September 5, 2019

How Much Should You Pay Your Baristas?


Baristas are an essential part of the success or failure of your coffee shop, and their wages likely make up a large part of your business costs. But how do you determine what’s a fair rate of pay for a barista?

Whether you’re setting up a new café, thinking of hiring more staff members for an established coffee shop, or simply want to be sure you’re paying the right amount, there are some important factors to consider. Read on for some tips to work out how much to pay a barista.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Cuánto Deberías Pagarles a Tus Baristas?

A barista pours latte art. Credit: Louis Hansel

Know Your Business Costs

Before you decide on how much to pay staff members, it’s important to look at your overall business costs and work out your projected profits. You should then inform yourself on local laws regarding minimum wages, any mandatory number of hours per shift, and your responsibilities in terms of sick pay, holidays, and any other legally required payments. This will help you to make a rough budget for human resources.

A successful business is one that can afford to pay its workers a living wage and still turn a profit. In many places, the minimum wage is below a living income, and baristas are often low paid. If you are only able to make a profit while paying baristas the minimum wage, you should re-evaluate your business plan and consider where you are spending too much or can increase profit margins. 

You may be able to reduce overall costs without cutting hourly rates by making your scheduling more efficient or by adjusting your menu pricing.

Learn more in Specialty Barista Wages Around The World

A barista at work behind the bar.

Consider Local Cost of Living

When determining pay, it’s important to consider where your coffee shop is located and the local cost of living. Employees need to feel that they’re secure in their positions, and some of that security depends on them earning enough to maintain a reasonable standard of living.  

If you run a coffee shop in central London, San Francisco, or another major city with a high cost of living, it’s a given that you should pay more than a café in a less expensive town. Look up the recommended living wage for your area and create a business plan that is based on a fair rate of pay.

If your baristas have to work multiple jobs to sustain a suitable income, their quality of work and morale will suffer. If you pay a living wage, you’re more likely to retain loyal staff members for the long term. Their job satisfaction will likely be higher and they may produce better quality drinks and customer service as a result.

You may also like How to Plan For a Financially Successful Coffee Shop

Barista holding portafilter filled with coffee. Credit: Noora Alhammadi

Recognise Skills & Experience

A barista’s job includes a lot of technical skills, and their pay should reflect their abilities and experience. 

Matthew Evilsizor is the founder of Los Angeles coffee roaster Conscious Bean. He tells me that “the role of barista should be seen as skilled labor if they work on a classic espresso machine. The skilled barista needs to assess and adjust the minutiae of the process and put out an exceptional quality product rapidly and consistently.

“[They’re doing this] all the while smiling and communicating with the customer in a breezy manner, like they don’t already have a dozen things working in their mind. This is a combination that can only come from tons and tons of experience.”

A barista brews pour overs. Credit: Emma Waleij

Experienced baristas will be more efficient and are likely to prepare better quality drinks. Paying them a little more may work out to be a better option than hiring cheaper, inexperienced baristas because you will have less waste, smoother daily operations, and perhaps happier customers.

Don’t be tempted to only hire inexperienced baristas to keep costs down. Instead, consider whether you can pay an experienced barista more and have them mentor one or more entry-level employees who are paid less.

This will help you balance your budget and also provides development opportunities for the employees. The experienced barista will gain management and training skills and the new members of staff will develop as baristas.

You may also like How Long Should It Take You to Train Your Baristas?

A barista prepares a pour over using a copper V60.

Training & Development

You might have a tight budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reward your baristas. Even a small amount above minimum wage can make a difference to employees, but you can also consider recognising them through training and development opportunities.

Consider bringing in an expert to train a team of baristas. If a number of people take the course, it may be very affordable per person and is likely to be more meaningful to a barista’s career development than a small pay raise.

Depending on where you’re located, you could also arrange a visit to a roastery or coffee farm to provide valuable insight into the supply chain without incurring too much expense. Letting your employees know that you value them through these opportunities can be motivating and that can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

A barista pours milk into a glass of coffee. Credit: Tyler Nix

Matthew highlights that not investing in your employees can damage your business reputation and that this may work out to be more expensive than comprehensive training or development opportunities.

“If your hire is just working for you for the summer in between school, how can you financially put them through a robust training program and still see a profitable return from that investment?” he asks. “On the other hand, how can you put that person on the line who isn’t a proper representation of your brand? Which costs more?”

You may also like Why Formal Coffee Training & Courses Are an Investment

A barista agitates coffee in a V60. Credit: Ke Vin

Be Mindful of Unconscious Bias

When evaluating rates of pay, be careful of any bias based on gender, race, or class background. You may unconsciously be inclined to pay a male member of staff more than an equally qualified female staff member. Similarly, you may perceive an employee from a middle class background as more deserving of a higher salary without realising.

Women and people of colour remain underpaid, and as an employer, you have a responsibility to evaluate your baristas’ pay without considering their gender, race, or other personal factors.

To reduce these biases, consider using set pay grades based on a points system. This could include factors such as the level of formal training a barista has, their number of years of experience, how well they interact with customers, or performance in a skills evaluation. However you design it, try to reduce how much you base pay on subjective factors, which are more likely to be skewed by unconscious biases.

Learn more in Being Black in Specialty Coffee

A barista brews coffee using a V60. Credit: Adi Nugroho

As a café owner, you have a responsibility to pay your employees a wage that allows them to live a good quality of life and perform their job without resentment or tension. By factoring a living wage into your business plan from the outset, you can reduce the likelihood of losing staff members over pay disputes.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can recognise your employees through low-cost, high-value opportunities such as training and development or pairing up experienced baristas with new members of staff for mentorship.

So, take a look at your local living income, try to consider your baristas’ assets without bias, and see where you can adjust your pay rates to keep your employees happy, your customers satisfied, and your bottom line healthy.

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Interview with Matthew Evilsizor conducted by Greg Heap.

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