Kaimahi Toa Kawhe
Cafe workers prepare, serve and sell food and drinks to customers at delicatessens, cafes, canteens and takeaway bars.
Cafe workers usually earn
$19-$20 per hour
Source: Restaurant Association of NZ, 2018.
Pay for cafe workers varies depending on where they work.
- Cafe workers usually earn between minimum wage and $20 a hour.
Source: Restaurant Association of New Zealand, '2017 Remuneration Survey Results', 2018.
- PAYE.net.nz website – use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Cafe workers may do some or all of the following:
- prepare foods such as salads, sandwiches, baked goods and meat
- ensure food is fresh and kept at a safe temperature
- prepare coffee beans and use a coffee machine to make coffee
- make hot and cold drinks such as tea or juice
- take orders, serve customers and answer their questions
- weigh, price and pack food
- clear tables, wash dishes and clean and stock food cabinets
- manage the till
- order food from suppliers
- supervise other staff and organise work rosters.
Skills and knowledge
Cafe workers need to have knowledge of:
- the foods they sell, and how to prepare this food
- food hygiene and safety regulations, and how to judge if food is fresh
- basic maths skills for weighing food and calculating ingredient quantities
- how to use a coffee machine.
Depending on where they work, cafe workers may also need to know about specialty foods.
- may work regular business hours or do shift work, including evenings and weekends
- work in cafes, canteens, delicatessens and takeaway bars.
What's the job really like?
From a shy start to confident conversationalist
"When I first started I was very, very shy. I had just come out of school and I did a coffee course. I overcame my fear of talking to customers and just came out of my shell. I have definitely grown in my people skills.
"Common tasks you do as a café assistant include serving customers, taking meals out to them, and talking to them – you want to make conversation, you want to find out how their day is."
A busy cafe is challenging
"You really need a strong backbone to work in this industry. It's very stressful when it gets busy. Customers don't understand that when you're busy their orders take longer. They expect it to be there as soon as they order.
"Another challenging thing is if you're one or two staff members down, you've got to pick up the other person's job, so you may be doing other tasks in a day that aren't actually your job."
Happy customers rewarding
"It's rewarding when customers tell us that we did a fabulous job – the meal was fabulous, the service was perfect – that really lifts everyone's spirit a lot. I love the communication with the customers. Especially our regulars. We know them really well – it just makes our day when we see a whole lot of happy customers come in."
Cafe worker video
Alex Low talks about what it's like to be a cafe worker – 1.13 mins.
Maybe one day you’ll end up washing dishes a lot. Another day you’re outside doing a lot more connection with the customers. Another day you might be on the till a lot more.
Skills wise, number one I would think – if you like people, it’s really about that in this job. People don’t just come in for a coffee, they come in to be with other people and that’s the environment you are in.
I can believe in a good cup of coffee and I can believe in the stuff that I’m actually bringing out, and I can believe in just that 20 minutes of experience and I know you can actually make that almost perfect, yeah, with a bit of effort and a bit of love in it.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a cafe worker as skills are gained on the job.
Cafe workers may complete the New Zealand Certificate in Food and Beverages - Cafe Strand (Level 3) while working. Employers may also send staff on customer service, food handling and hygiene courses.
You can complete an apprenticeship and gain a New Zealand Certificate in Food and Beverage (Level 3 or 4) or a New Zealand Certificate in Catering Services (Level 3 or 4). ServiceIQ oversees hospitality apprenticeships.
- ServiceIQ website - information about New Zealand Apprenticeship in Food and Beverage
- ServiceIQ website - information about the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Catering Services (PDF - 617KB)
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a cafe worker. However, home economics (food and nutrition), maths and English to NCEA Level 1 are useful.
For Year 11 to 13 learners, trades academies and the STAR and Gateway programmes are good ways to gain relevant experience and skills.
These programmes may help you gain an apprenticeship, but do not reduce the amount of time it takes to complete it.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
To specialise as a barista, you usually train on the job. Some employers may offer the opportunity to gain barista skills through short courses at polytechnics or private training providers.
Cafe workers need to be:
- friendly, helpful and polite
- quick and efficient
- honest and reliable
- good at customer service
- good at remembering orders
- able to communicate clearly
- able to take instructions well, and work well in a team
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to work well under pressure.
You need to know how to take criticism well and how to retain information.
Useful experience for cafe workers includes:
- customer service
- cooking and baking
- food packaging and preparation experience.
Cafe workers need to be fit and healthy as they are on their feet for long periods.
Find out more about training
- Hospitality New Zealand
- (04) 385 1369 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.hospitalitynz.org.nz
- Restaurant Association of New Zealand
- (09) 638 8403 - email@example.com - www.restaurantnz.co.nz
- 0800 863 693 - intel@ServiceIQ.org.nz - www.serviceiq.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
COVID-19 pandemic decreases demand for cafe workers
Job opportunities for cafe workers are poor because the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced demand. It is expected that cafe worker jobs will continue to decrease over the next few years. However, the number of people working in most hospitality jobs is expected to reach pre-COVID-19 levels around 2024.
According to the Census, 9,747 cafe workers and 8,580 baristas worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Types of employers varied
Most cafe workers are employed by cafes or fast food outlets, but the size and type of employer can vary from small businesses to large franchises.
- Bohny, S, 'Nelson Suffering from a Lack of Hospitality Staff', 18 January 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Clearwater, M, senior adviser, Service IQ – Workforce Development, careers.govt.nz interview, June 2020.
- Cropp, A, 'More Than 2,700 New Hospitality Outlets Split the Dining Dollar', 2 September 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Guy, A, 'Shortage of Skilled Hospitality Staff as Kiwis Shun Entry-level Jobs', 23 June 2017, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Jobs Online Monthly Report – May 2018', accessed July 2018, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- Stats NZ, 'Kiwis Eating More Food on the Go' (media release), 20 November 2017, (www.stats.govt.nz).
- Waldren, N, general manager, Restaurant Association of New Zealand, careers.govt.nz interview, September 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Cafe workers may progress to work as a bartender or waiter/waitress, or move into management or supervisor roles.
- Bartender job information
- Cafe/restaurant manager job information
- Waiter/waitress job information
- ServiceIQ website - career map of jobs in hospitality (PDF - 546kb)
Cafe workers can specialise as baristas.
- Baristas prepare and serve coffee, and other hot and cold beverages. They know different coffee types, how to use coffee machines to extract coffee from beans and also know how to create latte art.
Last updated 7 January 2021