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Bartender vs. Barista: Key Differences and Skills

barista in a coffee shop

When you order a drink in a pub or nightclub, you’re getting served by a Bartender. On the other hand, if you’re picking up your morning coffee at the likes of Starbucks, you’re getting served by a Barista.

While this is a simple way to explain the difference between Bartenders and Baristas, there’s actually more to it.

Let’s talk about what Bartenders and Baristas do and what are the skill requirements for both roles.

What Is a Bartender?

Bartenders serve alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic drinks in restaurants, bars or nightclubs.

In most states, serving alcohol requires having a certificate. To get such a certificate, you need to be of legal drinking age.

Bartenders either serve drinks to customers directly or prepare drinks according to what customers tell the Servers.

What Is a Barista?

A Barista is a hospitality professional who works in a coffee shop. Baristas serve coffee and other beverages behind the counter.

Unlike Bartenders, Baristas only need to be of legal working age as they only serve non-alcoholic beverages.

In some coffee shops, Baristas work directly with customers, while in others, they prepare orders that the Servers have relayed to them.

Responsibilities of a Bartender vs. Barista

While the main responsibilities of Bartenders and Baristas are the same, there are quite a few differences in their overall duties.

Let’s highlight the key responsibilities of each position.

Key Responsibilities of a Bartender

As already mentioned, Bartenders prepare and serve alcoholic drinks at restaurants and bars. That said, they need to be comfortable with talking to many different people and handling payment transactions. Moreover, they should be able to work on their feet for many hours.

Bartenders must know how to serve alcohol responsibly and how to deal with uncomfortable situations when these (eventually) arise. Additionally, they have to know how to check and verify IDs so they don’t serve alcohol to underage customers.

Besides these, Bartenders are responsible for keeping the bar clean and well-stocked.

Key Responsibilities of a Barista

Baristas serve coffee for the most part. As such, they need to be knowledgeable about the different coffee types available in their establishment.

Just like Bartenders, Baristas who work the counter need to be comfortable interacting with people throughout their entire shift.

They need to provide excellent customer service, which often helps them earn tips.

They must also know how to handle cash and use point-of-sale systems.

A Barista should also take care of the coffee-making equipment. Espresso machines, for instance, need to be thoroughly cleaned before and after every brew to ensure every coffee is perfectly fresh.

Key Skills Required for Each Role

As with almost any role in the service industry, Bartenders and Baristas need to have practical and interpersonal skills.

Skills a Bartender Should Have

A good Bartender should have knowledge of alcohol. They need to know which alcohols and juices mix well to craft cocktails. A great Bartender will also garnish cocktails to make them more presentable.

Organizational and multitasking skills are also a must. These skills allow Bartenders to work efficiently in fast-paced environments, accomplish multiple orders and manage bar inventory.

We talk about some of the other hard and soft skills for Bartenders here.

Skills a Barista Should Have

Baristas should be familiar with the different types of coffee and how it’s brewed. They need to know how to operate various equipment used in the coffee brewing process, such as an espresso machine, coffee grinders and specialty coffee brewers.

In some establishments where Baristas are also responsible for food preparation, they should know how to operate basic baking machinery as well.

One of the most difficult to learn — yet valuable — Barista skills is making latte art. The reason why it’s difficult is because it takes a lot of practice, timing, focus and skill. Once you master latte art, however, you’ll likely get more tips from impressed customers.

Bartender vs. Barista: Conclusion

To summarize, Bartenders are typically employed in establishments that focus on serving alcoholic drinks. They need to be of legal age and in some states, of legal drinking age.

Baristas, on the other hand, work in establishments that focus on serving coffee and non-alcoholic drinks. As such, they only need to be of legal employment age.

When it comes to working as a Barista, it would also help if you’re a morning person. They generally start working early in the day because that’s when coffee shops often get the most customers. 

On the other hand, if you’re more of a night owl, then working as a Bartender may be more suitable for you.

Bartender vs Barista FAQ

The term Barista originates from Italy and it literally translates to “Bartender.”

However, in American culture, a Barista is a person who specializes in making coffee. That said, you shouldn’t refer to Bartenders as Baristas in the US.

Starbucks Baristas are called partners. This is because Starbucks offers what they call a “Bean Stock”. This terminology also provides a sense of professionalism and inclusion.

Baristas typically make more money from their base salary, but Bartenders make up for it through tips. Of course, these things depend on the location, type of establishment and the frequency of customers.

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