scorecardI'm a bikini barista. The tips and customers are almost always great, but I keep tasers nearby just in case
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I'm a bikini barista. The tips and customers are almost always great, but I keep tasers nearby just in case

Fortesa Latifi   

I'm a bikini barista. The tips and customers are almost always great, but I keep tasers nearby just in case
Careers3 min read
Shay Harmon in a red top.    Shay Harmon
  • Shay Harmon, 23, works as a bikini barista in Washington State.
  • She said she loves her job, but keeps pepper spray and tasers close by in case of creepy customers.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Shay Harmon, a 23-year-old bikini barista in Washington State. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My job is to serve coffee — while wearing a bikini.

I started this job right out of high school. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I had just gotten into the rave scene, which is all about cute outfits and self-expression. My sister mentioned being a bikini barista, and one of the selling points was that I could wear my festival outfits to work.

I was hesitant because I didn't want to be judged or looked down on for having a job that has to do with sex appeal, but eventually I decided it would be worth it. Now it's been four years. I see it as a great stepping stone to the life I want to live.

The money I've made from tips as a bikini barista has let me buy a new car and take trips

I never would've been able to afford to do those things if it wasn't for this job. I just went to Las Vegas for my birthday weekend and recently visited Hawaii. It's also pretty flexible, so I've gotten my esthetician license too, which is helping me build my future.

I honestly expected there to be more creeps than there are. Surprisingly, it feels like people come to the stand for a few minutes of therapy or human connection. They talk to me about anything and everything, from their relationship problems to trips they're taking to what's going on at work. I look at pictures of their kids' birthdays and their new cars.

Probably 90% of the customer base is men, but we love it when women come through

Sometimes women come without realizing that it's a coffee stand with bikini baristas, and you can see the judgment on their faces. Their whole mood just changes. If they're judging you, they always ask, "Aren't you cold?" It's kind of funny, because it's always that same line.

It can get a little scary at times, especially when it gets dark earlier in the day, but most of the stands have panic buttons inside that you can press to immediately call the police. We also have tasers and pepper spray around the stand. Mostly, though, I feel safe.

I love the freedom of my job

I can put a lot of creativity into my outfits, or I can be more casual if I want. The dress code is simple: a bra or lingerie, but you have to make sure it's not mesh. When I'm working, I'm usually the only one in the stand, so I don't have to worry about coworkers or drama. It's just me and the customers having a good conversation and drinking good coffee.

Some coffee stands require you to post on Instagram as part of your job, but mine doesn't. I do like sharing parts of my day or my outfits on Instagram and TikTok, though. It helps us build our customer base and develop those relationships with regulars. It's fun to share about our industry on TikTok. I want people to know what it's like to be a bikini barista: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We make a base wage at the coffee stand and then tips on top of that. People can be very generous. They know they're not just coming for the coffee — they're coming for the view, and they need to compensate the girls for that. And most of the time, they do.

I feel like people think bikini baristas are girls with no ambitions or life dreams

But that's just not true at all. They assume we just care about using men and taking their money (even though they're the ones coming to see us).

When people get to know me, they realize that I'm an esthetician and I have goals and dreams. I'm more than a pretty face. They're blown away, which feels incredibly misogynistic.

Just because I have a job that includes sex appeal doesn't mean I'm lesser than someone who doesn't. For me, this is a stepping stone to the life I want. But if it wasn't, that'd be OK too.