A bikini barista is a person who prepares and serves coffee drinks while dressed in scanty attire such as a bikini or lingerie. In the United States, this marketing trend (sometimes referred to as sexpresso or bareista) originated in the Seattle, Washington area in the early 2000s. Similar phenomena have appeared in countries such as Chile and Japan since at least the 1980s.
Development of concept
Espresso drive-through stands and coffee outlets are numerous in the greater Seattle area, and the exact inventor of the "bikini barista" concept is debated. The "Natte Latte" chain's first location was opened in November 1999 by Mary Keller, and its employees began sporting pink leather hotpants in 2001. Next, in 2003, "Cowgirls Espresso" opened its first location in Tukwila, Washington. A few months after opening, as summer heat invaded the small 70-square-foot (6.5 m2) shop, owner Lori Bowden adopted employee suggestions that they start a "Bikini Wednesday" promotion. Sales took off, and other scantily-clad theme days soon followed. The concept of "bikini baristas" spread quickly, featuring attractive young women dressed in attire such as bikinis, lingerie, stockings, and heels. The first round of international press attention to the trend occurred in early 2007. Competitors that have not followed suit have complained about the trend, and have also seen a drop in business.
The retail establishments which employ bikini baristas often adopt titillating names, including "Peek A-Brew", "Grab n' Go", "Cowgirls Espresso", "Smokin' Hot Espresso", "Knotty Bodies Espresso", "Java Jigglers", "Espresso Gone Wild", "Java Girls", "Sweet Spot", and "Natte Latte".
The phenomenon of bikini baristas has sometimes caused controversy and complaints from local residents. Undercover police officers in Snohomish County, Washington witnessed some baristas performing additional services for extra money, including letting customers touch them, photograph them or watch them lick whipped cream off each other. These statements have been retracted by the Everett, WA police department, as the police officer 'undercover' was a known customer and offered the said barista money. The Everett, WA police department was accused of purposeful entrapment. In September 2009, five baristas at a Grab 'n Go in Everett, Washington were charged with prostitution after police surveillance caught them stripping and performing sexual acts for cash. Other complaints included the stand's proximity to preschools and daycare centers. In another incident, "Espresso Gone Wild" in Belfair, Washington was temporarily shut down by Mason County in August 2008. It drew the ire of Belfair residents. Mason County officials responded to complaints on the July 30, 2008 meeting, by ruling the espresso stand is "erotic entertainment" and off limits in the Belfair area. The owners of "Espresso Gone Wild" in Belfair were being told that their baristas are violating an erotic entertainment ordinance. They were also told that their baristas need to cover up and clean up their act or the stand will be shut down permanently. Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon says the owners of "Espresso Gone Wild" are welcome to open a coffee shop and compete with all the other coffee shops in town. Sheldon also says the owners won't be able to sell sex and coffee on the side. "Espresso Gone Wild" in Belfair, Washington was prohibited from allowing employees to wear pasties and their baristas now wear bikinis. Residents in another community have surveilled a local stand and called for boycotts of companies whose employees patronize the establishments. In July 2011, the owner and three employees of Java Juggs in Snohomish County, Washington were charged with prostitution, with the police later releasing some footage obtained.
Growth outside Seattle
Some entrepreneurs have opened bikini barista stores with success outside the Seattle area, including in Raleigh, North Carolina, Aurora, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, Youngstown, Ohio, Tampa, Florida, Chatsworth, Georgia, Las Vegas, Texas, and Missouri. Baristas has been dubbed the hooters of coffee due to its size and popularity in the market.
One chain in particular called "Bottoms Up Espresso", who have expanded into multiple Northern California markets including locations in Modesto, CA, Tracy, CA and Bakersfield, CA, has quickly become a favorite among social media users with their baristas featured regularly on the website The Chive and other popular websites. With the brands growing popularity they have expanded into a mobile food truck style service and expanded into its own line of merchandise including yearly calenders featuring their current line up of bikini baristas. Bottoms Up Espresso has went onto earn the support and regular business of mainstream athletes, celebrities, and recording artists.
Outside the United States
- A phenomenon similar to bikini baristas is very popular in Chile, known as "café con piernas" (literally, coffee with legs) and existed long before their Seattle counterpart.
- In Taiwan, young women who sell betel nuts and cigarettes from brightly lit glass enclosures while wearing revealing clothing are called Betel nut beauties. They first debuted in the 1960s.
- In Japan, "no-pan kissa" (no-panty coffee shop) blossomed in the 80's, where the waitresses have short skirts and no panties. Typical of Japanese sex-fads, they didn't last more than a few years before they morphed into other (but similar) businesses.
- In Surfers Paradise, Queensland, gold lamé bikini-clad meter maids stroll up and down the beach feeding coins into parking meters so that beach-goers won't get parking tickets. Though feeding meters is illegal in Surfers Paradise, local law enforcement is encouraged to look the other way, as the Meter Maids not only keep tourists happy, but they have also become a tourist attraction themselves.
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