October 8, 2020

Supporting Baristas Through Covid-19: Cafés, Customers & Companies


Covid-19 has affected everyone across the coffee supply chain, from producers through to baristas. More than 90% of cafés around the world have had to close their doors at some point. And while the impact for some coffee shops has been manageable, for many, the sudden loss of business has been devastating. 

Unfortunately, as much as this affects coffee shops, it also affects the people who work in them, too. Thousands of baristas around the world have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut. 

However, although times are tough, customers and coffee businesses are doing what they can to support local cafés and baristas around the world. To learn more about these initiatives, I spoke to a few experienced coffee professionals. Read on to find out what they said.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Apoyar a Los Baristas Durante la Covid-19

How Has Covid-19 Affected Coffee Shops & Baristas?

Covid-19 has meant that global coffee consumption habits have changed. As a result of stay-at-home orders and widespread closures, many cafés have had to change the way they operate, with a huge shift towards takeaway, delivery, and curbside pickup.

As businesses of all kinds have been forced to minimise operations and close their doors, unemployment across the world has increased. In the US alone, the unemployment rate jumped from 3.5% to 14.7% in just two months. This affected people across all sectors of industry, with a noticeable focus on food service and hospitality – including coffee shops.

You might also like How The World’s Leading Coffee Producer Is Dealing With Covid-19

Across the coffee industry, cafés and baristas have felt the impact of these changes in consumption. People no longer just drop in to pick up a cup of coffee before work, or sit down to answer emails or work in a coffee shop.

Even now, as measures ease in many areas across the world, there are widespread limitations on the number of people who can be in a coffee shop at once. Cafés are reopening, but their profitability is still comparatively low.

Yarismeth Barrientos is the co-owner of Avellaneda Café in Mexico City, and the co-founder of Café con Jiribilla, a roastery. She tells me that when the lockdown started in Mexico, things were incredibly uncertain for both businesses.

“We were in shock,” she says. “We felt a big responsibility to make things work at the café, and to make sure we could pay salaries to our baristas and staff, as well as paying the producers we work with.”

T. Ben Grimm is a coffee educator and the founder and director of Glitter Cat Barista, a registered non-profit in New York. “It has been mentally and economically challenging. Many [baristas] are out of jobs and out of tips,” T. Ben says. 

Furthermore, according to T. Ben, the “new normal” comes with new challenges. “We’re hearing stories of customers getting angry because a barista tells them they can’t enter without a mask. Dealing with this kind of thing is now a part of their job, and it shouldn’t be.”

How Have Cafés Supported Their Staff? 

Fortunately, some coffee shops have found ways to support their staff even throughout these difficult times. Some have developed certain initiatives to maintain barista salaries even through low-sales periods, while others have started more widespread initiatives to support the occupation around the world.

After a few weeks in lockdown, Yarismeth says that it was difficult to sustain staff salaries. To support staff and “make sure they had a place and a job to go back to once lockdown was over”, Yarismeth and Carlos temporarily closed their doors.

She tells me that despite being a difficult decision, it gave the two of them the opportunity to change a few things: “We were able to open our eyes on what we could do better for our team and for our customers.”

Now that Avellaneda has reopened, Yarismeth tells me that she has started a campaign where people could donate a few dollars to directly support her staff. In exchange, she offers a bag of coffee or a short barista course with her husband Carlos, who is a former competition winner. “A customer mentioned this idea and we really liked it. It was nice to feel supported by them,” she adds.

Both T. Ben and Yaristmeth note that tips are key for baristas. And at a time when not all coffee shops around the world have re-opened their doors, people can still send tips through platforms like GoFundBean

However, T. Ben adds: “If your favorite café is open, wear a mask, get a cup, and tip well. If you used to tip $1, tip $2 if you can. Many working baristas are still in a difficult financial situation.”

Support Initiatives For Cafés And Baristas

On a wider level, a number of major stakeholders across the coffee industry have developed initiatives to support struggling coffee shops and their staff.

In the UK, Alpro pledged £325,000 to support independent coffee shops across the country. This package came in the form of free stock for cafés, as well as a tie-in social media campaign that commissioned the services of more than 100 baristas who were otherwise out of work. 

David Jiscoot, Alpro’s Marketing Director, said: “Our independent coffee shops are facing unprecedented uncertainty right now as a result of Covid-19, and many are dealing with significant financial challenges.”

David tells me that Alpro has also developed the “In It Together” fund, which offers immediate financial aid to independent coffee shops.

Another example is a collaboration between Fellow Products, Glitter Cat Barista, GoFundBean and Mage, a digital studio in San Francisco, California. Together, the companies created the Come Together initiative, which supports baristas and cafés through a variety of different fundraising efforts.

T. Ben explains that cafés can sign up on their website, and after a careful selection process and some deal of fundraising, Come Together gives money directly to the cafés who need it the most. T-Ben says this is something that will be happening in “cycles”, noting that the initiative seeks to support as many independent coffee shops and roasteries as possible.

“Many baristas are still out of work. They’re either waiting or leaving to find work where they might make more money. Many shops are struggling to maintain staff they desperately want to keep,” T. Ben points out.

“Making coffee for people is the reason most of us fell in love with this sector in the first place. However, baristas need safety and a thriveable wage before we can effectively move forward.”

Other Ways To Raise Money & Support Baristas

From increasing their online coffee and merch options to starting “virtual tip jars” and campaigns to collect money for staff, cafés all across the world have started a whole range of initiatives in different months.

Social media use has had a massive part to play. “It’s been a good way to reach a wider audience,” T. Ben says. “This way, cafés have the ability to extend their wholesale program, and people can try new coffee.” 

Even though in-café sales have taken a hit in recent months, online sales have seen a significant increase across the board. More and more people are ordering online to try coffee they’ve never tasted before. Furthermore, in a number of major consuming countries, coffee subscriptions have become increasingly popular over the course of just a few short months.

Social media – through both advertising and word of mouth – has had a big part to play in these trends. As well as providing companies with the ability to recover income lost from lower sales, online ordering provides customers with more choice than ever. The flexibility to buy from a number of different roasters, for example, means customers can support a wider range of businesses.

Yarismeth says: “Good things have come out of this situation. We learned more about our team, about the people who were completely on board with our business. In the end, our biggest and most valuable resource as a company is our people.” 

She adds that she saw a lot of loyalty in her staff. “This did disrupt things for everyone. However, those who stayed are working harder than ever and showing incredible professionalism.”

She adds that to recognise the loyalty her team showed when the café closed its doors, she has even increased staff salaries. “I know it sounds absurd,” she tells me. “But we’re happy, and we want them to be happy.” 

To cover this increase, Yarismeth and Carlos have decided to expand their menu. They now sell hamburgers and biscuits as well as coffee.

“Everyone is happy,” She tells me. “Our team is more on board than ever, and we can see that not only in words, but in actions, too. They’re more motivated, they work better, and we’re happy to be able to do it.”

For many people, baristas are the face of coffee consumption. They play a significant role in introducing people to new worlds through coffee.

Everyone in the coffee supply chain is struggling in these difficult times. While changes in takeaway and online orders do help, these do not fully cover the significant loss of sales that many cafés have experienced in recent months.

As such, it’s important to make sure we acknowledge these difficulties and do what we can to support actors at every step of the chain – including coffee shops, their owners, and baristas.

Enjoyed this? Then read Will Covid-19 Mobilise Producers To Roast Their Own Coffee?

Photo credits: Daniela Becerril, Henry Wilson, Julio Guevara

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter!