What it’s like to be a barista in a pandemic

When I am at work, whether it’s on cash or at the end in front of the espresso machines handing out customers’ drinks, I find myself saying “have a great day” 150 times a shift. I say it a lot because all I do is work with people and coffee. However, sometimes after I say […]
Photo: Angeleah Brazeau-Emmerson

When I am at work, whether it’s on cash or at the end in front of the espresso machines handing out customers’ drinks, I find myself saying “have a great day” 150 times a shift. I say it a lot because all I do is work with people and coffee.

However, sometimes after I say my cheery sentence I find myself yelling at some poor woman who just wanted her latte.

I am a barista at a Starbucks in Ottawa’s west end. It is a small, mall kiosk. So as you can imagine there is not a lot of space. When the pandemic hit, Starbucks has put in measures to keep customers and employees safe. Masks are required and plexiglass has been installed at the cashes and where people receive their beverages.

We used large fans to keep the kiosk cool in the summer days and we continue to use them on busy weekends. All of the hustle and bustle of the mall with the fans makes the atmosphere incredibly loud.

For instance, when a kind gentlemen wants a coffee he really has to annunciate for me to hear him and understand he wants a “tall dark roast” not a “venti blonde roast.” I feel bad because its not his fault I can not hear him. I will never demerit the importance of wearing masks but, man, is it hard to hear people who don’t have booming voices.

I am worried sometimes when people come up to the cash with their masks not covering their noses. This virus is deadly and I don’t want to potentially take some germ from work home and give the virus to my mom or dad. I don’t let this worry come to mind too often because I really do feel safe. I am able to wash my hands after every cash interaction and added layer of plexiglass puts me at ease.

The protocols set out for us when we begin our shifts include a set of questions and a temperature check. By this point, I am already wearing my mask and I head to the backroom to grab my iconic green apron. I head back to the kiosk and before I even think about doing anything I am washing my hands. This process is normal even before COVID-19 just without the masks and the questions.

I think the work of baristas in this time of need is important. We can provide that escape for those stuck working or doing school from home. Starbucks wants to be that place that people can go to feel safe. I feel it is more important then ever to provide that place. I love the people I get to meet and I don’t want this pandemic to get in the way of that.

I also feel lucky. I am able to go to work while many others don’t. I don’t think their has been a day that passed since the pandemic started where my brother hasn’t told me he misses the office. My mother does her job from the living room table. I can’t really make a latte in the living room.

I know that some customers realize that this is new for everyone. I hope that the people realize I’m trying my best to make their drink the right way. My intent is never to yell at the kind lady who just wanted her latte. I just want her to know that she is entitled to a nice day.

So as this stressful time goes on I will continue to make lattes for kind women and grab coffees for kind men. I will continue to wear my mask even if that means I have to repeat myself with every sentence.

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