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For a year or two I’ve had an idea lingering in the back of my mind, that I had done nothing with. I was in Seoul a week or so ago, and had a chance to chat a little with BK of Fritz Coffee. We’d talked about this particular idea, and he reminded me (rightfully) that I’d done nothing with it. This was the nudge necessary to turn this thought to action.
Last week I posted a few questions: Where in the world do you work? What do you earn per hour? How much is a cappuccino in your cafe?
Sprudge had done some extensive research on barista pay, that I wasn’t looking to replicate. I wanted to look at it in a different way:
How long does a barista have to work in order to earn a drink in their own cafe?
I felt that this question could, potentially, offer up some interesting information. Baristas in Australia earn more per hour than baristas in Lithuania, but to compare wages like for like fails to account for the difference in cost of living.
I decided to use the cappuccino in the cafe as a benchmark for a few different reasons:
– Just about every cafe serves a cappuccino
I didn’t know what I would find, and hoped to keep an open mind. However, what I did find has thrown up a few different interpretations which I’m going to look at as I examine the data.
At the time of writing this I had received over 700 responses from baristas around the world. Inevitably I wished I had had more.
Let’s start with the basic index. How many minutes do I have to work to earn a cappuccino:
So – what does it mean, that a barista in Japan has to work twice as long as a barista in Denmark to buy a cappuccino in their own cafe?
Initially I looked at a cost of living index, to see if this would provide some insight. It did, in as much as it showed there wasn’t really a correlation between cost of living and the cappuccino index. Certainly, countries that had the highest cost of living (Switzerland, Australia) were the lowest on the cappuccino index, but there wasn’t strong correlation throughout. There was a rough trendline but it didn’t explain the data particularly well.
I wonder then, if the cappuccino index could provide some sort of metric of the speciality coffee industry within a particular country. Australia has had a pretty long history of speciality coffee, and so the market is pretty developed. A more developed market might have lower drink prices (due to increased competition) but also higher barista wages (due to increased competition for qualified capable staff).
In Australia this worked well – but the US didn’t reflect this particularly well. The UK has a newer coffee culture than the US (with respect to coffee generally, as well as speciality) but a barista in the UK works 5 minutes less to earn the same drink.
At this point you’d be right to point out a flaw in the data. Countries where tips make up a substantial percentage of earnings may not have disclosed accurate data. I had asked what people earn per hour, and my issue with tips (well, one of my issues…) is that they aren’t guaranteed. They vary, and so it is hard to accurately factor them in to the idea of how long you’d need to work to buy a drink. Many people reported base wages (mentioning + tips) but others reported including tips too. In future I’d probably be more specific around this particular question.
However, the cappuccino index does speak – to some extent – to the “specialness” of specialty coffee. If it is out of the immediate reach of the people who made it then it is positioned in the market more as a luxury product. The countries at the top 10 of the index were Costa Rica, Russia, Poland, Romania, Malaysia, Taiwan,Turkey ,Ukraine, Mexico and Indonesia. I should note, several of these countries lack real data for respondents.
I live in a country that has an extremely uneven distribution of its economy. London is, in many ways, distinct from the rest of the UK. It’s economy didn’t suffer recession the same way as the rest of the country. It is disproportionately wealthy, and also distinctly expensive to live in. I wondered, digging into cities a little more, if this was reflected in the cappuccino index.
According to this survey a London barista earns, on average, 8.2% more money per hour than the average in the UK and 14.9% more than baristas in the rest of the UK. (The UK average excluding London). The average cappuccino in London costs only 7.4% more than the rest of the UK – so there is an argument that it is better to be a barista in London than outside. (The average barista in London earns a cappuccino 1 minute and 20 seconds quicker than someone outside of London). However, the cost of living in London is substantially higher than the rest of the country – so outside of the cafe your money doesn’t go as far.
I did also wonder if, within a market, the price of a drink in a cafe would be any sort of indicator of how they paid their staff. Does a place charging more pass this on, on average, to their staff. I had to look at this within a particular city (rather than internationally or nationally) because this is a very difficult question and the data looks very weak very quickly.
I used London again, because I had more respondents from this city than any other. The answer here: maybe. There’s a vague correlation but I’d say that the price of a drink is a pretty bad indicator. Looking at the chart you can see a wide range of pay for baristas making a drink at the £3.00 price point.
Equally it’s interesting that Perth in Australia has the most expensive drinks in the country, and its baristas earn the most – but Sydney baristas earn more per hour (on average) than Melbourne ones to serve cheaper drinks.
There are so many ways that this data could be picked apart. What if respondents have only just started at a cafe? What if it pays more experienced staff better? What if baristas lied?
Ultimately the sample pool here is very small. Way too small to be truly useful, but I think this is still an interesting little metric for barista culture that I would like to explore more in the future.
I’ve been thinking about collecting a little data for a while. A recent chat with BK, of Fritz Coffee in Seoul, has prompted me to get around to posting the question.
This isn’t really a survey about earnings specifically, as Sprudge has already been pretty thorough here. If you work in a cafe I’d love it if you could answer 4 very quick questions, and perhaps share with other baristas at other shops around the world.
Last year one of my goals was to use the blog as a platform for learning, and this resulted in what I called “The Learning Project“. For a few reasons it never really got past the first subject (Acidity), and has languished, unloved, since then. The principle was simple: I wrote an introduction to a topic, people submitted interesting links relating to the topic and that was turned into a larger resource. In return for submitting a link you got to vote on what the next topic was.
The failure of the project to continue, as was pointed out to me a few times, was sad and something of a wasted opportunity. Now there is a new home for The Learning Project – a home where I think it can be more useful, and reach a wider audience: The Barista Guild of Europe.
Regardless of whether or not you are in Europe, there is going to be an opportunity to learn and contribute to others’ learning. The internet has made the world very small, and we should absolutely take advantage of that.
I’m very happy to see the project live on, and I look forward to participating myself in the near future.
When behind a bar, at a certain time of day, there is a question that I really love to ask. The timing may vary but between 8am and noon I like to ask a simple question:
“Have you had coffee yet today?”
If the answer is “No” then I realise that my priority, above all is, is going to be quickly and efficiently getting this person what they asked for. No unnecessary questions, no additional choices, no upsell. Get to work and get this person coffee right now, and be sympathetic for their need for caffeine. Especially if it a grumpy, uncaffeinated and impatient “No.” from the customer too.
I think we sometimes lie to ourselves about how much we care about coffee when it comes to our first cup of the day. (I must credit Tracy Ging and the SCAA Symposium for really driving this home to me.) If I look at my own habits, for the first cup quality is actually lower down on the list, below convenience. I am not alone in this, even amongst other industry professionals – let alone habitual consumers. I’ve seen swathes of coffee people choose to skip the line at a brew bar to grab their first cup from a giant urn of very average hotel coffee. Most people, at the start of the day, just need coffee. We don’t have to like this fact, but we do have to accept it.
However, once we’ve had a coffee – then the world changes a little. The chemical need is alleviated, and I think this change is an important one for baristas.
If I ask someone if they’ve had coffee yet, and they say “Yes” – this is very useful information. They’re not necessarily looking for caffeine – to alleviate their withdrawal – but, more likely, they are looking for a tasty cup of coffee. I can ask if they’re in the mood to try something different, I can suggest a different coffee or perhaps a different drink. As a barista I have a little more space and time for the conversation. Even better is when they tell you what they’ve had today – the more information you can gather about someone the more easily you can delight them. Everyone needs something a little different in terms of service and experience, so any opportunity to understand them a little more should be taken. This is, to me, the very root of great service – and I hope this one little question is useful to those of you reading this.
Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve opened cafes. One of the key ideas I’ve brought up early on is that for a new cafe, every single one of your customers currently buys their coffee from someone else. If you subscribe to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans idea 1, then you need to find around 1,000 people to become your regular customers. They won’t come everyday necessarily, but if you’ve got a 1,000 loyal customers then I think your coffee business will be fine.
An important thing to think about is this: Changing where you buy coffee is changing the very routine of your life. It might affect your route to work, which public transport stop you get off at, or even what time you wake up in the morning. People are generally slow to change their lives. Owners of new cafes often get frustrated that in the first weeks of opening people come and say the drink they just had was, perhaps, the best coffee of their lives. Then you don’t see them for another week. Why haven’t they immediately made the switch, given that this is the best coffee they’ve ever tasted!? As I said, it takes time to change someone’s life.
This isn’t really what I want to write about now, but something related. What I want to talk about is what I see as a change in the dynamics of the coffee market in London, that raises a new question for me. Over the last seven or so years the market in London has changed dramatically. There has been a huge boom in the number of cafes trying to compete on the quality of their coffee. What has changed more recently is that the rate of new cafes opening has outstripped the growth in consumers for higher quality coffee. The market is becoming more competitive and cafes are beginning to actively engage in doing their best to capture and retain as many existing quality focused consumers. However, this means every new opening increases the competitive pressure on the market and the challenge of being successful is harder for each new cafe than for the last. I’m not saying for a minute that it was ever easy, but I do think that the attitude was a little different in the past than in the marketplace now.
All this does presume a fixed pool of consumers to draw from. Which, while technically true, is the wrong way to look at it. I think more effort needs to be made on creating more customers who would value better coffee.
Looking back, perhaps through rose tinted glasses, it seemed like there was a coherent movement in London to market the idea of better coffee. Not to market individual businesses, though that’s always going to be important, but to collectively promote and celebrate all that is good in delicious coffee – right through the value chain. Be it community events, coherent messages in the media, things like the Disloyalty Card – all of these contributed to the idea that better coffee was a good thing for everyone. I don’t see that coherent drive now, and I believe it is needed now more than ever.
Creating our customers, and not just stealing them from competitors, is vital for our industry’s longevity. I think many of the coffee roasting companies I respect are good at this. Taking the business of supply from another quality focused roaster does little to develop a marketplace, but working with new businesses to help them do more definitely does. I think this is worth considering in marketing strategy regardless of where in the coffee supply chain you lie.
This isn’t written as criticism of the way coffee businesses are marketing now. I want to highlight that there can be another message, or approach that could be more valuable to both businesses and the industry in reaching these new customers and a wider market. It is something I will be thinking more about, and trying to incorporate into the work that I do.
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