Shift Mindset

It happens all too often.

Baristas become disillusioned with their work. The shift starts and ends before you know it and even though you were physically there making drinks, cleaning creamer spouts, and sweeping cigarette butts off the patio you were not mentally present at all. In the day to day of the cafe the work can become rote and we are left wondering why we are doing this and dreaming up ways of getting over to the greener pastures we think will fulfill us in some other segment of the industry. Problem is, as the saying goes,

“Wherever you go…there you are”

This is to say that even if you do become a green buyer, a barista champion, or a master roaster, if your thinking is not right, you will eventually begin to see those roles to be just as lacking as your current one. Maybe this is why there is so much turnover and job hopping in barista work.

We have to shift our mindset

The mindset we bring into the work place is the number one indicator of whether or not we will feel a sense of satisfaction and purpose vs. feeling jilted by a thing we thought we would love but with which we are now disappointed. Relationships where two whole people are involved tend to be better than relationships where two people are looking for the other to fulfill their dreams. You cannot walk into your shift looking for your co-workers, customers, or coffee in general to fulfill you. 

You must enter this business of bar work with a clear understanding of who you are, why you are working, and what you will give rather than wandering without purpose and angling for what you can get at every turn. Coffee bars exist to serve people and the only way to do this well is for you to have the big picture so well etched in your mind that it infuses purpose into the minutiae of the job. Every person that shares the vision of the company must have a unique understanding and expression of it that cannot be dictated from the outside.

The job of a barista and cafe work in general is very taxing as a large part of it is spent in activity that seems unrelated even distracting or antithetical to the work we want to be doing. The image of a barista is one of a person creating and curating amazing craft coffee for customers all day, being a guide, a dispenser of “aha” moments! The reality is that 90% of the job is cleaning, stocking, team work, practice, organizing, data entry, etc. The remaining 10% (maybe less?) of moments that we long for where we hand a drink over the counter to a customer and their head explodes with shear joy are facilitated by, and indeed depend upon, the quality of the 90%; the tough work, the work that takes you off bar.

The behind the scenes work that takes so much of our time creates professionals; the on-bar work keeps them employed.

Do you find yourself flipping through a coffee magazine and letting out frequent heavy sighs over pictures of origin trips, signature beverages, and globe trotting barista superstars? Do you mutter under your breath when you are called off bar to count inventory, or to mop up a spilled kids hot chocolate? Do you pretend to be busy on the espresso machine in hopes of avoiding the customer approaching the bar with a question? Then you may be missing the treasure that lies within the shift you feel shackled by and unwittingly missing out of some of the very best and most satisfying parts of the job.


Here are some ideas for helping to shift your mindset to being open to the rewards of bar work that you may not be seeing:

Get clear on the “Why” and the “What”

You will need to have a strong “Why”.  This is essentially a personal mission statement for your work. It is something bigger than the job and bigger than yourself. When you consider why you are getting up so early, working so hard, etc.,  if you know what the mission is you will more easily consider hardship to be opportunity for growth and more readily recognize the positive and good in your day.

Whatever your “What” is make sure that it connects the details and tasks of the day to the big picture and the “Why” for yourself and your company. Once you take the time to articulate to yourself the “What”within the “Why”  you will want to practice mindfulness by just giving yourself reminders through the days work of how it all fits together. Doing this gives you perspective and robs stressful situations of their power.

What is it you are doing and why are you doing it? Easier asked than answered for sure but until you are able to articulate these two things you will be renting purpose from others instead of owning it for yourself.

Have a plan for the day and set goals

There is a saying, “Run the bar, don’t let the bar run you” It may be slightly trite but there is an eternal truth to this saying. If you do not have a purpose and a plan you are simply hoisting sails and seeing where the wind takes you. Sounds like an adventure until you crash. Once you’re clear on the “why” and “what”, setting a plan and goal for your day will give you the “how”. Take time before your shift and think through all the situations you know you will experience and plan out how you will respond. Plan out how you will create value for the customers and your coworkers that day. It can be stocking extra well for the morning crew because you know a group is coming the next morning. It can be delivering encouragement to a co-worker you noticed was down about their espresso dial-in skills the other day. It could be consciously smiling more and making better eye contact. Thoughtful, purposeful actions like these, generously distributed through the shift will make you almost immune from the turbulence of the day. Plan out the details of a successful shift and it is way more likely to happen as now you are taking responsibility for creating it.

Focus on coworker support and customer enjoyment 

A large part of what we do depends on how well we serve each other and support each others roles on bar. We must not only facilitate the success of our own shift but facilitate and work for the success of the whole. On top of this is the collective universal “Why” of service work-Customer joy.

We can tend to throw self-righteous shade on a customers love for a drink we hate but in order to provide a selfless and holistic environment of service “for” the customer we must lean into their enjoyment, away from our judgment, and draw joy from their joy.

Reflect & practice specific gratefulness

At the end of a busy shift all that most of us want to do is eat, drink, and curl up into a fetal position until the din of dishes, wifi questions, and grinder burrs fade into the void. If you are mindfully practicing the above you may find yourself more likely to exit the shift with clarity. Weary from work? Yes. Sick of work? Not if you are in the right mindset.                   To cap off the shift, a good thing to do is to practice reflection and specific thankfulness. Take a moment to think back over the course of the shift and pull out specific moments where the customer was blown away-where you were saved by the your co-worker taking on the dishes-where you were able to graciously mop up a kids spill and ease the embarrassment of the parents with a joke and a free replacement drink. Little moments like this are only little if they are allowed to slip by unnoticed. By reflecting on them and being thankful we begin to see them more day-by-day, they start to define our shift, and then our career.


As you become mindful of your mental state you can draw value from your shift and add purpose and meaning in the everyday tasks. You will start to see the place you are as being a much richer experience now that it has your full attention and presence. It’s always been there but a part of you has been closed to it until now.

Turn on the Open sign.

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