Where did all the baristas go?

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#1: Post by iploya »

One frustration during Covid was local coffee shops shifting to paper cups and to-go business models. Most (here in Texas) have fortunately returned to in-person dining at some level, but most of the faces are unfamiliar and the coffee for the most part is not the same as it once was. Just curious if there was a large shift to other career fields in the last few years, or did people move to different parts of the country, or what?

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#2: Post by SteveRhinehart »

A few options:

1. They lost their job. The early days of the pandemic, stretching from 2020 through much of 2021 were very bad for the food service industry and its suppliers. You probably heard many stories about these businesses closing, because they couldn't retain the revenues to survive. Those that did stay afloat largely did so by cutting staff and switching to a model where they could serve a more limited menu to-go. It's impossible to ask a barista to wait two years for the winds to shift and come back to work for you, so those old faces are long gone.

2. They quit. They realized they could make more with less stress elsewhere. This is nothing new but it was exacerbated in some ways by the pandemic, and definitely tracks as part of the so-called Great Resignation. The service industry is well known for its churn due to low wages, poor benefits, toxic work environments, and if you even have access to affordable health coverage you are often discouraged from taking sick time because it leaves a shift uncovered on short notice (nevermind that it's unethical and unlawful to work sick in food prep). Who would want to stick around for that when there's an open warehouse position at a grocery store that pays almost double and has consistent hours week by week? Passion for coffee doesn't pay the bills. See also: the growing wave of unionization in coffee and food service, in hopes of collectivizing worker power and addressing those issues.

3. They relocated. Again, the service industry was hit *hard* by the early pandemic when there were no known solutions for keeping businesses afloat amid rapidly changing restrictions and uncertain timelines for recovery. Many workers in many industries saw that their financial situations would get quite dire if they stayed put, and many took the opportunity to move somewhere less expensive if is was available to them - perhaps moving back with family, perhaps just to a smaller and more affordable city.

4. They got sick. No real explanation needed. Service workers are often customer facing, so add up a few dozen to a few hundred customer interactions throughout a day and you have a rather high chance of getting sick when there's a highly contagious airborne pathogen going around. This, again, is something you'd see reported constantly; a business tries opening up and allowing more foot traffic indoors, but then they get a worker or two with covid exposure and have to go back to more restricted operations. CDC reckons almost a third of covid infections lead to longer term symptoms, and if you have persistent issues with your heart or lungs it can be quite difficult to work 6-12 hour shifts on your feet.

5. They died. Also no real explanation needed. An awful lot of people have died, and workers in retail and service professions were almost five times as likely to die from covid as office workers.

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#3: Post by iploya (original poster) »

Thanks for the response, I think some of these theories are worth considering.

To the extent we are both speculating, I would rank as lower in probability the idea that they got sick and died off, since statistically at least the ones I am thinking of were mostly younger folks in a low-risk demographic far less likely to have succumbed to covid than to the annual flu virus.

There was a net influx to my state of Texas, so indeed there was a shift in the last few years but it was generally to this state and not away from it. I would expect the prospects to be fewer in certain other states.

The nicer shops I am thinking of, the baristas are likely to have had better comp and working conditions than the average food service worker. But sure, a large percentage of people in this sector are upwardly mobile and eventually move on if they don't desire to remain in the business. Still the really good baristas seem to have a talent and passion for it to a greater degree than, say, those of us who have washed dishes and waited tables at some point in our lives. Those are the ones who I wonder where they went because I miss their coffee.

Rather than speculating, I wonder if others who are in the coffee business with firsthand knowledge have some better insight into what shifts they have seen and why.


#4: Post by MASONMAN »

I don't work in a coffee shop but I do manage a large public fitness center/recreation center. Kind of like the TV show Parks and Recreation and I would be the grumpy Ron Swanson....without the mustache :D About 200 employees at my site with most of them being part time staff with staff ranging from teenagers to senior retirees. There are eight other recreation centers in our agency, plus golf courses, lakefront parks, etc. A few thousand employees all together. Our parks and centers were closed at the beginning of the pandemic from March 2020 and slowly began to reopen a few months later in July 2020. We lost A LOT of staff. Mostly part time staff. Our two main hurdles to getting staff to return was the fear of COVID and being in a public environment AND the fact that many of the part time staff were making more money staying at home collecting unemployment benefits. When those extra benefits ended we started to get more staff returning.

Honestly, the first year I only knew of a small number of staff who tested positive for COVID. Not just at my site but in the entire agency. And of those I don't know anyone who had to be hospitalized due to COVID symptoms and I definitely know that no staff members died from it. In the past 6 months MANY of us have tested positive, including me and my four family members. Thankfully, no serious reactions.

Anyway, from my experience, staff found other opportunities. Many found jobs which allowed them to work from home. Some realized they didn't even need to work and could stay home be supported by others. Some went back to school to get a degree or an advanced degree. Sometimes it's difficult for people to move on and change their current situation, even when they know they should. This pandemic forced many people to evaluate their life and career and they made changes. Some for the worse but many for the better.

Just my $.02


#5: Post by larscoffee »

You pose an interesting question. I have a few insights /examples that could add some fun to the conversation.

I worked as a specialty barista for a number of years, but as others have stated, many of us are upwardly mobile and have left the profession. I now just brew coffee at home and often enjoy it more than any of my local craft bars. I am now considering returning to and starting a small coffee catering business.

My last gig we went through over 100lbs of coffee a week and I was the primary barista on staff. Making $12 an hour and tips being non-existant, I was worked hard with little reward, downtime, or professional investment from the company. What is up for a barista? I was a cog in the machine and although we made craft coffee, the business was fast.

The gig I had before shuttered its door because of a poor location. It was difficult for people to get to. I bet you little research was done before selecting that location. We had fantastic coffee but poor management was our inevitable downfall. The owners were many states away, our overhead was enormous, and we were over staffed.

Since then two other major things have happened in my area. A multi-location craft coffee bar has closed while another has formed a coffee conglomerate with a few other businesses.

Each of these scenarios are different, but perhaps they allude to larger shifting dynamics in coffee and the restaurant industry (At least in my area.) These I deduce are: businesses are looking more closely at their finances which are perhaps spread too thin, businesses are looking to sell out and shift their money into other industries, and moreover, people who were dedicated to the restaurant industry are getting out.


#6: Post by cmin »

I've never really understood how or why someone would even want to be a barista, I mean I get they pry think oh cool job and coffee! But pry why so many leave and burn out. Even pre pandemic I have no idea how a barista could survive on income here in FL. I remember two I spoke with one had 3 roommates and other had 4. Who wants to live like that in their mid to late 20s? And your worked hard for long hours. The one finally gave up after 7 years and worked at a high end restaurant for awhile and especially with tips made like 3-4x the $.

And even then she luckily bought as the place she was renting by herself went from 3k a month to now 9k. Pry why service industry is getting destroyed in South FL as workers have nowhere to live or stay due to everyone in the USA deciding they want to live here. What are they doing to do when there's no restaurants or anything? Heck house in my neighborhood the last fam was renting it for 4500, ok maybe 3 service workers could split. Now, lol, that place has been rented twice for 12k and now new fam is paying 17k month, for a 2800sqft house good lord, and I'm waterfront off intracoastal that house is a dry lot. But even the areas that were affordable from Boca to Laudy etc that many service industry peeps would rent like typical rental complex/building, they can't afford now.

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#7: Post by iploya (original poster) »

That's interesting, I don't necessarily expect most of these are high-paying jobs, but we have a few well-placed shops around town that were just killing it (still are, really) in terms of high-volume, out-the-door business. And I'm guessing every customer through that line almost is leaving some sort of tip. Some of the shops also seem like a nice environment to work, especially for younger folks or people who just don't want a desk job -- artsy, nice music and ambiance, always some fresh faces coming through, etc. I had quite a few jobs in high school through college working restaurant and fast food gigs and in hindsight I would have *much* preferred it if specialty coffee shops had been a thing back then.

Edit - holy cow, just saw the last half of the last post. 17k a month for a mortgage would be unfathomable to me, much less for RENT? Not to get too off topic but wow. TX is experiencing similar demand and housing costs are definitely going up, but nothing I have seen has been quite like that.


#8: Post by cmin » replying to iploya »

FL has lost its mind, or moreso the people moving here. Buddy bought a 7k sqft house on water, 2m but needed some updating and work, 5 lots off intracoastal in Jan 2021 (right before market went full potatoe here). The house next door is like 1600sqft and they want 3.8m. Lmao. And rent is just ridiculous. Our friends kid had to move back in with parents as her and 2 roommates were splitting a townhouse, and landlord jacked rent to $7500k from $2700 or 2800. Been a mass migration of students moving back with parents, can't afford rent even with multiple roommates.

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#9: Post by mkane »

It's called greed and good for the folks who don't know anyone who's died of Covid.


#10: Post by SandraF »

Who would choose to work in the service industry right now? More folks feeling emboldened to take their frustrations out on "front line" workers....

As an aside I have 2 relatives working as bar tenders - big tips, especially now that places are opening up with fewer Covid restrictions. So maybe "Baristas" have morphed into "Bartenders"?