Investing In Your Baristas, Part II: Retaining Employees


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Last time, Matt discussed how to hire and train a great team of baristas in Part I of this series. This time, he covers another side of managing baristas: how to retain them.


What often comes to mind when thinking of why workers remain with a café is monetary compensation. However, there is much more involved in keeping your best employees. A performance-based compensation plan should be designed to encourage your staff to do their best and to make sure they behave in a way that will promote business growth, profitability, quality service and efficiency behind the bar. To attract great employees, you will need to offer a base pay and earnings potential that are equal to or better than other coffeehouses in your area. This pay plan also must be objective and fair to ensure morale, but it will be ultimately based on performance and responsibility.

In a coffeehouse, you want to encourage teamwork. A fair pay plan, along with the sharing of employee tips, can help accomplish this. In our industry, tips are a considerable part of a barista’s wage, and in many cases, they are directly related to an employee’s performance. I generally have let my past employees figure out their preferred way of splitting tips, but you will want to first consult your local department of labor to familiarize yourself with the stipulation of tips and claiming tips in you area.


It is smart to provide whatever benefits you can that will put you in a better competitive position to attract and retain employees. If you are a start-up retailer and have been tagged as a foodservice operation, full health benefits may not be feasible right away. However, a small company group health plan may be within reach given the age of your employees, and the cost will depend on your provider. Giving your employees access to, or at least the option to obtain, health insurance can be a great way to retain those who are looking to make coffee their career. You also may look to professional industry associations, or for example, credit unions that offer membership eligibility for coverage.

Nontraditional benefits, beyond the usual employees discounts, require just a bit of creativity. Providing small perks like movie tickets, gift certificates or, like here in Portland, Oregon, the occasional tattoo appointment, can really help make your employees appreciate their jobs.

Praise and Recognition

Numerous studies have shown that money is not always the primary motivator for employees, and from my experience, I completely agree. It is important to recognize your employees for good work, and they will often repeat the performance. When you have the chance, give praise in front of a customer or in a staff meeting. Also, give credit where credit is due and reinforce excellent performance. You can look for key measures to recognize your baristas such as great latte art, a clean work area, great customer service or handling a rush well. There is nothing better than getting off work after a long bar shift and having your boss tell you that you kicked ass today!

It is easy to come up with contests to recognize your staff, such as a weekend-day latte art contest, creative cupping notes, a Barista of the Month award and other achievements. Instead of money, give recognition certificates, plaques, a new tamper, a T-shirt, tickets to an event, or dinner for two at a local restaurant. Giving something tangible makes a longer-lasting impression than a $20 bill.

By engaging your employees in your day-to-day business decision-making, you give them the authority to act in your coffeehouses’s best interest. With the right training, you can trust them to make decisions in your absence if there is a customer problem or an operation issue. Do not criticize employee mistakes; instead, use an honest screw-up as a way to improve performance. No one is perfect, and the last thing you want is an employee who is afraid to make a decision on his or her own. As an owner, nothing is more gratifying than seeing employees build their skills behind the bar, making sound decisions that are in the best interest of your business.

The overall goal is to encourage employee behavior that builds your business and to recognize baristas who practice these behaviors often. They will enjoy working in a fun environment with the people they enjoy being around. Encourage and perhaps even organize events outside of work for you and your staff to attend, such as a movie or a concert. If you don’t feel comfortable breaking the ice outside of work, maybe look for a key employee who can assume this role.

Employee Relations

Motivating and retaining great employees requires strong leadership and effective management skills. Providing your employees with the right tools and support is key. Developing and sticking to a training methodology and a well thought-out, performance-based compensation plan will encourage your staff to help build your business. A positive work environment will prove more desirable than monetary income to almost any good employee.

As a coffeehouse owner or manager, it is your responsibility to provide recognition and good communication to your staff. Doing these things will help you create that harmonious team that every employer dreams of: one that works not only for themselves but also for the benefit of your customers and your company.

As I’ve said, we work in the coffee industry because it is fun and because we love interacting with people and serving an outstanding product. The loyalty and motivation of your employees will be dictated by your example. If you can succeed in creating a pleasant environment in which your employees can thrive, they will reward you by performing their job with pride and at the highest level.

Article by Matt Milletto from May 2007 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine

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Bellissimo Coffee Advisors
1028 SE Water Ave
Ste 275
Portland, OR 97214