A Farewell To The Service Industry
by Bridget Roddy
I used to be a good barista. I could draw the hearts and flowers in the milk, tell you where your beans were roasted, the name of the farm, the name of the farmer. Coffee was something I genuinely cared about. It was a worm hole of nervous energy, perfection, and education and I loved it.
I got my first cafe job at 16. Had my then boyfriend’s friend’s sister not gotten me that job, my life would be different.
Working in a coffee shop breeds a familial, incestuous bond between you and your coworkers. They will see you at your best and at your worst. You will cry, dance, sleep with, live with, fight with and create things with these people that you will be proud of.
I could write a goodbye to the coffee I love so much, the free espresso in the morning, watching the sunrise out the window. But I'm not going to miss coffee, it will always be there (just, maybe, not free). I'm going to miss the ride-or-die friendships forged by working in a 6 x 18” space for 46 hours a week.
I'll miss the 53-year-old Guatemalan women who rub lemon juice on 2nd degree burns. I'll miss going into work on my days off too see my friends. I'll miss writing inside jokes on tip jars and being unable to explain them to customers, the nicknames we give to mice and squirrels. I'll miss the revolving door of nonsense fiction, historical biographies and memoirs we share. I'll miss the parties that start at 3 and end by 9 so we can be at work at 4 am.
It’s a sibling-like relationship that is hard to explain, especially to someone who's never experienced it. And, as I switch career paths, I'm aware that this kind of environment can't really thrive in any other industry.
I have so much respect for the people I have worked with. A lot of people see the service industry as a stepping stone to a “real job”, but it's not.
For those who really care, coffee is a science with numbers and data and a million variables. Baking is artistry with trial and error and more science. The people who prep and cook your food have skills that you'll never see or appreciate if you've never been there, it's not as easy as holding a knife.
Café jobs aren’t rest stops for jaded high school kids. More than likely, they are staffed with educated artists who are genuinely excited to be doing what they do. Coffee shops are creative sounding boards and workshops for employees and customers alike, a unique ecosystem for experimentation.
Being a barista is grueling and rewarding and I am going to miss it.