6 Things I’ve Learned About People as a Barista

For the past year I’ve been bi-vocational at EvFree Fullerton. At one moment I’m helping out in our College & Young Adults ministry: serving on college campuses, getting coffee with members of our community, coordinating with our team leaders, and on-call for anything else that needs to get done.

But for the remaining 20 hours in my week, I’ve been serving coffee at Starbucks (or at least coffee related drinks). It’s been a great break from my church related responsibilities and has done a lot to change my perspective.

My attitude going into the job was piss poor. But I’ve since come around to recognizing the great significance and opportunity in interacting with people I would’ve had no other reason of getting to know.

While the entire job has been a learning experience in more than one way, here’s six things I’ve learned about people in my time at Starbucks.

1. We’re all looking to belong.

It’s incredible how people respond to a stranger wishing them “Good Morning!” For some, Starbucks is the place they first interact with other people in the morning. To have a team of people that make the extra effort to smile and greet you is enough to set the tone of the morning for the rest of the day.

Even those who at first don’t respond begin to grow accustomed to – and enjoy – the friendliness! This is the whole genius behind the “regulars” vibe that Starbucks seeks to enculturate.

Those who understand and feel that they belong to a certain place will continue to come back. The sensation is addictive.

We’re strangers in most of the spaces we spend our time.

We sit, drive, eat, drink, walk, party, even work shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers. For some of us, we may not even feel at home with our family or friends.

Our culture struggles deeply with disconnection. Which is part of the reason social media continues to dominate the lives of young people. If you provide space for people to feel like they belong, they will almost certainly continue to come back.

For those who are looking to make an impact in the world, ask yourself: “Am I making people feel valuable when I interact with them?” Your ability to influence them positively depends on this.

2. A lot of us think of ourselves as both weird and Inadequate.

Despite the impressive effort people invest in making themselves presentable in the morning, they will go above and beyond in putting themselves in awkward situations.

We all have quirks of personality, but do these really make us a liability? Celebrate your differences! Don’t punish them.

Inadequacy plagues most of us. The day begins and we’re immediately hit with thoughts and beliefs that we don’t have what it takes to rise to the occasion, to meet our responsibilities, to connect with the people life throws our way.

What would happen if those of us who think too little of ourselves were to rise with a little more faith in the day and in the God who calls us from nothing to something?

3. A lot of us take ourselves too seriously.

Whether it’s an iced tea shaken twelve times or a latte prepared at a specific temperature, a lot of us need our drinks made exactly right. And while I am, like many of you, pretty particular, I find the sense of self-importance to be a bit tiresome.

I can’t tell you how many times a person has lost it when they realize that I or one of my co-workers has made a mistake with their drink. For Starbucks, an emotional outburst from a customer is treated with respect. And while this is good customer service practice, it is ultimately detrimental to those people who deeply believe they’re worth the privileged treatment. What would normally be a teachable, pastoral, or otherwise correctional moment in a different space is treated with reverence and care.

Consumers are some of the most respected and coddled creatures on the planet. It’s part of the reason we all love being consumers!

But whereas businesses profit from the self-deception of self-importance, it is a detriment to think too highly of yourself, both for you and for those in your life.

What would happen if those of us who took ourselves too seriously became a little more grounded?

4. We’re dependent on habits.

There are some people who, despite not having any real relationship with a barista or fellow customer, continue to come in to Starbucks like clockwork. For these customers, it’s the raw habit of getting a drink that enables them to go through the rest of their day-to-day duties.

We live by habits.

In a particularly inspiring quote from his The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes:

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

The point ought not be that we never develop habits, only that we develop habits that point us in the right and constructive way.

What sorts of things do you find yourself relying on to keep yourself going? How can you leverage these practices to keep yourself going in a constructive and positive direction? What sorts of habits ought you to eliminate?

[If you’re looking to inform and develop some positive habits, take a look at buying The Power of Habit or Celebration of Discipline. Together, the two books offer a lot in the way of Christian maturity and general success in life.]

5. We naturally lack self-control.

From angry outbursts, to tears of embarrassment, to compulsive I’m-buying-a-frappuccino-every-couple-of-hour customers, Starbucks is an environment of no self-control. Not only is there a high cultural demand for coffee in America, but as people we don’t naturally do a good job of controlling our emotions or desires.

For those of us who have aspirations for a self-controlled lifestyle, this is a particularly difficult thing to accept: we’ll need more than just raw willpower.

We’ll need a change in desire.

If you find yourself splurging and indulging in destructive habits then you ought to ask yourself: is it really a matter of self-control or is it a matter of changing the desires themselves. While the answer might be a combination of both, we often overestimate our ability to follow through on commitments.

To change our desires doesn’t come easy. In fact, the Bible would claim that such a change requires a complete transformation of the heart.

In conjunction with a change in heart comes a change in vision.

What life do you want for yourself? What sort of things do you find your mind and heart yearning after? What sorts of dreams do you have?

Allow yourself to dream and envision enough to motivate a deeper change. Contrary to what you might tell yourself, you do have what it takes: sweat, blood, and tears will get you there.

6. It’s Possible to Talk Faith With people we have almost nothing in common with.

Narratives of a post-Christian world have filled us all with a sort of doomsday diffidence in talking about Jesus. Don’t believe the headlines. Jesus is as real today as he was two-thousand years ago.

Jesus will always be relevant for those who have the eyes and ears for him.

I used to behave as if faith wasn’t something I could talk openly about with those who were outside my community of faith. But if you remain open, relational, and altogether confident in who you are and what God has done for you, you will be surprised by the doors that can open up.

To pass along a piece of advice that my supervisor at church gave me: talk from the heart in what the local church has done for you.

This has turned out to be great advice! By talking about what the local church has done and meant for me, I’m able to talk in tangibilities that topics like apologetics or philosophy aren’t as beholden to. People are more interested in stories than speculation.

Avoid pretense; speak from the heart.

Peter exhorts us,

“Always be prepared to articulate a defense to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But respond with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

If you take the proper steps to prepare and posture yourself rightly, you’ll find that the opportunities to have some life changing conversation can happen rather seamlessly.

Don’t buy into the belief that your co-workers or clients wont understand you. The authority with which Jesus spoke should clue you in: the message of resurrection life is wildly relevant, simple, and comprehensible.

If you’re having a hard time thinking of something, try:

I’ve found that the life Jesus invites me into is one that is life-giving.


My church has enriched my life with direction and relationships.

Depending on your context there may be better options, but these are only a couple of ones that I’ve found to be effective.

If you continue to keep your eyes and ears open you will be surprised not only by what you learn about the people around you, but also the opportunities God is placing right in front of you to be an influence for His Kingdom.


Author: Ryan Lunde

College Pastor at EvFree Fullerton

2 thoughts on “6 Things I’ve Learned About People as a Barista”

  1. Beautiful thoughts regarding the intersection of teachable moments and consumer goods. Thank you for writing and sharing. Having worked in retail, I found this line resonated with me quite a bit: “And while this is good customer service practice, it is ultimately detrimental to those people who deeply believe they’re worth the privileged treatment.”

    And as a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, I never thought I’d find the right words to defend my practice from Peter, so thank you for finding that quote and for your ensuing advice.

    By the way, did you actually practice #6 with any of the people who came into your Starbucks? That’s the only point that feels a bit disconnected from the rest of your piece. An anecdote on a barista-related experience might help with the transition, just my two cents.


    1. Crystal,
      Great suggestion! I appreciate the feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece and resonated with it.

      I have practiced #6 with those who have come into my store on a regular basis. I’m a strong advocate for developing relationship before discussing faith. However, if the opportunity presents itself I may just go for it 😉

      Thanks again for your feedback!


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