Can I support myself working as a barista in NYC?
May 23, 2013 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Can I support myself working as a barista in NYC?

I have a year of barista experience and I'm currently a shift supervisor at the coffee-shop where I work in Boston. Professionally my dream is to be a casting director. I had an internship last fall at a casting company here, and my understanding is to get my foot in the door in NYC I'd need to do an unpaid internship there for awhile. Since most internships run 2-3 days a week, I would need to work the other 4-5 days.

I've been meaning to move to NYC for awhile and I'm considering moving there as early as the fall. If I rented a room in Brooklyn or Queens would it be possible for me to support myself working 4-5 days a week as a barista? I only have about $6000 saved up for the move.
posted by timsneezed to Work & Money (26 answers total)
Serious question: Are you willing to share a really small 1-bedroom apartment in a sketchy neighborhood with 3 other people? Think two bunkbeds on either side of a small room, prison cell-style. That's my guess on how you'd have to be willing to live to make it on barista money in NY.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:06 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine did this for a year and a half, but barista was only one of her jobs. She also waitress-ed and took care of people’s children to make ends meet.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: So how do baristas living in NY generally support themselves?
posted by timsneezed at 1:12 PM on May 23, 2013

What do baristas at Starbucks earn? My impression is that the baristas tend to be college kids looking to make extra money on the side. Perhaps the full-time store managers earn a decent wage but I'd be surprised if you can clear enough as a part-time barista to live in New York City.
posted by dfriedman at 1:15 PM on May 23, 2013

So how do baristas living in NY generally support themselves?

With second jobs; with money from their parents; with money from savings; by having 4 roommates in a 1BR; by living really far away from their places of business; by still living at home; by being students who only work part time for spending money.
posted by elizardbits at 1:17 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

So how do baristas living in NY generally support themselves?

They will do some combination of the following:

1. Be living in a dorm, as barista is a popular job for college students
2. Work multiple jobs, of which barista is one
3. Be living in a tiny cramped place, likely one which is a fairly long train ride away

And so on. Basically you don't encounter a lot of career baristas in NYC.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2013

My guess is that you'd need at least 2 jobs, maybe more.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2013

You could probably manage it, but you wouldn't be happy. I did okay with a roommate in an apartment in Astoria on $1400 a month after taxes in 2004. (An inflation calculator tells me that's almost $1700 in today's money.) My share of the rent was $700 ($850) and from what I've heard lately rents have gone up by quite a bit. I was making $17 ($21) an hour before taxes though. I don't think baristas make that much.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:19 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

So how do baristas living in NY generally support themselves?

I mean, for all intents and purposes, they don't. They are either partially supported by others, or by a combination of multiple jobs. Or their lives are kind of weird, gross, and hard...
posted by like_a_friend at 1:19 PM on May 23, 2013

Anecdote: My step-sister works full time (or probably just under) as a barista at a Starbucks in Manhattan. She shares a 1 bedroom apartment with a roommate in LeFrak City, a giant housing development in a pretty shady neighborhood located in outer, outer Queens. I'm not super close to her, but I have the impression she has a pretty hard time making ends meet, even with occasional help from her dad.
posted by justjess at 1:20 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might see if you could parley your barista experience into a job as a bartender. Worse hours, but far more money.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:22 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there an interim job you can do in the entertainment industry that will allow you to make a living wage, and give you access to casting directors?

I'd say something Administrative at a production company, studio, advertising, etc.

The idea is to either find something that pays WAY more than being a Barista, or to get a job that's kinda-sorta in the realm of what you are looking for.

You can be a cast member on a reality show that shoots in NY. They'll put you up, and you can intern in a casting office.

You're going to have to think outside the box on this one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:30 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: A lot of these answers look like speculation rather than personal experience. I spent 2009 doing exactly this, and it wasn't pure fun, but it was/is definitely doable.

I worked at Starbucks as a barista (if you can come in as a shift manager, you'd be ahead). IIRC I made $9-something an hour, and I was always looking for more hours, occasionally with success. I know I took home roughly $1000/month. My parents did not supplement that.

I had one roommate in a (small, but livable) 2br in a fairly nice part of Queens near Manhattan; my rent was $575, utilities included. It took a little looking at the time, and it'd probably take a little more now, but cheap-and-decent options still exist. The apartment was a few blocks away from the Starbucks (deliberate -- I didn't want to pay for a monthly Metrocard).

Food is pricier now than it was then, but I ate really well at the time, so I think it's still doable if you're okay with not-so-great food or just with less meat. You might also be eligible for food stamps -- I didn't realize I was until just before I left, but if I had had them all along, it would've made my life unbelievably easy.

The rest of my expenses were pretty straightforward. I couldn't forget my budget, but I did go out, buy new clothes, have a gym membership, get a smartphone, save money, etc. I would have liked more income, sure, but I got by.

Also worth noting that, at least at my store and the other stores where I subbed, the demographics were wildly different than people's guesses here. I saw no traditional college kids, nobody supported by parents, nobody working multiple jobs. Maybe in Brooklyn, but I'm skeptical.

$6000 is a lot, and that cushion will be an immense help. Other than that, you just need two things. First, budgeting skills -- get a Mint account and learn to love it. Second, an exit plan. This is something you can do for awhile, waiting for your big break, but not something you want to drift into doing for years and years. If you keep that in mind, I think you can do fine. Feel free to memail me for more info, budget breakdown, etc.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:44 PM on May 23, 2013 [20 favorites]

Skilled full-time baristas at high-end coffee shops in Portland can make $40,000 a year or more in pay and tips. I don't know New York, but I'm just guessing that people there can make as much or more than Portlanders for equivalent work. And I've known a number of people who've made ends meet on that much or less, even in NYC.

(Yes, part-time baristas, baristas at struggling and/or mid-/low-end coffee shops, and full-of-themselves-but-lacking-in-skills baristas usually make a lot less.)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:48 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I made about equivalent to a barista working at a food store in New York ~2 years ago, and was able to live in a fine apartment in a dull but safe neighborhood just south of Prospect Park with two roommates. I didn't really have extra money to spend on non-essentials, but it wasn't the doomsday scenario some people are recounting here. It kind of sucked but it wasn't an impossible situation-- just one I'd prefer not to play out again.
posted by threeants at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sprudge just did a survey, and according to their respondent pool, NYC baristas are making an average of about $18/hr when you factor in tips. That sounds about right to me if you're a skilled barista working at a third wave coffee shop. If you can score 30-35 hours a week, that puts you at about $30k per year, which is tight but doable with roommates and a careful budget. Difficulty: getting hired in the first place, getting on the schedule for that number of hours on a consistent basis, getting scheduled on the big tip (aka morning) shifts.

I think waiters and bartenders do make more money, but there are other downsides to those jobs -- hours, for instance. Your call!
posted by ourobouros at 2:14 PM on May 23, 2013

I think it depends what level you're working at in Boston.

If you work at a Starbucks, I think all the above caveats about having multiple jobs, living 4-to-a-room, etc are probably true. Those are just not at all desirable jobs in New York, and most people who have jobs like that are either kids still somewhat dependent on parents or recent immigrants who are willing to put up with crazy commute times and cramped conditions and possibly multiple such jobs. Or, like booksandlibretti, you do it temporarily until something better comes along.

If you're currently a full-time barista at a highly regarded third wave shop that would be known within the NYC coffee community, I think you could possibly coast by with a NYC barista gig at a similarly highly regarded shop and a way to make some side income as needed. Even there, you'd definitely need roommates, and you can forget living in a trendy area.

If the latter situation is the case, you probably want to be in a neighborhood where you can walk to your coffeeshop job. Look at Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens as well as Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace, and Sunset Park. More apartments and job prospects will be open to you if you have a bike.
posted by Sara C. at 2:15 PM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: I work at a small independently owned, bohemian style coffee shop that does very well and has a hip image. I wouldn't say we're high end as we're not very pricey. The coffee beans we use are fair trade. I have no idea whether our store's reputation extends to NYC coffee community, though.
posted by timsneezed at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2013

I think you could definitely shoot for a hip NYC third wave place. Could you take a field trip and scope out some options? Maybe drop a few resumes, if you're ready to move nowish?

Looking at the NYC craigslist hotel/restaurant/hospitality job listing section might also be instructive.
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on May 23, 2013

Croutonsupafreak has it right. There is a very big difference in doing this at Starbucks or doing it at an upscale local place. I used to be a barista at a big chain like Starbucks. I got about 20 hours a week, was paid a tiny sliver above minimum wage, and made maybe $5-8 a shift in tips. This was also on the ground of an affluent condo building in an expensive part of town, and in a busy shop. I filled in at other locations of that chain and it was never much better. Working at the big chain places sucks.

I'm not a barista now, but I work in the office of a very highly regarded shop. Everyone here gets more hours, gets paid like $12-18 or even more an hour, and makes up to $80 a shift in tips on a good day.

The lifestyle option A would provide is 4 people to a one bedroom and living hand to mouth(or, as I've jokingly called the step below that, ass to mouth). I couldn't even afford a shitty SRO place when I was working that job. And that was in Seattle. I would never willingly subject myself to that lifestyle/situation again in Seattle. And it's still realistic to find a place that doesn't blow and split it with roommates(with everyone having their own proper room) for <500, or even <400.

Option B on the other hand seems like you could easily support yourself. I definitely know people living in NYC boroughs supporting themselves on less than that, and not living in awful places.

Also, having just seen your updated post I think you're definitely properly positioned to get hired at a "cool" shop. Experience at another not chain "hip" place is basically the only way to get your foot in the door, but its also all you really need.
posted by emptythought at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2013

The short answer is yes, you absolutely can do it. I did, and lots of people do. You need multiple roommates, an apartment in a not-so-sexy neighborhood, and a willingness to eat beans for dinner. But none of those things are catastrophic, and actually the year when I was interning and working at a coffee shop was a really good year. If this is what you want to do, don't let people scare you out of it.

Do you know people in New York? The best way to get a cheap room or a good barista gig in NYC (or probably anywhere) is through friends.
posted by Mender at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: I only have a total of two real friends who live in NYC and a few random acquaintances. Some of them may be helpful in finding a place to live but none of them is connected to the coffee world as far as I know.

Do good barista gigs get advertised on craigslist?
posted by timsneezed at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2013

If you are willing to live with Craigslist roomies, and forgo some comforts, you can afford to do this. Search some listings to get an idea of rents.

Really, if you can afford to live in Boston, you can more or less hack it here.
posted by grobstein at 3:56 PM on May 23, 2013

Decent enough ones, yes. I don't know that you want to use Craigslist to find a job, but you can use it to get a sense of what's out there, who's hiring, how many jobs there are at any given time, etc.

You'll probably have better luck on foot around town looking for Help Wanted signs, or chatting with baristas in other places who might have a scoop on other shops in the neighborhood.
posted by Sara C. at 4:02 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

> So how do baristas living in NY generally support themselves?

When Mr. Corpse was one we lived together in a cheap apartment (nice neighborhood, teeeeeny apartment) and he was powerfully frugal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:36 PM on May 23, 2013

Best answer: I'm not a barista, but I spend a lot of time working in the kinds of small coffee shops that are likely to pay well (albeit not in New York). The main way I see people getting jobs: They show up when things are not likely to be busy (avoiding morning, lunch, mid-afternoon rushes) with a resume in hand, talk up their experience, ask who to talk to about job opportunities. They highlight their skills at indie coffee shops elsewhere. They come back later if there is no opening.

Unless you're working at a coffee shop that sends baristas to competitions and then wins those competitions, your previous employer will probably not be known to anyone in NYC. But if you can describe why and how your previous employer equipped you to do this new job well that will get you a long way.

Persistence will also help. There may be no opening on the day you drop by, but if you come by a few weeks later something could have changed. Showing up regularly to reiterate your interest (but not so often as to be a nuisance) will make you more likely to get hired than if you wait for a help wanted sign to appear in the window or an ad to be posted on craigslist.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

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