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For all of you shop owners and managers out there, it is important to understand the responsibilities of a barista and of finding great employees to work in your operation. Your employees will be making all of your beverages and food items. You must hire people who share the same passion for quality that you as an owner have, not only for your espresso and coffee beverages, but for every menu item you serve. Your staff also will be providing customer service. Having worked in the specialty coffee industry for more than a decade as a manager and trainer, I cannot express enough how imperative excellent customer service is in any operation. Right alongside quality in the cu-p, positive or negative customer service will leave a lasting impression in your customer’s mind, perhaps hours after they patronize your operation.

Also remember that your employees will be maintaining your store’s appearance, managing your costs, and giving you time to be outside the operation to administer your business or to see to the marketing side of things.

Hiring Time
If you are a new café owner and plan to hire a group of employees at once, hosting an orientation for new hires is the best way to lay some groundwork and explain the responsibilities each employee will have. With initial staffing, it is often important to hire more people than necessary in the event that either party decides the job is not the right fit for them. As an owner/manager, you don’t always want to be the one filling bar shifts while also trying to open shop. (Although working scheduled bar shifts is something I do recommend.)

A detailed employment agreement will specify to all new employees the terms, job descriptions, mission statement, expectations, and compensation and termination guidelines for the duration of their employment at your shop. As the employer, it is appropriate for you to establish standard terms and conditions under which you are willing to employ your workers.

With any new hire, it is important to implement a 90-day probation period, during which it is helpful to set some goals for employees to strive for. Along with your ongoing training program, skill building, up-selling and overall performance should be skills that good baristas always strive to elevate.

Training Days

The ideal training environment will have a dedicated espresso machine and trainer available outside your busy café hours. I like to train new employees for at least 16 hours before thy pull their first shift, and they only work if we agree that they are ready.

Pre-work training should include a review of your policies and procedures, as well as full bar training, beverage preparation, customer service and an overview of your brand. If you must rain on your main espresso machine, as most of will, do this either during off hours or during slower periods. Working a 10 p.m. training shift with our new hires can be a fun way to bond and to let them know you are extremely dedicated to making sure they are trained. A good (to-be) barista will see the value and appreciate the skills you are providing them.

As we all know, training must be ongoing. It is the key to consistency. If all of your employees are well trained, and have a passion for their craft, you should feel comfortable about who you have representing your business. Also, the saying, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” is very true. If you focus on the importance of good and consistent training, on one variable or employee will adversely affect your business.

As with any type of work, your employees should not feel like they are out there on their own with no one to turn to when they need help. They need someone readily available to help when they have questions or encounter problems. Your employees will appreciate having adequate support. This factor will only benefit employee morale.

You may want to develop a training checklist for all areas of your operation, along with an employee manual. You will want to develop a training methodology that explains your goals to create a consistent culture within your business, reflected in everyone from the owner to the employees to the customers.

Café Culture
It is important to realize that many companies exist to satisfy a social need. Profits are not the only goal, but they are a by-product of meeting the needs of your customers and employees. All businesses have a responsibility to back to the communities in which they operate. In the specialty coffee industry, as we strive to educate our customers about specialty coffees, we as retailers are often able to influence buying practices, which in return have a global effect. Great employees like to take pride in their work and deliver quality products while continuing to learn and grown professionally. Having a business culture that incorporates social and environmental responsibility enables employees to combines their strengths to meet these mutual needs as part of a dynamic team.

Your company’s culture starts with your mission statement and values, which should be well thought-out and articulated in writing. While the coffeehouse owner often develops this mission statement, it is important to solicit input from your key employees, too, and it should accurately reflect your business philosophy. As an owner, you must set the standard for your employees. In the coffee industry, I have seen some of the most successful coffee roasters and retailers implementing their own corporate culture within their companies, and they have been able to create some very desirable places to work.

Let’s face it: Most of us work in the coffee industry because it is fun, and we love interacting with people and serving an outstanding product. Ultimately, management and leadership efforts will determine your success in providing an atmosphere where your employees and customers will be motivated to work efficiently and to remain loyal to your company. Your goal is to create and retain a team that you can be proud of, a team that will then take pride in their work and your operation.

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