Essays & Confessions

4 Things I Learned From Having A Coffee Shop Side Hustle

By | Monday, August 17, 2015

coffee shop

When I tell people I work part-time at a coffee shop, I feel like there’s some sort of millennial stigma that comes with that statement. But, in fact, not only is it a perfect side job, it is also the oldest profession in the world* (*citation needed). Most people think of it as pretty easy work, and supplemental to what you’re supposed to be really working towards in life. However, the coffee shops I have worked at have been challenging and sometimes rewarding over the years because of the people I met and the lessons I gleaned in between getting coffee grounds out of my shoes and checking our daily inventory. I’m not talking about that moment in Girls when Lena Dunham’s character worked at a cafe for three days and quit. I’m talking about rolling up your sleeves and working an 8-hour shift slinging coffee, then coming home with the stuff in your pores and under your nails, and still having other work to attend to. Anyone with a part-time job in food service knows how hard the job can be — only the strongest can survive.

Looking back on my last three part-time jobs, I’m not surprised that they were all in coffee shops. My first coffee shop job was at a beloved bagel shop in my college town, where I worked only a couple days a week to make some side money. And ever since then, I have gone back for a good reason, and that reason is – I think I am actually good at this! And as far as part-time gigs go, it could be much worse than making lattes and cappuccinos all day long, I could be working in the fitting room at Marshalls (been there, done that).

These are just some of the lessons I have learned while I was knee-deep in the coffee trenches:

1. Save your tips

If you’re working for minimum wage or close to that, like I was at my first coffee job, it really only pays when you put in a LOT of hours. Working 25-30 hours a week at a coffee shop is good if you have another side gig like freelancing, but if you can work up to 30-40 hours/week your paycheck can get pretty robust. Making tips makes all the difference. Prior to my stint in coffee, I worked in retail for almost four years, and I didn’t understand the value of tips. As soon as your work is directly linked to the tips you are making, you realize how hard service jobs really are (shout out to the waitresses and bartenders). The plus side of making tips, though, is that means having liquid cash that I can use INSTEAD of using my credit or debit card — OR I can put it in the bank for something I’m really saving for, like a box of fancy doughnuts. (And other things, I promise.)

2. Manage your time and your savings

The hard part about working a coffee shop job for your main source of income is that you won’t get those sweet sweet bennies (benefits) unless you are salaried. So while your friends might have vacation time off and health insurance, you probably won’t. In most places, you can work up to full-time as a shift leader or manager and receive full benefits, but that’s a fairly serious time commitment.

Because I’m working part-time and am not salaried, every hour and every day counts (get that overtime!). This means every day I take off work is money lost, with no paid time off. That means it’s a physically demanding job of being on my feet several hours a day, several days a week, and if I get sick, it’s often impossible to find a replacement last minute. This is not a job for the weak of heart.

Working with ever-changing part-time hours also means I have to be super flexible with my availability and requests for any time off. It’s not always easy, and requires a lot of careful planning and negotiation. Not to mention fatigue and burnout from working crazy hours — if I work from 6:30 AM to 4:30 PM and get home by 5:00, will I actually have the energy to go out for drinks or work on my other projects? I often have to compromise what I want, what I need and what I am physically capable of. (I think that means I am finally learning how to become an adult.)

3. Build your resumé as you hustle

Working at ANY part-time job will make a person more independent and stronger. Whether food service is your full-time job or your part-time gig, it is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, regardless of what your friends may be doing for work. It is a well-known fact that grueling part-time jobs build character. Remember when Buffy had to get a job at the Doublemeat Palace? Remember when Smash and Matt Saracen in Friday Night Lights had to work at an ice cream stand and wear those dumb hats? Everybody has to pay rent/student loans/credit card debt somehow. To quote the venerated Missy Elliot: “Girl, girl, get that cash/ If it’s 9 to 5 or shakin your ass/ Ain’t no shame, ladies do your thing/ Just make sure you ahead of the game.”   

A lot of the things I have learned at my part-time jobs have changed me as a person and made me a stronger applicant for other, entirely unrelated jobs. Responsibility, money skills, customer service, adaptability, working in high stress situations, dealing with demanding customers, taking pride in your work, time management, working with your hands, teamwork and leadership: these are all things you can actually put on a resume— with your dirty apron as proof to back it up!

4. Make connections

The thing I love most about my past jobs in coffee has been meeting people from all walks of life. I have had coworkers from all around the country and the world, there for different reasons, all of whom work crazy hard to support themselves and their families. I have also made so many friends through my regular customers to the point where I can predict their order, make their drink exactly how they like it, and then catch up with them about the latest episode of Game of Thrones (“What JUST happened in that season finale??”). People come into a coffee shop to be around people and being a barista can often feel like being a bartender because I’m constantly listening to peoples’ worries, fears, and weird stories. Working in any place with so many different coworkers and customers is a great place to meet people, hear their stories, and even make connections with people to help you in your other pursuits. It’s not something I’ll ever overlook or take for granted.

Mariana is a writer/barista/comedian living in Queens. She also blogs for Future Journalism Project and is on Twitter.

 Image via Pixabay

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