Tag Archives: cafe

Traveling Barista Picks: Coffee Shop Playlist

Let’s face it, being a barista is sometimes a gruesome job.  We romanticize it, and how it allows us to pursue our dreams, and connect with people.  While that is all true, there is also the downside.  We’re often underpaid, overworked, and take crap from everyone.

The particular coffee shop I currently work in is definitely the busiest one I’ve experienced.  We’re never staffed properly and while I’m making drinks, a crowd of millennials are either glaring at me to see if I’m working on their frappuccino or they’re totally ignoring me while staring at their phone.

Still, there are those customers you connect with and look forward to seeing.  One moment, one person, can make or break our day.  I have selected a handful of songs that express our hot and cold feelings toward being a barista along with the romantic notion of connections over coffee.

Barista or not, we’ve all sat in a cafe with a friend, crush or a dream.

1. One In A Million – Backstreet Boys
This song was the one that inspired this playlist. When the Unbreakable album was released by BSB in 2007, of course, I felt like “One In A Million” was dedicated to me.

Notable Lyrics: The line’s out the door/Serving up fraps/Until she can’t take anymore/I see it in her broken smile

2. Taylor The Latte Boy – Kristin Chenoweth
We all love Kristin Chenoweth! This song is about a customer’s hilarious crush on a barista.

Notable Lyrics: But I saw him flip the lever and for me he made it triple/And I knew that triple latte meant that Taylor loved me too

3. Falling In Love In A Coffee Shop – Landon Pigg
What a sweet song! The title says it all.

Notable Lyrics: I never knew just what it was/About this old coffee shop I love so much/All of the while I never knew/All of the while, all of the while it was you

4. Starbucks! – Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots featuring Kelsea Ballerini
A silly country ode to the coffee corporation.

Notable Lyrics: There’s a tip jar on the counter/I’m about to make it rain/Hey its Bobby I’m not booby/Please stop messing up my name

5. The Starbucks Rant Song – Christopher Cristwell
One of my former Starbucks co-workers played this song for me years ago. Most of us would never be so mean, but we can all understand some of these thoughts that go through this guy’s mind. P.S. – He got fired for making this song.

Notable Lyrics: You get cappuccinos. You’re the pickiest of all. You didn’t order it dry, but you didn’t want any milk at all.

6. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega
This song reminds me of my childhood. It’s about a diner obviously, but that was the coffee shop of the 80s and 90s.

Notable Lyrics: I am waiting/At the counter/For the man/To pour the coffee/And he fills it/Only halfway/And before/I even argue/He is looking/Out the window/At somebody/Coming in

7. Cold Coffee – Ed Sheeran
A sweet love song about wanting the person in your bed to stay.

Notable Lyrics: I’ll wake with coffee in the morning/But she prefers two lumps of sugar and tea/Outside the day is up and calling/But I don’t have to be so, please go back to sleep

8. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Not a song about coffee shops or even coffee really, but I just love the line: “I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee”. One day, a newby barista and I listened to this song on repeat after I taught her my trick to make cloud-like foam.

9. Cigarettes and Coffee – Otis Redding
There is no one quite like Otis Redding that can set any mood. I can picture this story in my mind and absolutely love when a song can do that.

Notable Lyrics: People I say it’s so early in the morning/Oh, it’s a quarter till three/We’re sittin’ here talkin’/Over cigarettes and drinking coffee, now, lord

10. Java Jive – The Ink Spots
My mother used to sing this song, but I never knew what the hell she was talking about. When I heard the song recently, it made me laugh realizing she wasn’t just babbling about “a cup, a cup, a cup”.

Notable Lyrics: Oh slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I’ll cut a rug just snug in a jug

11. Sugar Shack – The Fireballs
A fun oldie that puts you in a good mood!

Notable Lyrics: Well, it’s just a coffeehouse and it’s made out of wood/Espresso coffee tastes mighty good/That’s not the reason why I’ve got to get back

12. The Sad Café – The Eagles
This is another one of those great stories within a song. They don’t make artists like The Eagles anymore.

Notable Lyrics: Some of their dreams came true/Some just passed away/And some of them stayed behind/Inside the Sad Cafe.

13. Tryin’ – Little Big Town
This song is for all of us who refuse to stop dreaming!

Notable Lyrics: It’s been six years since she left home and she hasn’t made it big yet/Oh but there’s no second guessing baby, she’s got no regrets/She still works late shift down at the Greasy Spoon cafe/When she brings you out your milkshake you just might hear her say/It’s about hoping/It’s about dreaming/It’s about never not believing

14. Down – Mat Kearney
This song was recommended by some friends of mine who are huge Mat Kearney fans.  It makes me want to listen to more of him!

Notable Lyrics: I’m working late again slaving to make the rent
I’m slanging coffee with dreams heavy as cement
They’re coming one by one the face of falling love
I write a song with a prayer as I slide the cups

15. Black Coffee In Bed – Squeeze
I love the imagery in this song.  I have tons of journals with coffee stains on the pages, and it brings me back to how I usually write with coffee by my side.

Notable Lyrics: The stain on my notebook/Remain all that’s left/Of the memory of late nights/And coffee in bed

16. Me And Mrs. Jones – Michael Bublé
Hearing Bublé’s version of this classic gets you dreaming of a secret affair with him, which is why I chose his version over the others. I used to have customers who were both married to other people meet in our cafe every morning before they went to work. Sneaky jerks! All kinds of stories unfold at a coffee shop.  Baristas get just as many as bartenders do, if not more!

Notable Lyrics: We meet every day at the same cafe/Six-thirty and no one knows she’ll be there/Holding hands, making all kinds of plans/While the juke box plays our favorite songs/Me and Mrs. Jones/We got a thing goin’on/We both know that it’s wrong

17. Caffeine – Psychostick
This is the song on the playlist that will surely wake you up. Two of my oldest/best friends recommended this screamo-esque song for this playlist, and I couldn’t leave it out. It is in fact the only song on this playlist that’s straight up about coffee!  Be warned: Pretty sure the band was on more than caffeine when writing/recording it!

Notable Lyrics: Cappuccino is my mother/Frappuccino is my lover/Makes me feel exhilarated

Listen on Spotify!

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Coffee Shop Etiquette 101

There are some things you should never do in a coffee shop.  You may think your behavior is totally normal, but you might be royally pissing off your barista.  Who cares, you say?  Well, not only will your baristas secretly dread seeing you, you may actually be slowing down the pace of the cafe for other patrons.  So many people (most of them good people) are guilty of such bad etiquette that I thought I’d list some items here for all to see.

Pay Attention

working-in-retail-gets-me-every-time-65621This one should be obvious, right?  But in today’s world, NO ONE pays attention to anything but their phone!  You stare at your phone while waiting online.  You talk on it while placing your order, which is kind of rude, by the way!  Hell, ,you even pay for your coffee with your phone, but yet you never have your app ready at the register!  Worse yet, you don’t even have your order ready after waiting on line!  To top it all off, you complain about how long the line is and how we’re making you late for work… it could never be poor planning on your part, right?

However, lines can get pretty long during the morning and we try so hard to get you guys in and out quickly.  But sometimes, our customers don’t make it easy.  I’m not saying it’s your fault, but it’s everyone’s fault.  You don’t know what you want, so you stare at the menu board, trying to figure it out, even though, we both know you’re going to get a caramel macchiato, though you want to “try something new”.  You know what happened before you got to the register?  The person in front of you also couldn’t decide what they wanted.  And the person after you?  You guessed it, also decided to play on their phone instead of figuring out  what they were ordering.  In short, use your time on line wisely.

Don’t Stare!

When you’re at work, do you like it if someone is behind you, lurking over your shoulder while you type at your desk?  No?  Funny, us baristas hate lurkers too!  Staring at us over the espresso machine does not bring your drink out faster!  In fact, it totally creeps us out.  It also makes us nervous, thinking we’re not moving fast enough when in fact, you JUST placed your order and there are 10 drinks in front of yours.  And FYI, if you happened to have ordered food, hot tea or regular coffee, it is not the barista at the espresso bar’s responsibility to make those items, so don’t look at them wondering whether or not they’re making it.

Stop Explaining

Not to be rude, but we don’t need to hear reasons behind why you order a certain drink or why you don’t want to reload your gift card or how you spilled your drink.  We will gladly try our best to solve your problem and give you great service, no questions asked.  Yes, we love small talk.  Yes, we love building relationships with our customers, but just let us clean up your spilled drink instead of continuing to describe how it happened.  When placing your order, we don’t need to know why you want nonfat milk, but keep the whip cream.  We’ll make it anyway you want – no explanation needed!

No Touching!

Anything behind the counter or bar area is off limits to customers.  Just because you have long-ass arms that can reach a cup, straw or our water spout does not mean it is free to take!  In fact, if you touch a cup or lid, we are technically required by our quality assurance inspectors to toss those items out.  Just politely ask for something and we will be happy to get it for you!

Don’t Talk To Us Like Idiots

willywonkaThis one should go without saying, but nothing bugs me more than when people speak to me like my brain can’t comprehend much or they talk slow as sludge to me.  “I would like a… grande… mocha… extra shot… decaf… iced.”  And then they look at me as if waiting for me to ask them to repeat their order.  It actually makes it harder for me to take your order the more you slow it down.  As baristas, we were taught to call out beverages in a certain order.  We don’t expect customers to figure out our code, but telling us your order in a normal, audible speaking voice is best.  By the way, while we’re at it – if you specify the size and whether it is iced or hot first, that is a huge help to your barista.  We can’t mark anything on a cup until we know those 2 things.  Lastly, you repeating “decaf” five times is unnecessary.

Stop Spelling Your Name For Us

As a writer and awesomely intuitive name speller, this actually offends me.  If I ask your name, tell me what it is.  Don’t immediately start spelling.  Now you’ve thrown me off.  If someone asks my name, I don’t say, “Es. Ay…” I fully expect someone to think my name is “Essay” before I can finish spelling.

Also, if I ask you to repeat your name, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to spell it.  It simply means it is too damn loud between the blenders, the grinder and espresso machine to hear you.  Just repeat your name for us.  If I ask if your name is Sarah with an “H” or Zack with a “K”, don’t tell me it doesn’t matter.  I take my names very seriously and nothing pisses me off more than people spelling my name “Sandi” (as so many of my co-workers do).

Okay, wait.  Scratch this whole paragraph… maybe most baristas don’t care about spelling your name right at all.  Maybe some of them are snarky jerks.  But if you happen to come to my register, let me spell your damn name! 😉  Apparently, I am just a weirdo with a name spelling fetish.

The Traveling Barista is meant to be in good fun.  Baristas genuinely love their customers, but we deal with the general public on a constant basis and therefore need to vent heavily.

Have a coffee shop story you want to share?  Comment below!

Back in the Barista Swing

It’s been a whole year since my last Traveling Barista post.  Unacceptable, I know.  I’m back, though and better than ever–barista-wise anyhow.  Life itself has been fairly vanilla, but that’s for a different post.  Anyway…

I had returned to Starbucks for my prolonged stay on Long Island.  After coming back to my home base from months of travel, and living on digital marketing and dreams alone, I was broke–and desperate.  I called up some Starbucks partner friends and I was back in at the snap of my fingers… as usual.  That’s the thing about Starbucks: It’s easy to swoop back in and start right back up where you left off.  Or so I thought.

While yes, it felt like nothing had changed–both good and bad–something important had changed: my pay rate!  They lowered my hourly rate by $2!  Granted, I was a high-paid barista, as well I should be with how many years I worked for the company.  Under the guise of equal treatment and how they couldn’t find my old pay rate and how it was up to partner resources (which is horse poop), my district manager and store manager dealt me this new rate.

After speaking to partner resources, I was told my pay rate was in the hands of the district manager.  I sucked it up and figured when I transferred back to Nashville, I could get it sorted out.  Wrong!  The district manager screwed me even more, lowering my pay rate another $2.  So now I was making $4 less an hour.  Seriously?!  Again, I was fed the “it wouldn’t be fair” line because other baristas in my district start lower.  I suppose my 10 years with the company means nothing.  They could care less about my hard work ethic versus the lazy, clueless baristas who don’t know how to handle an irate customer.  It wouldn’t be fair to those baristas… I see.

I knew it was bound to come to this anyway; me quitting Starbucks again.  I just didn’t expect to leave on such a sour note this time.  It was an eye-opener to know that experience no longer mattered in my job position.  I looked for other jobs, ones in different fields.  Writing, digital marketing (which I was already doing on the side, thankfully), even working at an animal hospital.

One day, I was actually looking at jobs while sitting at a local Nashville coffee shop called Atmalogy.  I had wanted to check the place out after seeing it on my HappyCow.net app.  They’re vegan-friendly and appealed to my hippie-like vibes.  I went to tag the cafe in my Instagram photo when I saw something they posted explaining they were looking for baristas.  I immediately emailed the owner, Heather, and she met with me practically on the spot.  Needless to say, I was hired and gave my 2 weeks at Starbucks with much glee.

While Atmalogy is very much a coffee shop, it’s also a place to have breakfast and lunch as well as to have parties and meetings.  This was just what I was looking for!  Not only do I get to serve local coffee and housemade syrups, but I get to put some of my culinary skills to use!  We make our own almond butter, hummus, avocado spread and more.  We even started selling candied pecans, which is my own recipe.  Pretty soon, we’ll be debuting a signature drink I created called “The LO-down”.

The things I began to hate about Starbucks and its streamlined, artificial, chemical-filled items are not an issue at Atmalogy.  The creativity that was stifled working for the corporation is now able to come out.  I actually have a boss who embraces my ideas!!  It’s so rewarding.

It just seemed like a natural progression that I would become a manager after 5 months there.  I was a supervisor at Starbucks years ago and hated just about every minute of it.  I hated all of the procedures, rules, and telling others what to do.  Maybe it was because I was younger and had a problem being an authoritative figure.  Now, I feel like it only makes sense.  I have too many opinions; too much experience to not be able to oversee and help take some weight off my boss’ shoulders.

It’s challenging managing a small business.  The bottom line is greatly affected when things go wrong, unlike at Starbucks where daily waste was no big deal.

What I especially love about Atmalogy is it being an outlet for local creatives.  We feature local art, events and vendors.  Some of my books are currently being sold there, which is awesome.  I look forward to seeing this still young business grow and being a part of it.  I’m also excited to see how this experience helps me grow as a barista and a person.


Sometimes You Want To Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

When I first move to a new city, or even when I just go for a short visit, I find myself at Starbucks. (Formerly referred to in this blog as the Coffee Giant; like you’re really surprised that’s the corporation I work for?)  Anyway… My best friend, Natalie, would yell at me, “Stop hanging out at work on your day off!”

People find it odd that baristas choose to stop in their place of employment on their days off, or hang out in the café after their shift.  As much as we sometimes want to pull our hair out and are eager to punch out for the day, why would we want to spend another second at work?

Well, think about all the reasons you love going to Starbucks or your favorite coffee shop.  Just because baristas sling coffee in the crazy, same four walls with its annoying sounds — like the coffee timer, oven, safe, or blender — doesn’t mean we don’t find a sense of home there, just like you may have felt during your daily visits before work or school.  Or like many vacationers who come to Anna Maria Island (which is sans Starbucks), they will drive off the island to Bradenton for their fix.

people-at-coffeshopWhen I first moved to Nashville and Anna Maria Island,  I didn’t know a soul in either area.  All I had were my co-workers and my customers.  Working at Starbucks while relocating to a new city was a fantastic way to get to know new people.  Instantly you share a  common bond with the coffee community.

With your fellow baristas, you can reminisce about customer experiences together, and with customers, you make small talk while preparing their beverage.  Eventually you begin to know everyone by name and find out things about their life, as they learn about yours.

On my days off, I would find myself bored, or at times, lonely, not knowing anyone else.  I would pack up my laptop and go to some place where, like the bar on Cheers, everyone knows your name.  I’d sit and write my novels, and get to show my co-workers and customers a different side of me — the side that doesn’t have to wear all black, a hat, and an apron.

Getting out of the house to do all of my side work also helped me stay productive.  Fueling myself up on free coffee while away from my bedroom doesn’t allow opportunities for unnecessary naps or procrastination.  Well, procrastination still finds me on occasion, but in the form of social opportunities.  Grabbing lunch with a co-worker on break, having an interesting conversation with a customer, or waiting in line for a refill, where I will, most likely, interact with someone in the process.

The truth is, as much as I can be annoyed by Starbucks after spending so many years behind the counter, I will always call it home.  It’s familiar no matter where the location is.

I do, however, think that as I leave behind my apron to travel and expand my writing career, I might find myself frequenting other coffee shops more.  For one, I  love to try out new places, and two, other coffee shops can be quieter, serve the community more, and have healthier (and vegan) options.

On my days off while I am still on Anna Maria Island, I hang out at some of the local Mom & Pop shops.  The coffee isn’t quite as good, but I’m finding these places know my name just the same.  Being a regular customer is just as nice as being a welcoming barista, and maybe I should start embracing that.

One thing I know,  if I ever feel lost during my travels, I can walk into a Starbucks, and find a piece of home.

No More Miss Nice Barista!

8 years…8 long years of working with customers and co-workers, most of whom I loved, some who I dreaded dealing with…  Working with the consumer public and co-workers in a confined space for so many hours a week, for so many years takes its toll on even the most patient of people.

I was always told I had a ton of patience and I was the nicest person.  Most people still think I am exactly that way.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still that person, but lately, the girl who always sugarcoated everything is not exactly keeping quiet and always saying “yes” anymore.

beniceYou know what?  That’s okay.  In fact, it’s empowering to not always go with the flow, to not bite my tongue, and to not give a damn about everything and everyone who crosses my path for the slightest of moments.

Yes, I am still Sandy Lo, the bubbly, positive writer who looks forward to life and makes big plans.  But that doesn’t mean I have to be that little girl I used to be, who always did what she was told out of fear of rejection.

Growing up the youngest of four in a dictatorship of a household, I was taught to shut up, don’t ever question authority, and there were severe consequences if I didn’t agree.

I went on living my life this way, and still do, on occasion, sadly.  It’s hard to break away from those childhood feelings.  I have come along way from that scared little girl in the projects, though.

My fellow barista in Florida has nicknamed me “Sass” this week, which I have embraced with open arms.  Most of the time, my sassy comments are in jest.  Being from an Italian-Irish New York family, sarcasm is our language.  Believe me, I’m not even that fluent in it compared to the rest of my family.

Some of the baristas I have worked with over the years, especially more recently, usually love when I dish out some sassy comments.  There are some, though, who LOVE to dish it out, but simply can’t take it…or especially can’t take it coming from me, Sandy the Sweet.

This reminds me of my later high school years.  I didn’t offer much of an opinion or argument if my friends wanted to do something I didn’t want to do.  I went with the flow.  By senior year, I got tired of it.  Suddenly, I was the bad guy if I said no to something or suggested we do something else.  People don’t like change.

I was typecast as the nice and easygoing girl.  And yes, generally, I am that girl, but don’t think you can walk all over me because of it, or that I don’t have an opinion or a right to disagree.

I am a woman now.  I won’t tolerate double standards or being talked down — no matter who is doing it.  I don’t care if you’re a supervisor, big deal,  so was I.  In fact, I’ve worked for the Coffee Giant for more years than most of my supervisors, but I still treat them all with respect.

I won’t even tolerate customers thinking I’m inferior to them anymore.  I’m used to a wonderful clientele of colorful customers from all walks of life coming in and out of the cafe.  People who I got to know well and who knew exactly who I was and what I was all about.  We would exchange business cards, know about each other’s families, and even keep in touch outside of our daily coffee exchange.

Image Take from RunEmz.com

Here in Bradenton, Florida… it’s a different story.  Aside from a handful of fantastic customers, there are a ton of non-conversational types, who won’t even look me in the eye during our transaction.  It makes me sick, actually.  How can these people be so self-involved, rude, and dehumanizing?  It’s not a social disorder either.  Plenty of them will chat it up to their friends or on the phone WHILE I’m trying to take their order.

Recently, a customer ranted to me for over five minutes on how horrible our customer service was, all because we accidentally upgraded her for free.  “I don’t want to be upgraded!  Do you know how much sugar is in milk?”  Why yes, yes, I do.  But lady, if you’re so concerned, you shouldn’t drink it at all then!  4 ounces of milk is really going to make that much of a difference?

Of course, Sandy the Sweet wouldn’t say that to a customer, though Sassy Sandy was thinking it, and also imagining throwing the drink in her face.  Instead, I offered to have the person on bar remake her drink, and apologized sincerely for our screw-up.  Nasty Lady was not having it!  “There are people behind me!  That’s not fair to them!” She yelled, and I do mean YELLED at me through the drive-thru window. (How I loathe drive-thrus in coffee shops! It’s not the appropriate environment.  We’re not fast food, especially when you want four extra, extra caramel and double blended drinks!)

So, I apologized again to Nasty Lady and told her I would refund her.  The entire time I was doing the refund, she screamed how customer service in the entire world sucks, and basically was putting it all on MY shoulders.  Finally, I had enough.  I turned to her and said, “I am trying everything in my power to give you good customer service, but you are not having any part of it.”  She kind of shut up at that point before driving away.  Her rant lasted longer than it would have been to remake the drink, and the poor customers behind her had to wait anyway.  Her previous concern for them was nothing but a pile of steaming poop.

Afterward, I needed a five minute breather in the bathroom to let out my frustration.  I just don’t understand taking things out on your barista who is genuinely trying to make your day better.  In my experience of working in this industry, as much as some baristas complain about their job, we do love to make people smile.  It makes our day brighter and the time spent slinging coffee go by quicker.

Baristas love to laugh and joke with each other and love customers who interact with us.  After all, this is just coffee.  It is not a life or death institution that Americans have made.  It is a luxury.  It is about connection with people, not about the caffeine you’re guzzling down because you think you need it.

One of our above mentioned fantastic regulars in Bradenton told me something beautiful recently.  We were discussing how much money the general public spends on coffee daily — no matter which cafe you choose to give your patronage to — and I explained how if I didn’t work where I received free coffee, I don’t know if I would frequent the place so much.  To be honest, I know that’s a fib.  Even on my off days, I spend my time writing at coffee shops!

My regular then explained, “Well, it’s not really about the coffee, is it?  I mean, sure, I like to get my fix, but I keep coming back because of you guys.”  She surely put a smile on my face.  And she is right.  It is the same reason I love going to coffee shops.  I love the atmosphere and the interesting people you meet.

Another regular had told me, “It’s so cool to find out each barista’s story.”  Even as a barista myself, I love to hear what my co-workers are up to, outside of the cafe that sometimes makes us loopy, angry, happy and sad.

See, it’s rare you’ll ever meet simply a barista.  Each one of us is something much more.  A college kid, a musician, dancer, pastry chef, gunslinger, fireman, or a writer.  Sometimes we have good days when we are quick and efficient.  Sometimes we have bad days, too, where we fall short.  Maybe someone called out, a family member is in the hospital, we’re training someone new, or we’re simply having an off day or most likely, a crazy busy day with no breathing room or time for breaks.  We’re human.  We make mistakes.  We try our best to remedy our mistakes.

And yes, I am sweet 98% of the time.  Yes, I try to make the customer always right.  I try to abide by my supervisor’s way of doing things, too.  But that doesn’t mean that I won’t voice my opinion or suggestions.  I deserve to have a voice still, no matter my rank, age, gender, or personality.  As for those certain customers…they’re not ALWAYS right.  I will still smile at them and try to give them want they want, but it doesn’t make them right or anything less than a downright bitch for thinking they can treat anyone in such an aggressive, degrading manner.

Love Your Barista,
Sweet Sandy Sassy Pants