Are Freelance Baristas the Future of Coffee?—Part Two

Today, we discuss some of the cons of being a freelance barista.


Recently, we’ve been exploring the role of freelance baristas in specialty coffee, and how short-term, temporary work enhances the skillsets of people behind the bar, while also helping out independent cafés that don’t have the employee pool of larger franchises. Independent Seattle-based barista Kyle Dols says, “I think freelancing is definitely a future for the business.” 

Being a freelance barista has some obvious perks we introduced in part one: getting to work at different cafés, broadening your experience with brew methods and preparations, and variety—what many baristas crave after working in one space for a long period of time. In today’s part two, we’re addressing some of the cons of freelancing. Read on for some potential considerations you’ll have to make when thinking about when considering being a freelance barista.

In part one, we discussed how the changing work environment of a freelance barista can be stimulating because of the variety it presents. However, this can be a double-edged sword because it’s also potentially difficult to adapt to. Although Kyle enjoys a dynamic workplace, it doesn’t always act in his favor. “Sometimes you’ll get dropped into a very busy location that has like, really specific ways of doing stuff, and no matter how good you are, it’s always hard to drop into that workflow,” he says. “The learning curve and instability of the work load would be the biggest cons.” In order to be a freelance barista, you should be ready to approach every new environment and café with an open mind, whether you agree or disagree with a shop’s standard operating procedures.

It can also be difficult to sustain being an independent barista. Even Kyle, who has an undeniable network within the competition community, says, “It can be hard to have the interim periods where you don’t have a job, and you can’t necessarily rely on that.” In fact, many of his leads on short-term work led to full-time positions. Working independently, you’re going to want to network, get cozy with the coffee community, and be aware that your reputation is essentially your marketing tool. What would be helpful, according to Kyle, would be something like an online presence for an informal “open shift” listing. “If anything, we need a specific online presence just for freelancers,” he says. “I think having a centralized online location for shifts would be a great idea.” 

Kyle’s idea has been developed by companies like Australia’s Need a Barista, U.S.-based Cups, and Baristas On Tap, an app available in the U.K., U.S., and Australia. These three companies operate as “the middleman,” connecting independent baristas to cafés who happen to be short-staffed or need shifts covered on short notice. Cups’ director of accounts Emily Miller explains that in cities where Cups is a newer presence, baristas might see an open shift every week or two, but in (pre-COVID-19) New York, where the service has been based since 2016, “We were looking at between 20 to 40 shifts a week. A lot of those will be repeat coffee shops, say, booking an entire week’s worth of coverage, or multiple shifts a day, since some shops use us to manage a few weeks when they’re in between staff, or for a one-off shift, depending on what they need.”

For Kathlyn Pagador, working as a freelance barista was a great option while launching her own business as an artist. Photo courtesy of Kathlyn Pagador.

Kathlyn Pagador is a self-employed artist who used the London-based Baristas On Tap app for freelance work, a move that “opened so many doors since, and I wish I did it sooner.” Based on her experience, she advises that it works best “for someone who’s looking for more flexibility or a side hustle.”

In the cases of most companies that connect freelancers with cafés in need, baristas are considered independent contractors, similar to gig workers under apps like Rover or Uber. That means if you make over a certain amount, you’ll be required to pay taxes at the end of the year. Aside from independent contractor status, another consideration is unpredictability of when—and where—you’ll be working.

Kathlyn says, “If you prefer going to the same place every day then this is definitely not for you, [but] if you don’t mind a bit of uncertainty, then by all means, [go for it].”

While freelance barista work may be solidified as another source of income, the success of this kind of work certainly depends on the kind of person who wants to do it. Whether or not you choose to give it a shot in the future, the opportunity is there to test it out and decide.

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.