Coffee, whether bought from an independent shop or competitive chains alike, should never be compromised on taste. With more and more independent coffee shops appearing on the high street competing alongside the likes of Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Café Nero, we spoke to two former baristas to gain insight into what it’s like to work for both sides of the industry.
FRAN’S TEA GARDEN – Miriam Shellabear
Working in Fran’s Tea Garden in Denham, Buckinghamshire was one of the first jobs I had and I really enjoyed working there on Saturdays. I was a barista there for three years! It was great getting to work with people who were passionate about tea and coffee as well as customer service.
Denham is quite a scenic area, so often we had ramblers and people on walks often stopping by for a coffee and a cake before heading back out to finish their journey. I would prepare sandwiches and cakes to serve as well as making endless cups of tea and of course, coffee!
A typical day for me started at 10am when the café opened. Generally, we didn’t get any customers until about 10:30 so during this time I would clean up, prepare stuff to make the hot drinks and make sure that the café looked nice and presentable for when the customers started to come in.
I generally used to work on my own on Saturdays, but Fran’s house was attached to the café so if it got too busy I would just call her and she would come and help me. During the summer months we were a lot busier so there were two people working then at one time. When I was on my own I served each customer, some people wanted just hot drinks so that made the process quicker, but others often ordered food too. We had to prioritise orders to make sure that everyone got their food quickly.
Some customers that were regulars came at the same time each week, so I would try and prepare those orders in advance for them and they often stayed to chat afterwards. When we were waiting for customers I had to wash up and generally just clean around the café. As it was a relatively small business there wasn’t a strict closing time. We just closed when it got dark or there were no more customers.
As an independent shop and local business ourselves, we used to support small businesses and dairy farmers. When we needed more stock the owner Fran used to order Nescafe coffee in from the same supplier each time. There was never a reason to get it from anywhere else.
It was a great local service, cheap for the business to order in bulk and most importantly, was loved by our customers. For milk we also used the same local dairy farmer each time. Something that I feel that independent shops like Fran’s Tea Garden offers that chain stores don’t is the relationship between the workers and the regular customers.
Customer relationships were important at Fran’s Tea Garden. People tended to visit because they were friends with Fran (the owner) or were loyal to the café. We always had to be polite and chat to customers all the time.
Some customers would stay and chat for over an hour! There was a time when I received a birthday present from one of the regular customers who I had got to know by working there. It was lovely, and that’s something what you wouldn’t get that type of thing at the chain stores.
STARBUCKS – Kadeesha Mckenzie
As a former Starbucks Barista of one year, I used to work variable shifts throughout the week. I would often work over time if it was offered and cover shifts for other members of staff. I would typically work weekends from 5pm until close or 10am until 6pm.
It was a really great job because the people I worked with had a passion for making great coffee which is really important to our customers. As we were a chain store our prices were more than what an independent store would have charged, so it was important that we made the perfect cup of coffee each time. There was a certain level of expectation from us as Starbucks baristas and the best way for us to learn was on the job.
There was no time for training outside of shop hours! We did get free tea and coffee on our breaks though and that was one of my favourite things about working there.
My favourite time working there was at Christmas. Although it tended to get really busy during my shifts, I loved how enthusiastic the customers were about our seasonal red cups. The infamous Starbucks red cups only come to stores once a year and it’s usually around November time. We sell limited edition festive drinks including the Eggnog latte, Gingerbread latte, Toffee nut latte, and the Peppermint Mocha. These are always really popular. The staff got to wear red Christmas aprons too, it was great!
I still have all my Starbucks aprons even though I no longer work there.
When I first started working there sometimes I’d serve drinks without any coffee art as I didn’t know how to do it. You would be able to tell how disappointed some customers would be as part of the experience of a chain store is the art we can do with the milk.
One of my fondest memories of working at Starbucks was when I finally learnt how to do coffee art. It’s so much more difficult than it looks and we don’t get trained to do it like so many people think we do. It’s another thing you have to just learn on the job.
Customers expect a perfect drink every time as we pride ourselves on tailoring it just the way you like it. The pressure of creating the perfect drink every time was quite daunting, but after a while I could comfortably make every drink that the customers wanted.
- Preferring Corporate Chains to Independent Shops – The Independent
- Wake up and Smell the Rise of Coffee Shops in Britain – Channel 4