How making espresso made me a better teacher

Modaks Espresso in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I learned to make a beautiful latte.

Before becoming a crusty ol’ professional type, I sharpened my tools as a busboy/dishwasher/waiter/barista. It was not only a fantastic way of staying financially afloat while traveling the globe, but also a superb means of meeting some amazing people and having great experiences.

Here’s just a few ways making espresso and carrying hot cast iron plates of Chinese food made me a better educator.

Customer service

Working in hospitality brought me in contact with the hungry, snobby, drunk, lonesome, rich, poor, rude, and delightful. I served them all.

Attention to detail

A lot of places make coffee, hamburgers, medium-rare steaks, and chocolate cake. The difference between a good and memorable experience in a cafe, bar, or restaurant, however, usually comes down to the little touches. The fact that your latte was exactly the right temperature, or your entrée was brought at just the right time after your appetizer. It took me a long time (and many flabbergasted looks from my patient employers) but I eventually learned that, to be hospitable, one has to do the little things right.


If you are disorganized, you cannot work in hospitality. Not only will it be impossible for you to serve customers, but it will make your coworkers’ lives a living hell. They will yell and swear at you profusely. Clean as you go, put things where they need to be, and tidy up not only your own mess, but also the ones left by others.

Creating an environment

As a waiter I would sometimes become obsessed with what music was playing, lighting, table setting, the temperature, and table arrangements. I never would have guessed at the time that it was preparing me for having my own classroom one day.

The importance of community

I would say that cafe, as opposed to restaurant, work taught me most about being a facilitator of community. In a cafe, customers are regulars. They come daily for the coffee and cinnamon buns, sure, but that’s not the real reason. Mostly, they want a place where the proverbial everybody knows your name. Some of them want to chat, and others just want you to give them a tip of the hat.

Be at the ready, but don’t interfere

This is one of the hardest things to learn in the service industry. How do you be ready at all times to serve, yet never make the customer feel stalked or neglected?

Reading people

The best servers can tell what a customer wants/needs before being asked.

What did you learn in your previous jobs that inform who you are now?



  1. Had to do some similiar writing in my recent course work – many of my roles were similiar to a tour guide – worked at a conservation area and for Parks Canada. Answering questions, giving tours, telling stories, etc., I agree – my customer service experiences have served me well as a professional… such a fun excercise to think back at one’s learning experiences and find the ones that have had the most impact! I still kinda think of myself as a tour guide… “watch your footing… ask lots of questions and let’s have some fun ‘kay :)”

  2. I totally love this blog post. You and I are very similar. I too started my career in the service industry. Over six years I worked in a fancy resort, a local diner and a nighttime bar. Your line about knowing how to be ready to serve, but not hover is absolutely correct. This is directly related to being a teacher. We need to ensure the students have all the materials they need for learning, we might make a few recommendation and then stand back to observe and step in only when needed.

  3. Sounds like you are really enjoying your job and that is important. I know exactly what you are talking about. I have just started working at Dark Horse Espresso Bar in Toronto. It’s such a great experience for me, because I get to talk to so many interesting people. Working there brings along a lot of good experiences as well as hilarious conversations. So far I am loving it!!

  4. Hi, Royan. I am a student at the University of South Alabama working toward regaining my teacher’s certificate. I am a former special educator but have been home raising kids for the last 13 years. So, I am a new blogger and basically new to most things tech! Needless to say, I am learning a LOT! In my EDM310 class, I have been assigned to follow your blog for a couple of weeks, and then I will summarize your work on my personal blog ( Angie Morris’ EDM310 Blog ).

    I very much enjoyed “How making espresso made me a better teacher” because I have never considered how my own experience as a server related to my teaching. Waiting tables was just a side job to make a little extra money in college. However, your comparison really draws the connection between the two in so many ways. As a teacher, we deal with all kinds of students (and parents), so learning to navigate and deal with different personalities is extremely beneficial! Furthermore, creating an organized, well-planned classroom atmosphere can have an enormous impact on special needs children. When you think about it, the education field is very much a service industry!

    Thanks for your insightful blog!

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