Most coffee shop owners put off hiring a manager for too long, but it’s easy to understand why. Hiring a manager requires a ton of trust. A manager is essentially a surrogate “you” as a coffee shop owner. How do you even begin to find someone who can do what you do?
The truth is, most coffee shop owners focus too much on finding a “mini” version of themselves, and not enough on whether the person can do the job. It is perfectly fine, even desirable, to have a manager who does things a little differently than you. A good manager can be an instrumental part of developing your business as long as you are willing to let your vision become more malleable.
Perhaps most importantly, you’re hiring your manager to make your life easier. Training, employee feedback, inventory, and reporting are all things that a competent manager is more than capable of taking off your plate. Some business owners feel guilty about admitting they need help, but not asking for help will send you hurtling towards burnout. Admitting that there is a lot to do when running a coffee shop that is better handled by two people than one will make your manager hiring process a lot easier.
With all that in mind, these are some questions we’ve found to be a pretty good predictor of success in a management role. Like our barista interview questions, they’re concretely related to the job at hand. Remember, no matter how much you personally like or dislike a potential manager, their ability to perform the job is what’s most important.
A note on open ended questions: Most of these questions here are all very open ended. Open ended questions can be useful to allow a candidate to use their own examples, but don’t forget interviews are a uniquely stressful experience. If a candidate is struggling to come up with a good example, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the wrong fit for the job. It is helpful as the interviewer to have some examples of your own prepared to prompt the candidate or to provide a hypothetical scenario for them to respond to. Asking open ended questions without acknowledging the stresses of an interview can mean you miss out on some great hires.
Tell me about a time you had to make a decision quickly without all of the information.
How did you handle it?
Coffee shops are fast paced, no way around that. A manager is under constant pressure to make quick decisions throughout the day. It might be an issue with a customer, an ingredient running out, a piece of equipment failing, or any number of other issues that come up working in a coffee shop. Like you, your manager needs to be able to handle that stress and make rational decisions in the moment.
A good answer to this question would involve the candidate setting the scene for you and then walking through their thought process and actions. You can certainly evaluate their solution, but it’s more important to hear their process. If they’re thinking through outcomes quickly then choosing that they think will work best or be least bad, that’s a great sign.
Offering your own example might be something like, “Our machine started acting up while we had a line of customers, so I let everyone know and offered some other drink recommendations if a customer didn’t want to take a chance on our wonky machine that day.” Was that the best solution? Maybe, maybe not. But what matters is a decision was made quickly. You can always come back later to think about what to do better the next time.
Tell me about a time you’ve experienced a big change.
How did you handle it? What, if anything did you learn from it?
While the previous question is more focused on day-to-day struggles, this question is more about how the applicant views personal growth. Wanting to grow is a great asset for any employee, but it’s a far more important trait to see in a manager than a barista. Ideally you’ll get an idea for how the applicant responds to difficult circumstances and makes the best of them.
For your own example, starting your business could be the perfect thing to pull from. Getting started certainly must have involved many big changes, so how did you yourself prepare for them and deal with them. What do you take from them? It could be the very thing that led you to look for a manager. “I tried to take on a lot and realized I need support to make this work.”
Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
How did you handle it? What did you learn from it?
No matter how good a manager is, mistakes will be made. Your manager sets an example for other employees, so it is vitally important that you hire someone who can own up to mistakes.
Learning from mistakes is also a crucial part of this question. Mistakes will always happen, but you want to hear the steps the candidate took to make correct the mistake in the future. The more checks the candidate implemented, the better. For example, if they forgot to order enough of an ingredient before, a great answer would be that they set recurring alarms to remember it and also added it to a checklist. Aggressively preventing future mistakes is a great management trait.
When providing your own example, you have a few options. One way to go is to think of a mistake you made that you handled in a way you feel confident about to see if the applicant reaches a similar solution. Another option is to provide a mistake you’re not sure that you solved well to see what the applicant comes up with. This can be a good exercise for you to see if the applicant is someone who will be able to help think of solutions you may not have.
We have daily (weekly, monthly) team sales goals as a store. What would you do to achieve those goals?
How would you communicate those goals to the team? What would your follow-up look like?
Even if you don’t have specific sales goals set already, a variant of this question is always good to ask. You need your manager to keep the shop’s numbers in the back of their mind at all times. Not everything needs to be about cutting costs, but coffee shops don’t have the luxury of spending frivolously.
A manager also needs to feel ready to motivate other members of the team to think about sales. It’s easy to come into work at a coffee shop and just think about cleaning, making coffee, and taking orders, but there is a real element of sales to being a good barista as well. Your manager should be able to help the team come up with strategies to raise the average ticket price of transactions and help other team members set their own goals as well as coaching those that struggle with achieving those goals.
Ultimately, you are a business, and a good manager knows this. Building a happy and supportive team is a great asset to a successful business, but that team’s efforts need to be directed towards making money.
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