The Barista Experience: Life Behind the Bar
This article belongs to Coffee and Cafe Culture; Political opinions column.
My local café is cozy - there are comfy chairs and friendly people behind the counter. I know this because I work there. Within the bounds of barista-customer and barista-barista confidentiality, I'll describe what it's like to work at a café.
The regular customers know a lot about me and the other baristas at our store. For example, they understand I'm extremely underemployed, thanks to
Like them, I have hope, and we seem to reflect that in each others' brief gaze over a thank you and a latte. I enjoy taking the time to customize a drink for a customer - even if it means re-making the beverage - just to satisfy him or her. My job is rewarding, not just because of tips, sympathy, and thanks, but because I receive a unique glimpse into the lives of my customers.
Cups and beans: frequently seen when working at a cafe.
Without being too specific, I will reveal that customers have discussed various things with me: the stresses of parenthood, career changes, the other café down the street, identity theft, work stress, divorce, and business strategies.
I feel like a cab driver with regulars. I offer up a smile and a decent drink (all part of my job) and in return I get a real response from customers. Technically, I'm a bartender, and the pleasure of caffeine causes folks to chatter at least as much as alcohol in most cases.
When I ask a regular how they're doing, I am usually rewarded with an honest answer. I also offer my regular customers the respect of answering them honestly in return.
There's a great deal of drama behind the counter, too. Just like all people, baristas have stresses, difficulties, and major life events. In the year we've been open, the staff of my store has seen two marriages, an engagement, several transfers to and from the store, the births of two babies, and the purchase of two puppies and a light saber.
Despite the occasional store tension (bound to happen anywhere), we're a close bunch. I'd gladly go to the mats for my manager, supervisors, and fellow baristas.
Working at a café is like a better version of high school. I can be in the midst of gossip, drama, events, and happenings at my leisure. As long as I work there, I am part of the experience - and dare I say reason - that some customers return on a regular basis.
Eventually, I am positive that my pride and experience will pay off. One day, perhaps an executive of a publishing company will become one of my regulars. So far, I have utilized my relationships with coworkers and customers to launch my freelance writing business locally.
The café reinforces that everything is connected in a medium-sized town. I like it that way.