You’d think getting a job at a café would be an easy feat. It requires no bachelor’s degree, no pedigree that certifies you are indeed well versed in literary analysis or computational biology. It does, however, favor former experience. So unless you’ve been frolicking with coffee machines and drawing hearts with milk foam for the past year, your chances of getting a job in the area are kind of slim. Thus, as I arrived in Germany, ready to wisely enhance my future career possibilities as a future diplomat by paving a life as a student café bartender, I decided to do what everybody tells you to do. Research.
I scoured various cafes’ Facebook and scrolled down their Instagram to verify that my tendency towards minimalistic upholstery and vegan foods were sufficiently, if not fully, met. I now understand the impracticality of my fastidious search, seeing as I, having no experience or job offers, wasn’t in a position to be demanding. I added some experience to my resume as a host in a small restaurant. My hopes were it would link me to gastronomy and service without directly implicating me if I failed abysmally in all talents associated to waiting tables and carrying colossal amounts of tableware. I wrote a short cover letter that accentuated my love for interpersonal interactions, gastronomy, and foreign languages. I then emailed my resume to various places looking for Verstärkung, and I waited. If there is one quality that I was not bestowed, however, it is patience. After I received no positive response from various cafes, I decided to surpass the impersonal barrier of Internet communication and take a step towards actual human confrontation. Thus begins my How To Guide, in reverse.
When you’re asking a potential future co-worker about handing in a resume, do not ask said employee where they are from in hopes that they say a country whose main language happens to be yours as well. If they are from Italy and thus do not speak Spanish, do not speak to them in a Spanish-ized version of Italian that showcases your knowledge of the intonation of Ciao. They’ll see right through you and tell you to apply online, like all the other applicants who have come by in the past.
Once you are invited in for an interview at an authentic french bakery, make sure you read the invitation email to a T. If the café has various venues in the city, do not assume that the address on their signature is the address where the interview will be held. This will prevent you from arriving to the aforementioned address a half hour in advance and ordering a cappuccino while waiting patiently to hear your name once 8 AM rolls around. After five minutes of a no-show, you will get the odd feeling that something is not right, recheck your email, and read the fine print clarifying the interview location is in fact in a locale a 20 minute walk away. Once you arrive late to the interview, clarify what language you are going to speak and stick to it. If speaking French feels like the surefire path to their hearts, continue to speak French. Do not, however, interlace it with the occasional German word because it’s the language that you’ve been employing for the past six months. As impressive as it may be that you speak several languages, it is not exactly the epitome of professionalism when the languages control you rather than the other way around. No matter how much coffee they offer you during this interview, keep in mind that you were late and that you sound as if someone has crosswired the Broca’s area of your brain. Do not take that as a signal of success.
Once you have been called into a “Probezeit” (Trial Period), don’t be fazed by the inhumane amount of people that comes in during rush hour. However, be aware that making acai bowls is not as simple as you might think. The scenes of pure relaxation you see behind the counter when you are sipping coffee in a blessedly desolate corner of consumers, are far and few between. Be prepared for and yet do not crumble under the pressure. In other words, do not try to show off your agility peeling mangoes, only to have the manager flip the square knife in your hands so you are indeed providing pressure with the right side of the blade. Accept that you will make mistakes, but try not to do so in front of the person whose decision will greatly affect your foreseeable future. Also be aware that, despite being asked about your availability at the end of your trial shift, this is not a concrete indication that you got the job. In fact, if you thought your performance was less than satisfactory, I would start applying to other jobs.
If for some reason you had the bright idea of applying to a newly opening cafeteria at a fine arts institution run by the students themselves, be wary about, well, everything. Despite your vibrant persona and their enthused smiles during your interview, do not take their asking for your semester schedule as a job offer. In other words, when they call you the following Friday asking if you can help out on Saturday, do not feel inclined to say yes. “Help out” can be code for unpaid human labor. If you do decide to take a chance on the small hope that they will fall in love with your uplifting and cooperative existence, do so while putting a strict limit on the time you are willing to suffer. In other words, do not say you can stay from 8 AM to 3 PM washing newly-bought appliances and tableware large enough to host an entire football stadium. I am sure that managing a commercial dishwasher is a skill you want to hone only to a certain extent. As soon as they ask if you can stay longer while still failing to mention your contract or possible payment for your collaborative services, leave. I see no better alternative. This will make their ignoring the emails with your schedule attached in the following week much less upsetting. If you relish momentary suffering, however, I can guarantee it will result in a comical story once enough time has passed to be properly self-deprecating concerning the matter.
Once you have finally received good news and gotten a job in say, a Zero Waste Supermarket and Bistro, keep in mind that asking questions is not the end of the world. It is better to risk sounding stupid rather than having your boss sneak up behind you various time and notice that you’ve marked up the wrong things at the cash register. If someone tells you explicitly that the crumbly dirt in their glass is Getreide Kaffee do not tip in Ethiopian Coffee simply because you are daunted by the unwavering line of costumers and it is the first thing you see on the screen. Once said costumer (and a few others) has called because they’ve realized their receipts do not match what they actually bought, get into the habit of taking your time. Actually ask the costumers whether there is quinoa or couscous in their glass, as well as how much their glass weighs unless they have already written it down on the glass itself. Do not serve bread without a knife and do not interpret a request for a sugar-free chai latte as a simple chai tea bag with frothed milk. Just because your colleague improvises with the hot chocolate does not mean you can improvise things that are not on the menu. Ask the costumers what they mean. Your pride might advise against this, but an the end of it all, it will impede you from pondering why on earth you still have a job and fretting about possibly being fired from manual labor. Yes, getting straight A’s at a top university and not managing to succeed in a low-skilled job is quite depressing. But with time, and effort, things might get better.
I’ve always harbored a keen fascination for cafes. I fancied their cozy atmosphere, the warm ease of dabbling with gastronomy and the beauty of interpersonal connections. Like many visions that derive from our dreams, however, my aspirations where based on a romanticized version of reality. Getting a job at a café is not as easy as one might think. There is something to be said, however, about all the things that you learn from the process of applying and subsequently working at a café. It provides for comedic relief, to be sure, but it is also a great way of learning. You meet people and you get an insight into their working structure and the company itself. Once you manage to hook a job, you realize that everything in life is an art and requires some type of skill. It takes a certain form of poise and a flexible mindset to make coffee while managing orders and being aware of all the products and their properties. The experience slits open the comfortable perspective you have as a consumer and builds a bridge to the dynamic of interactions and experience from the other side of the counter.
This leads me to the final piece of advice: If frustration and feelings of inadequacy start to gnaw at you, do not quit. Weeks later, once you have systemised everything to the point of seamless mechanical and redeeming performance, it will dawn on you that time and commitment make a difference. Mistakes won’t always last and you will find yourself composed in a situation that would have normally mired you in bountiful stress. Persevering despite nerve-racking circumstances is a quality that, while it might not clearly be conveyed in the ‘Barista’ post headlining your CV, it will clearly be present in your consciousness. Not dripping coffee and correctly entering orders into a cash register can be more fulfilling than one might imagine.