The current federal tipping minimum wage is set at just $2.13 an hour, and despite inflation and (minimal) rises in minimum wage for other workers, the federal government has kept the $2.13 wage unchanged since 1996. That means that tipped workers have to impress you with their charm, wit or awesome skills behind the espresso machine in order to make additional money.
But dollars aside, the service industry can be a tough place for the people in it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 more than 50 percent of the food service was female, specialty coffee, especially at the higher levels, is an exception to that rule. This is despite the fact that specialty coffee as we know it has a lot to thank women for. American non-profit International Women’s Coffee Alliance, is working to support women in the coffee supply chain, considering that the world’s estimated 500 million people are dependent on coffee for a living, women are most represented at the bottom of the pay scales, especially with gender wage gaps and low representations in land ownership.
The lack of women extends to the competitive coffee-making part of the industry. Bitch Magazine tells us that although female baristas who compete in regional competitions on the way to World Baristas Championships do just as well as the male baristas, they are statistically way underrepresented, meaning that only three out of the last six years of the World Barista Championships have included a woman in their list of finalists. And as they point out, “The lack of women in these competitions means not only that it’s mostly male baristas representing the public image of the industry, but it’s mostly men setting the discourse for what’s important in the industry.”
ATTN: reach out to a handful of baristas to tell their most grueling experiences in a service industry.
“A man called me a fascist for not allowing him to get an espresso in a paper cup… I was so nice to him and gently explained that it was my boss who made strict instructions on how the drinks are presented. He called me a fascist, stormed it of the shop, and had a big rant on Facebook afterwards. It really hurts my feelings when I can’t make someone happy, I take it really personally, and it ruins my day. I’m not sure if he came back, but he definitely ridiculed me online – a mutual friend showed me the post.” – Browne
“I had been serving a famous comedian all week, I attended his show at the end of the week and ran into him in the foyer before the show. He apologised and told me that he mocked me during the show. He just did a skit about how baristas are all so snobby, mentioned the woman that had been serving him that week, and then pointed me out in the crowd.” – Talor
Many years ago I worked in a high end coffeebar, not far from Los Angeles International Airport — a pretty common stopover point for travellers originating from Melbourne. Despite numerous assertions that we preferred to serve espresso in a particular way, one visitor from down under insisted that we make his espresso ‘really short… just a smidge, mate’. We assured him, it’ll be sour, unpalatable, acidic… but he wouldn’t listen. He was from Melbourne (world capital of coffee, mate). We made his drink as requested, really short. Mere seconds after a sip hit his lips, he pushed the cup back towards us. ‘Uhh, sour. Geez, you Yanks have no idea how ta make a coffee. You see, I’m from Melbourne… Best coffee in the world.’” – Tim
“I once had a woman place an order for a latte with a mix of milks. When I asked exactly how much of each she wanted she turned into the Exorcist. She screamed at me in a full shop that I should know how to do my job and then said, ‘I demand you serve me with love and kindness!’ I was shaking as I made her drink. I said I would pay for her drink. It was not to her liking so I remade it. I offered to pay for it and call my manager since she was unhappy and she continued to scream and tell me how awful I was. She then got close to my face over the counter and told me that I was trying to bribe her but not to worry because she wasn’t the kind of person to tell my manager how bad I was. At that point I had tears running down my face and I said softly, ‘Ma’am. You told me to serve you with love and kindness. The kindest thing I can do for you is pay for your drink out of my pocket.’ She rolled her eyes at me, took the drink, went directly to my manager and told her that I was crying for no reason and she hadn’t done anything to cause it.” – Shey
“I learned to barista in a bakery that had a small cafe in the 90s. We had a very wealthy clientele. I made a cappuccino for a woman wearing a fur coat on a busy Saturday afternoon. She told me it taste like shit and demanded I taste it. I refused to taste her drink but said I would make her a new one. This didn’t please her. She screamed at me to taste it and threw it across the counter at me. I stared at her, splattered in coffee and then turned around to make her a new one. I told her about herself and that she was the reason I was quitting on a packed Saturday afternoon. Then I threw my apron at her and walked out while she screamed that I should be fired. I could hear my coworker tell her that would be very hard to do since I had just quit.” – Patrick
After interviewing several baristas, this is the overwhelming take away from each person:
“Not everybody can pull a good shot of espresso. It’s a freaking art form. We’re proud of it. You could not actually do better.” – Shey