Take Time for Training

by Greg Ubert – Crimson Cup Coffee

IMG_5461Thor­ough 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.

gregGreg 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 greg@crimsoncup.com.

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