I'll start by saying that I have almost no experience with this issue in the coffee business.
But I was recently hired by two cafes, and thought that I'd be able to keep both positions. I'd work one on the weekends(when they most needed it) and the other on the weekdays. Management at one of the two shops let me know that they considered this to be a "conflict of interest" and that it would be an unacceptable arrangement. I was surprised, but it was clear that I needed to decide between the two. Just to add a few details: both the shops are independent, they are about 12 miles apart, I'm not being hired specifically to train or manage either shop.
I'm not complaining, but I am curious to hear if this happens often. Have other baristas run into this issue? Has anyone really enjoyed working at two cafes? From an owner's perspective, are there real proprietary issues? I am starting to understand the perspective that says that cafe owners don't want to train their competition's employees. But I wonder what conditions are necessary for two cafes to be competitors. Is it proximity? aesthetic? coffee program? or just a zero-sum mentality?
I hope the shop having issues is the one offering the least hours. As long as you're doing your job fully engaged and available for shifts when they need you I see no problem. There's always room at the top.
Did you have to sign any "non-compete" clause as a condition of being hired? If not you could have a wrongful termination case should they push the issue, check with your local department of Labor & Industries.
The shop I used to work at did make us sign a "non-compete" clause, preventing us from working at another shop, or even any place that served coffee. Then again, that owner was very business-oriented, so it made sense that he would have us sign it, as it's probably a good business decision for him.
12 miles between shops is certainly no competition, on the same block would be a different story. Coffee shops typically draw from an area of less than three miles around them and that con go down to less than a mile in an urban environment.
That is one of reasons I work as a contractor rather than an employee. The cafes are invoiced for my time. What I do when I'm not there is none of their business and they know better than to ask.
In our town, it is pretty normal for baristas to work at a couple of shops. Often, one shop isn't capable of providing their baristas with enough hours, so it is a necessity.
12 miles away doesn't seem like a direct competitor to me. If you were to draw a 12 mile radius circle around my city center, you'd encompass my entire metro area... though your area may be different.
Are they paying you the equivalent of a full-time livable wage? If not, what do they expect you to do to be able to make rent?
Everyone's response makes me feel less naive in my initial surprise. I have worked in two cafes at one time before without any issues...
As to concerns about my ability to make rent. Both shops were able to offer full-time positions, but willing to have me on part-time. I essentially went with the shop where I'd learn more and just put in my notice today with the better-paying shop. So it goes.
I currently share a part-time employee with another shop - just one block away! We have a three way "don't ask, don't tell" agreement regarding business operations. That being said, the other shop owner is a good friend. We can ask each other pretty much about anything, though we restrict ourselves regarding sales figures. It works fine for us so far.
I ran into a similar issue earlier this year. I manage a small cafe, but was being severely underpaid for my time/work/energy. An opportunity came up that was seasonal (only the summer of 2011) that allowed me to operate an outdoor lever machine two days a week in a new revitalization project for our city. When I informed the gentleman (who remains a friend) that I would be doing this other project it created a bit of bad air that we really had to clear up, and that was a difficult process. I'm thankful to have gone through it, but had to make clear that as a PT employee (even as a manager) I was not 'owned' by any company and having not signed a contract, let alone a non-competition clause, I was free to seek out employment and opportunities as I saw fit, as long as they did not interfere at all with my duties and abilities in the one shop.
Summer is over and the arrangement worked out, but I had to do a lot of seeking for advice about what was right or wrong and am glad that I persevered through it all.
Hope that it all works out well for you.