Thorough and comprehensive training for both owners and baristas is one of the most critical factors in starting and running a successful coffee house. Training sets your coffee shop apart. A lot of places serve a good cup of coffee. Yours must be better. Training is where better begins.
Too often, new owners believe they can start with a free drink preparation course from an equipment manufacturer or learn on the fly during their first weeks of operation. They think they know everything there is to know about running an independent coffee house because they have read a book, watched a video or attended a coffee conference. Whenever I hear this, I know immediately that this future coffee house owner is headed for trouble unless we can change their perception. Think about it. Have you ever mastered any subject just by reading a book or watching a video? Or learned a complicated process while under pressure in an environment that is full of distractions?
In more than 20 years of working with independent coffee shops, I have learned that customers who complete a comprehensive training program experience substantially greater sales while decreasing their start-up costs. This program should cover more than just making a great espresso-based drink. It should educate the business owner in everything from A to Z about running a coffee house, from pre-build out to post-grand opening. It is a tall order to master all the elements of running a small business while simultaneously learning the nuances of the specialty coffee business. My advice: do not go it alone.
Here are some of the essential elements to cover in training to operate a successful independent coffee shop:
Learn the dynamics of coffee. Begin with quality beans – their origins and characteristics. Find out what goes into coffee quality, and why it is so important to the success of your business. Today’s specialty coffee customers are knowledgeable and discriminating in their tastes. You must know how to source and serve the best to attract a loyal following. And you must know how to discuss coffee with your more knowledgeable customers.
Understand the layout of the coffee bar. I cannot stress enough that equipment must be placed in its most efficient location. This is vital to serving customers quickly, while minimizing barista and cashier movement. You cannot have them tripping over one another. You must have a place for everything and keep it there to maintain consistency from shift to shift. It is all about “muscle memory,” knowing where to reach for things while not really having to think about it. You should almost be able to do the job blindfolded.
Understand the equipment. Whether it’s your coffee brewer, espresso grinder or the actual espresso machine, it’s important to know what each machine does and how it works so that you can serve a consistently wonderful beverage every time. You also need to learn proper equipment care and maintenance. Remember that you will be out of business at least temporarily if your espresso machine malfunctions due to improper maintenance.
Learn proper drink preparation. Making espresso manually is an exacting skill that requires precise timing. A good training program walks the owner and baristas through the brewing process to help them understand what happens to the coffee at every stage of preparation. Thoroughly trained baristas should be able to recognize problems in the brewing process by taste. They should be able to determine what part of the equipment and brewing process is not making the grade. Drink training should teach SCAA standards and should cover, at minimum:
• Workings of the espresso machine
• Water quality and its temperature
• Freshness of the coffee
• Grinding, dosing, and tamping the coffee
• Brewing and pulling the perfect shot
• Steaming and frothing the milk
• Dosing syrups and chocolates
• Pouring and serving the drink to the customer
• Standard drink recipes
• Hand-poured brewing methods
• Proper iced-drink techniques
• Proper frozen-drink techniques
Practice. Practice. Practice. Focus on making great drinks and satisfying the customer.
Train everyone on your staff the same way. Customers expect consistent quality no matter who is preparing the drink, so everybody should be using the same technique. Even if you hire experienced baristas, they must be trained in your drink recipes and to follow your quality standards.
Focus on customer service. Coffee drinkers are looking for more than just great coffee when they visit your coffee house. Many seek a sense of connection and belonging, a way to relax and relieve stress. Coffee drinkers can be a finicky crowd, so baristas must be trained to handle special requests with ease and grace. Coffee houses succeed when friendly baristas and cashiers remember customer names, standard orders, and yesterday’s discussion.
Brush up on business skills. From marketing to supervising employees to ordering supplies and more, you are in charge. Make sure you are prepared to manage all the backroom functions that will keep your coffee business in business and don’t throw that business plan out the door once you start. Review the business plan at least once a month to ensure you are on the right path to success.
Learn from industry experts. Look for trainers who not only know what they are doing, but who also know how to teach their skills to others; and have a true passion for coffee and for service.
Initial training, ideally comprehensive coffee house training, begins off-site before your store opens in a more classroom type setting. Additional training on-site in your location during the week of opening will give you a better understanding of how to operate your machines, use your coffee and supplies and learn the layout of your coffee bar. You should devote several days to training, and your trainer should stay on site at least through opening day. In fact, it is best if you can have an expert at hand for the first week of operation.
Retrain as needed. Over time – and with employee turnover – people can slip into bad habits without even realizing it. Refresher training at least every 6 months helps everyone get back on track again.
My experience has shown that coffee shop owners who make training a priority create greater success with fewer headaches. They have more loyal customers and happier employees. The bottom line: time in training is time well spent.
Greg Ubert, founder and president of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, has been roasting coffee in small batches since 1991 and has taught hundreds of business owners how to run successful independent coffee houses. The author of Seven Steps to Success in the Specialty Coffee Industry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.