Two Customers Every Barista Serves

 

We serve two Customers:

  1. The community to whom you are serving coffee (the cafe’s customers)
  2. The community that brought you that coffee  (farmer, importers, roasters, et al)

What a barista is and does daily is quite possibly one of the most important roles in the whole supply chain of specialty coffee. The heart of the role’s meaning is found not in the trappings of the craft but in the daily work of creating experiences for the benefit of these two groups.

The Cafe’s Customers

People and how they are treated is the key point of focus for all baristas. Any endeavor we humans set our hands to is done with our minds and hearts resolved on an outcome that satisfies our souls. Though the customer is not recognized as an artist, they set about the work of creation daily. Through purchase they create an experience that they hope will speak to that deep sense of satisfaction we all look for. We as professionals create our shops and our service encounters with the idea in mind that we will meet them in that pursuit as we too desire to draw a sense of satisfaction from our craft. Practicing hospitality with sincerity and empathy is a practical way of recognizing their deeper human needs while using our skills to render exacting quality.  Serving your customer well also serves you well. It is not selfish to recognize that.  In fact if you try to divorce self from hospitality then you end up with insincerity and burn out. Both baristas and customers are creating experiences-one through provision, and one through purchase. This is a truth from which we should draw inspiration. We need each other to continue creating.  I think most of you reading this must truly want to be a servant to and for your cafe’s customers. If not, that is ok, there are many other ways to work in coffee besides the cafe, where you will be happier and make others happy too. We must be honest with ourselves and either embrace service to the public as an honor and joy, or we must, for the sake of all involved, seek other areas of the industry.

A barista’s first area of concern is creating experiences of sincere, empathetic, and hospitality driven service for their customers daily. To do this well, you must recognize and honor the customer as a co-creator of this experience as they facilitate your craft and create opportunity for these experiences by their patronage.

The Coffee Community

At Coffee Fest Dallas, I saw a pin at the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) booth that simply said,  “I make good coffee happen.”  I love that!

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There are many people who could wear that pin who put great effort into their particular niche of the industry and made that coffee in your hopper both possible and special. Owners/managers/baristas etc serve not only their local community but also the professional community of which they are a part. We retail professionals serve to realize the collective dreams of all those who contributed to that coffee’s potential as much as we serve to realize the collective dreams of all those who buy it.

The barista delivers only a momentary expression of a given coffee.  In order to make these brief encounters count and maximize each opportunity we need a balance of humility and confidence in our pursuit of knowledge from our industry and wisdom to know how to apply it appropriately in the shop. Customers understand specialty coffee through the lens of their accumulated experiences with it. Habits formed around these sensory expressions of coffee are what drive this industry forward. As a barista you facilitate many expressions of coffee. Hundreds of times a day you will facilitate experiences that in turn further promote the success of our industry. We are responsible for crafting coffee in such a way that not only serves the customer in the cafe but also serves the coffee community by ensuring the coffee’s final stage of life; as a drink that is sustainable, delicious, and compelling.


Conclusion

To serve both the customer and the coffee community well we must first draw inspiration from them. We can then create a coffee experience that honors the dreams of both groups while at the same time making it your own expression. In this way we are using our tradecraft to define and display for the world what specialty coffee is right now and what it can be in the future. So the next time you hurry back to the store-room to grab some bulk to top off the hopper, realize and be driven by the reality that, as a barista, you literally hold the future of coffee in your hands.

 

Hospitality in a Rush

We all want to give a good experience to the customer with each interaction we have. A great service experience is really what drives people to be your loyal fans and is therefore the most important thing you can provide. Trouble is that when things really get moving, standards often slip. I think there are two reasons behind this.

Priorities

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” -Stephen Covey

I like this quote for its simplicity. It seems obvious but practicing the obvious is harder when there is a host of subtle distractions that call for our attention. You could be on bar finishing a set of 3 lattes when a tea timer is going off too long and you are wondering why the bar back is not getting it. Meanwhile, the customer whose drinks you’re making is trying to find the drink carriers and is angling to ask you but you haven’t noticed because your attention was on the peripherals of the bar. Multiply this x 100 and you have a typical busy shift. It may not be a huge hospitality fail but losing small opportunities to show customers they are your focus add up. To combat this you should make up your mind ahead of the shift that you will value the customer experience down to the very small details in tangible ways whenever you’re given the opportunity. I know I went for years behind the bar without sitting down and working out my values like this. Of course you may work for a shop where the value system is different. By all means you should hold the values of the place that pays for you to be a barista. If, however, you work in a place that allows you to make your own priorities or you are the one who sets those standards then you have the power to make the customer experience the priority for yourself and those who report to you. Once you’ve communicated with yourself and others what the priorities are you now need to practice it to make it a habit.

Planning

If you think about it, you know what to expect on a shift. You can envision the distractions, the circumstances, your tendencies etc. In order to make hospitality a priority during busy times you will need to have a personal and collective plan for all the demands the call for your attention, e.g. You know you will need to, at some point, do dishes or brew more coffee and sometimes that mean turning your back. But customers don’t stop needing your attention when you are busy with these things. You can plan to do both these things with your body slightly angled outward so you see customers coming or if that is impossible you can delegate to another staff member to be vigilant while you bust out the dishes or inventory etc. The key here is that you are being proactive and making a plan that puts a tangible value on the customer experience rather than simply sacrificing hospitality on the altar of personal efficiency. Planning out these little scenarios may seem daunting but if you take steps to identify them as they come up and codify your solutions you will be surprised at how easy hospitality during the rush can be.

Conclusion

Look, I can appreciate “Pity Tips” as much as the next barista (i.e. customer dismayed at how busy you are drops $5 in the jar to ease the pain). It’s nice for your pocket and in the moment is makes you feel nice… but it’s a sure sign you need to prioritize and plan your bar’s hospitality for the rush because you look like you need care rather than looking like you are prepared to offer care. Take time to discuss and determine what the top priority is during the shift (I suggest it should be customer experience). Next take those priorities and superimpose them over top the various types of shifts you know your bar will experience. What’s the plan to keep “The main thing the main thing”? Unless we are willing to do the work of creating a purposeful plan of execution for all the little things around the big picture, we are doomed to only preach hospitality but practice something else when the going gets tough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Philosophy on Employee Turnover

 

Losing people sucks…kind of.

It is a crucible by which a shops leadership and remaining staff alike are tested. It is a signifier of both success and failure depending on the context. Administratively and logistically it is a burden. But is turnover bad on all accounts or is the hassle it presents clouding our judgment so all we see when someone leaves is inconvenience?

As I write this one of the three managers I oversee at Sunergos here in Louisville is preparing to leave after a very successful two-year stay with us. It was bitter-sweet hearing the news but I always knew that he was going to need to go on to his obvious calling as a writer. I hired Drew and then promoted him to manager after only 1 month as a barista because of his clear dedication, orderliness, and leadership. As the two years passed, those attributes and more shaped the cafe he managed in great and immeasurable ways. This story is not uncommon and it played out hundreds of times a year (maybe more) in cafes around the world.

As I think about his leaving, it brings up a host of questions about staff retention and turn-over. Of course there is the conversation about the “Career Barista” and whether or not that is an ideal to strive for. It is great when that happens but it is very rare. The reality is that a vast majority of those employed as baristas now, will not continue to be baristas in the future. This can be attributed to many different things and this post is not going to open up that discussion per se. We will however explore the options you have for how you can experience and use turnover for your benefit.

Shops are temporary entities that are organized for a shared purpose or mission, then, over time, they dissolve. That is not bad it’s just natural and I find it to be a rather beautiful cycle. My working philosophy on turnover right now is founded on that reality. Plus the idea that organizations of people around common goals are like latte art; ultimately temporary.  They are momentary alignments of variables that are designed to be experienced then realigned in order to help move forward positive change in the world, our industry, and our individual lives.

I want to re-frame the reality of turnover as a positive thing as well as a great opportunity. There are 2 things that I believe are great reasons to see turnover in a positive light.

Internal Cultural Evolution 

     The culture of your shop is an ever evolving thing. It is made up not only of the original mission and values that were laid out in its founding but also every staff members interpretation of those values. Each employee you have changes the shop in big and small ways just by their presence. They interpret the values of the shop that are communicated then live them out. There are staff who move the ball down the field and then there are staff who for whatever reason do not and have a negative impact on the culture. No matter what the situation, your culture is always in flux and so turnover, like the body constantly reproducing its cells, offers an opportunity to reinforce the good and to fix and replace the bad. To reinforce the positive influence of the good barista you will want to openly celebrate their contribution by communicating to other staff their legacy and values -e.g.: “John is leaving us for college out-of-state! We are going to really miss him and his hard work, flexibility, and attention to detail (plus his bad jokes). He’s leaving us an example to live up to and we are a better shop because of him.  Thanks, John.” Something like this statement expresses both the fact that you recognize the work and you also expect its continuation.

Now if you are losing an employee that has presented a negative influence, well, that is sad and hopeful all at once. Sad, because celebrating their contribution is made harder and sometimes is best left as just a polite send off. Sad, because in all likelihood they are leaving because either they were not happy, you were not happy, or both. They may have been a poor hire. They may have been a good hire but you were not a good boss. No matter the case the hopeful part is that their leaving affords you (and the shop as a whole) an opportunity to improve. You can and should take another look at your hiring practices and your management. What can we do better? How can we improve communication and follow through? What are our core values and how do we improve our ability to find staff that hold those values?

Finally, conduct exit interviews. I am a big fan of receiving evaluations from those who report to me. I want to foster an environment of openness and learning so they feel comfortable enough to give me feedback that I need to improve how I lead them. An exit interview should be the final feedback conversation of many preceding ones, not the only one when it’s likely too late. Ask about their view of the company and your leadership. How can we improve? You can do this with anyone leaving no matter on what terms they are leaving. Just be ready to take it in humbly and thoughtfully. The exit of a staff member affords you a unique opportunity for the growth of your shop. How you choose to experience that exit will determine if it is a missed opportunity or a well utilized one.

Training and equipping people for broad impact

     When we hire and train people to work as baristas we are inviting them to become part of a system that produces a product and an experience for both the customer and staff alike. That system is based on values that, if fleshed out well in the daily operations, determine what customers and staff take away from their time with you.  When you work in a place and are tasked with upholding those values daily, it has a huge impact on your personal development sometimes without you even realizing it.

When a barista leaves your shop they are not only a walking billboard for your company and a more savvy coffee consumer, they are also taking with them experiences and lessons that will likely stay with them the rest of their lives. How well you lead and manage will determine how they recall their time and what lessons they learned. Most all of us have experiences from our past jobs as baristas that have made us cleaner, more focused, better able to serve with grace etc.

We should view those people we have with us now as people in training for greater impact than just the job at hand. We can see turnover as a huge opportunity for large-scale contribution that could not be achieved if we retained all our staff. Our shops are training grounds for future leaders and influencers. We should celebrate that we get to be of service in this way and embrace the momentary opportunity we are given to host people in our companies who are destined for futures outside our four walls.


    With a balanced percpective we can experience turnover not as simply a burden, an unwanted cost, or an inconvenience, but as a natural and somewhat underutilized opportunity. An opportunity for betterment, not only for our stores or the coffee industry but literally for the whole world.

Shift Mindset

It happens all too often.

Baristas become disillusioned with their work. The shift starts and ends before you know it and even though you were physically there making drinks, cleaning creamer spouts, and sweeping cigarette butts off the patio you were not mentally present at all. In the day to day of the cafe the work can become rote and we are left wondering why we are doing this and dreaming up ways of getting over to the greener pastures we think will fulfill us in some other segment of the industry. Problem is, as the saying goes,

“Wherever you go…there you are”

This is to say that even if you do become a green buyer, a barista champion, or a master roaster, if your thinking is not right, you will eventually begin to see those roles to be just as lacking as your current one. Maybe this is why there is so much turnover and job hopping in barista work.

We have to shift our mindset

The mindset we bring into the work place is the number one indicator of whether or not we will feel a sense of satisfaction and purpose vs. feeling jilted by a thing we thought we would love but with which we are now disappointed. Relationships where two whole people are involved tend to be better than relationships where two people are looking for the other to fulfill their dreams. You cannot walk into your shift looking for your co-workers, customers, or coffee in general to fulfill you. 

You must enter this business of bar work with a clear understanding of who you are, why you are working, and what you will give rather than wandering without purpose and angling for what you can get at every turn. Coffee bars exist to serve people and the only way to do this well is for you to have the big picture so well etched in your mind that it infuses purpose into the minutiae of the job. Every person that shares the vision of the company must have a unique understanding and expression of it that cannot be dictated from the outside.

The job of a barista and cafe work in general is very taxing as a large part of it is spent in activity that seems unrelated even distracting or antithetical to the work we want to be doing. The image of a barista is one of a person creating and curating amazing craft coffee for customers all day, being a guide, a dispenser of “aha” moments! The reality is that 90% of the job is cleaning, stocking, team work, practice, organizing, data entry, etc. The remaining 10% (maybe less?) of moments that we long for where we hand a drink over the counter to a customer and their head explodes with shear joy are facilitated by, and indeed depend upon, the quality of the 90%; the tough work, the work that takes you off bar.

The behind the scenes work that takes so much of our time creates professionals; the on-bar work keeps them employed.

Do you find yourself flipping through a coffee magazine and letting out frequent heavy sighs over pictures of origin trips, signature beverages, and globe trotting barista superstars? Do you mutter under your breath when you are called off bar to count inventory, or to mop up a spilled kids hot chocolate? Do you pretend to be busy on the espresso machine in hopes of avoiding the customer approaching the bar with a question? Then you may be missing the treasure that lies within the shift you feel shackled by and unwittingly missing out of some of the very best and most satisfying parts of the job.


Here are some ideas for helping to shift your mindset to being open to the rewards of bar work that you may not be seeing:

Get clear on the “Why” and the “What”

You will need to have a strong “Why”.  This is essentially a personal mission statement for your work. It is something bigger than the job and bigger than yourself. When you consider why you are getting up so early, working so hard, etc.,  if you know what the mission is you will more easily consider hardship to be opportunity for growth and more readily recognize the positive and good in your day.

Whatever your “What” is make sure that it connects the details and tasks of the day to the big picture and the “Why” for yourself and your company. Once you take the time to articulate to yourself the “What”within the “Why”  you will want to practice mindfulness by just giving yourself reminders through the days work of how it all fits together. Doing this gives you perspective and robs stressful situations of their power.

What is it you are doing and why are you doing it? Easier asked than answered for sure but until you are able to articulate these two things you will be renting purpose from others instead of owning it for yourself.

Have a plan for the day and set goals

There is a saying, “Run the bar, don’t let the bar run you” It may be slightly trite but there is an eternal truth to this saying. If you do not have a purpose and a plan you are simply hoisting sails and seeing where the wind takes you. Sounds like an adventure until you crash. Once you’re clear on the “why” and “what”, setting a plan and goal for your day will give you the “how”. Take time before your shift and think through all the situations you know you will experience and plan out how you will respond. Plan out how you will create value for the customers and your coworkers that day. It can be stocking extra well for the morning crew because you know a group is coming the next morning. It can be delivering encouragement to a co-worker you noticed was down about their espresso dial-in skills the other day. It could be consciously smiling more and making better eye contact. Thoughtful, purposeful actions like these, generously distributed through the shift will make you almost immune from the turbulence of the day. Plan out the details of a successful shift and it is way more likely to happen as now you are taking responsibility for creating it.

Focus on coworker support and customer enjoyment 

A large part of what we do depends on how well we serve each other and support each others roles on bar. We must not only facilitate the success of our own shift but facilitate and work for the success of the whole. On top of this is the collective universal “Why” of service work-Customer joy.

We can tend to throw self-righteous shade on a customers love for a drink we hate but in order to provide a selfless and holistic environment of service “for” the customer we must lean into their enjoyment, away from our judgment, and draw joy from their joy.

Reflect & practice specific gratefulness

At the end of a busy shift all that most of us want to do is eat, drink, and curl up into a fetal position until the din of dishes, wifi questions, and grinder burrs fade into the void. If you are mindfully practicing the above you may find yourself more likely to exit the shift with clarity. Weary from work? Yes. Sick of work? Not if you are in the right mindset.                   To cap off the shift, a good thing to do is to practice reflection and specific thankfulness. Take a moment to think back over the course of the shift and pull out specific moments where the customer was blown away-where you were saved by the your co-worker taking on the dishes-where you were able to graciously mop up a kids spill and ease the embarrassment of the parents with a joke and a free replacement drink. Little moments like this are only little if they are allowed to slip by unnoticed. By reflecting on them and being thankful we begin to see them more day-by-day, they start to define our shift, and then our career.


As you become mindful of your mental state you can draw value from your shift and add purpose and meaning in the everyday tasks. You will start to see the place you are as being a much richer experience now that it has your full attention and presence. It’s always been there but a part of you has been closed to it until now.

Turn on the Open sign.

The Counterbalanced Barista

It’s early.

You sleepily approach the door and fumble for the keys to the shop knowing that you have 30 seconds to run across the place and turn off the alarm before it goes off. That weird mix of fogginess and urgency is the first thing every opener feels going in and last thing every closer feels leaving. In these moments and in many times in-between we are living in two worlds:

1. Our personal feelings, goals, and desires

2. The needs of the shop, its customers, and its mission

The line between those two areas is where the road to becoming a mature professional lies.   Setting aside by an act of your will the things we all drag into the shift enables us to take on the mantel of responsibility that the job requires. When practiced over time this creates character in the flashy and the seemingly mundane parts of our jobs . These are the first steps toward finding joy in the work that, at first, seemed more like necessary evils than value adding elements.

I like to think of it in this way:

We all tend toward the path of least resistance and, much like the nature of water pressed through a bed of coffee, the key is to create an environmnet that will prevent paths of least resistance from being taken.

For espresso we do this by distributing the coffee evenly and applying equal pressure in anticipation of the greater pressure soon to be delivered. In life and specifically with barista work we do this by distributing our expectations for, and applying even pressure (read”Discipline”) to, all facets of the job.

Wanting to focus on only the flashy parts of the job is natural in the beginning, but over time it will rob you of the greater lessons of the craft found in the seemingly mundane tasks that fill the majority of the work day. If you only focus on the things that give you a quick boost of confidence it’s like tamping one side harder because you like that side better. As the day’s work and demands put pressure on you, you will find the results to be rather unpleasant; over extracted in one place and under extracted in the next.

Next time you find yourself battling in your mind between your desire in the moment and the minutiae of the job at hand try leaning into the work to create and draw  joy from those things you usually would not. The more you find satisfaction in a well mopped floor, a shiny sink, a fully stocked bar, or a newly cleaned front-door window the more you will like the result of what is extracted from you over the course of the day by it’s pressures. Recognizing the need to counterbalance our default to the path of least resistance opens up the road ahead for a very satisfying career in coffee that you and the people you serve will enjoy.

 

 

“Just coffee”

Whenever I hear these two words I am reminded of something I teach in my customer loyalty class at Coffee Fest. It is a fact that most people have been hurt by coffee in the past.  They come into yours and my cafe with baggage accumulated over the years from countless experiences and interactions, not only with coffee, but the people who sell it. Based on the current landscape of specialty coffee I would say that most peoples interactions have left them feeling taken advantage of and treated poorly. The promise of a special experience turns into a very awkward situation much like that experienced by psychics who are exposed on live television. Instead of saying “you are right it was a con I actually don’t know” they instead default to the position that those who mistakenly trusted them are somehow the ones confused and then fiercely stick by their original false assertions ad absurdum.  Bringing this back to coffee, when we promise a special experience and then fail to deliver, once we are faced with he truth of our own inadequacies  we have an odd tendency to default into a psuedo-logical and dogmatic state of denial…”but…I use “x” coffee” ,  “My whole staff won a competition” , “I made this with latte art” , “it was pulled to the correct weight ratio, temperature, etc….” ,  “I though it tasted good” blah, blah, blah.  etc….we search our mind and all we can find are technical reasons why we are right and that  “The customer surely must need to be educated”.   No, sadly it is we who need to be educated. We need to be educated  in some ways, how to be human again. After being “geeks” for so long is it possible we have lost our ability to empathize with a normal person who wants “just coffee”?  I submit that customer confusion and dissatisfaction is our greatest tool as it is the most abundant source of highly valuable feedback we have.  Instead of saying, “what can I do to make the customer like what I like” we should react to customer befuddlment with “what can I do to create an experience for this person that will first make them feel valued, then satisfy their desire to buy and enjoy coffee from me.” That is after all why they are there. They have “bought in” thus far. But we have a tendency to use a weaponized form of “us vs. them’ mentality to throw cold water on the kindling.

We are at a pivotal crossroads in specialty coffee. So many of us now are in leadership positions in cafes, as trainers, as wholesale reps etc. We have the ability to apply our resources where we want based on what we see as valuable.  Are we secure enough in our choice of career and our abilities as a coffee professionals that we can now focus on purposefully, even competitively developing hospitality in our establishments?  We must first bear the burden that is placed on us, whether fairly or unfairly, and that is the emotional baggage of customers hurt by coffee and its professionals. Now is the time to work on winning their hearts and minds with warmth and love equally as hard, if not more so, than we work at perfecting our bar skills, sourcing, anddrink techniques. We, specialty coffee shops, are not in my mind, included yet in the hospitality industry. We have to earn our place in the mind of the consumer and that does not start first with great product. That starts with great staff who deliver to the customer what every customer wants…comfort, security, feeling valued, and being taken seriously. Use and view the weight of the customers confusion or skepticism not as a burden but as momentum pushing you forward, increasing your commitment to the path of  heart felt hospitality. If you are like me …sometimes you fear that you may swing the pendulum too far in the direction of accommodation so that you start compromising quality. But this is nothing more than an excuse to continue being selfish and lazy. It is my job and yours to innovate ways to both have a great hospitable service and atmosphere where the guest is valued, listened to, and fulfilled AND to do that through the lens of high standards in coffee service.  Of course it is not “just coffee” the very statement undoes itself as it connotates a deeper meaning than what the user believes it to. “Just coffee” is a plea for accessibility, hospitality,  quality,  simplicity, and civility.  The question is , do we hear it?  And if so what are we prepared to do about it?

A Critical Coffee Community: An open letter to specialty cafes

Over the last week there has been much discussion over the blog post by Kevin Knox taking the “3rd wave” community to task for what he believes is a damaging  system of both brewing and purchasing coffee. I personally disagree with much of what was said. Yet it makes me pause to think…do we come off as “narcissistic” or “elitist” to the customer? To me it all begs the question, are we as a community open to criticism? Do we pursue it or do we run from it?

There is a tendency for us to  judge  a cafe based almost entirely on two things…

1. The impressiveness of the bars  design and build out: lets face it…if a bar opened in NYC, PDX, or where ever… and it had a Strada, with 3 Roburs, a pour over bar serving the best roasted coffee around AND had a USBC regional champ working some shifts…we would almost immediately assume that they are doing a great job with little thought to what the customer may experience. Truth is…we have no clue until we are a regular customer there.

2. The quality of the roasted coffee: this one is tricky because the raw product is so important…yet we focus so much on a false humility stance of…”getting out out of the coffee’s way” (which in some sense is true) it creates a sort of  “mission accomplished”  attitude even before we brew it.

What is missing here?

The quality and consistency of the bars staff and the brewed product as experienced by the customer. Also how it translates to an over all friendly and valuable exchange and experience that breeds loyalty.—-This we do not put much value on when rendering judgments about which cafes are best.

Problem is that we in the “third wave” coffee community have no system of critique by which we can objectively judge the quality of the bars that we tout as being the best. Mine included.  It is a dangerous blind spot.  Now, individually we all say that we want to know if there is a problem…but as an industry we have only systems that reward or critique individuals or roasters but not cafes. These matter very little to a customer. Mainly because we have all been to a bar where a star barista was employed using award winning coffee and were served a drink that was pretty bad and with a side of attitude. But we blow it off because we are so tuned into the hype that it warps what sense of urgency such an experience should elicit. The customer however does not have such a pair of rose colored glasses…they see our bar much more clearly than we do…but they have the least say in determining which cafes we should be held up as examples. I believe that the central issue that the Knox post brings up for me is that of perceived value and value delivered.

Customers will not suffer an increase in prices etc. if we do not also drastically increase the standards to which we hold ourselves at the cafe level. Though I have had a myriad of great experiences in famous trail blazing shops…I have also had many many bad drinks and fantastically poor service from the same reportedly great shops.  Shops that we tell people to go to when we find out they are traveling close by. Imagine if the Micheline Guide suggested restaurants in such a way…you would arrive and the food would be spotty at best, service apathetic and after the whole ordeal was done you would not only have lost faith in the Guide…you would also have a sullied impression of the type of food which was served there. Now whether or not that is fair is beside the point. This is the reality of our current situation. With all the energy we put into competition and traveling to this event and that event …we would do well to put an equal or greater amount of energy into bringing our “A” game at home instead of being so concerned about looking good in the eyes of our peers.

The reality is that we are way better at roasting quality coffee than we are at running quality cafes… and that will be the nail in our collective coffin if we do not start really getting honest , stop being so sensitive to critique, and start seeking out honest criticism. I hope that anyone who comes to my shop will tell me honestly what they think. How else can we improve if the only voice we ever hear is our own? Is it possible that what we have surrounded ourselves with are “Yes Men” and sycophants ?

How many of our most beloved shops ever use customer comment cards? How many of us ask the customer “how was the coffee?” and mean it?  How concerned are we about honest feedback..even if it hurts? Would you tell a famous cafes staff or management about your disappointing experience? Or would you just assume that you are the one that needs to change because after all this is
“______ cafe” or “______ roasters”?   I know it is hard for me. If a customer tells me that they hate a certain coffee I love…I feel something resembling indignation rise up in me. Something I have to fight…and then work at finding a coffee that they will love.  The degree to which we are gracious and non hostile toward customers with “ignorant” questions or who ” just want coffee” is the degree to which we have successfully integrated empathy into our service mindset.

All this so ask, who is keeping our cafes accountable? We have to start innovating systems of reward and critique. It has to be industry wide and collectively accepted.

One small step we can take in the direction of building a system of cafe accountability is to make a commitment to not just sit on a disappointing experience and hold our tongue but every time but to constructively relay the experience to the appropriate people in charge. Also we must commit to relaying the positive experiences.  I think if we all start getting honest with each other we will start to see a healthy community emerge. One that can be frank but do it out of genuine good intention in the best interest of the cafe. I have heard it said that:  “The one who loves you the most, tells you the most truth ”  ….The sooner we start really holding each other accountable the sooner the customer will reap the rewards of a greater over all experience forged by a collective concern for excellence in all areas, especially when it concerns our customers experience in our cafes.

It is not enough to just be a coffee community…we must be a critical coffee community.

 

Please note: Much of this is simply a working out of a relatively ambiguous idea.  I would love input and thoughts on this subject as I do believe it is integral to our progress as a quality conscious community. These are just one baristas thoughts.