for a few years and while there were customers who always made me smile, there were also those who made me grit my teeth in rage.

    I find it particularly sad that sometimes when I get a coffee and simply say ‘thank you’ to my server, I get a brilliant smile and a comment along the lines of ‘that’s the first thank you I’ve heard all day!’ Serving someone doesn’t mean you are their slave. Walk a mile in other peoples shoes!

    I would like to say that I admire you for keeping your cheer, even faced with such nuisances. Please don’t ever lose your pep!

  6. Great post, Jolee. After many years working in advertising, I decided to quit my stressful job in order to concentrate on starting a family. But I hated being home along so I took a job at a chain coffee shop imagining time spent sipping coffee and laughing with co-workers and customers between long lines. It was more stressful than my advertising job because of the way many of the customers looked down their nose and/or getting unreasonably irritated when I made an error. I gained such an appreciation for what goes on behind the counter. You really have to be on the ball! Cheers to you :)

    • Jolee McBreen says:

      Ah, thank you for this! A lot of people do think that it's an easy job – whether it's coffee or any type of food/customer service job. Which they can be, but rude customers make it a whole lot harder!

  7. [...] In response to Jolee McBreen’s article: 10 Reasons Why I Hate Being a Barista [...]

  8. Jolee McBreen says:

    Steve, as a barista AND a customer – I totally agree!

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