It's a good discussion to open up.
What I want to know is where does the money come from? I'm not a business owner, but - and someone please correct me if I'm going astray - I think we all know that cafe ownership isn't necessarily where the money is (although geographical and cultural differences will make an impact there), especially for the first few years of operation. I can't speak for chain cafes.
I would love to see baristas make more money. They are skilled workers, but they're not perceived as being skilled in the way that technicians or tradespeople are, whose specialization makes them a smaller talent pool, getting them higher pay. As we require more coffee education and craftsmanship from baristas, they are inhabiting a smaller pool, but the reality is that, at a baseline competency level, employers are drawing from a pretty large one. Higher wage only comes with time and movement up whatever ladder that business can offer - which, for small companies, is not a very tall ladder. I'm not sure how much small businesses can afford to pay.
Bear in mind that I'm drawing on my experience of living in Vancouver. I live in the most expensive city in North America (so sez The Economist), where minimum wage is $10.25/hr but the estimated living wage
is close to $20/hr (for small families, and I think I've seen it closer to $16 for singles). So wage is clearly an issue for many people in entry-level positions and beyond. And, too, to look at it from a broader vantage point, what is their total benefit package? Are employees receiving extended health benefits? How much are tips? (If only cafe staff were tipped out like servers!) I bring this up only to say that hourly wage is only part of the total pay. Minimum wage is rarely ever enough, at least where I live, but it helps when there are added perks.
When I see people doing well as baristas, they are never just baristas. They are managing something, be it training, bar, back-of-house, etc. They've carved out a position that is specialized, gone beyond entry-level, and have made themselves valuable to the company. Specialized positions in coffee aren't littering the ground like fallen apples - you have to work hard to get them, just as you do in any other industry.
When I read the Sprudge article
on Australian wages, I was stunned. I can't imagine a cafe here being able to pay baristas $20/hr. Are we not charging enough? Is our volume lower? How are they making this work?
Anyway, I have no answers. I'm just looking at this from the POV of where I'm living, and I'm wondering how it all works.