A telephone conversation with the owner of a local coffee shop began a thought process that led me to writing this today. He called to say that one of his team was moving on to a new job and, as one of his best Baristas, he was asking me if I knew of any quality Baristas looking for a new role. He was very keen to find someone who he could place immediately to start serving the quality of coffee that his customers expect.
We all know how transient staff in the catering industry can be. Not so long ago I sent over some thoughts to the Editor of one of our trade publications, Boughton’s Coffee House. Now, without boring you with everything we discussed I seem to recall mentioning the staff turnover when I worked in the retail catering sector in my student days stood at around 110% in the year.
This poses a problem for us and our customers. How do you find someone with the interest in becoming highly skilled at making coffee and, secondly, how do you retain them?
Let me draw a comparison here. I’m totally unskilled in cooking quality food (just ask my family about my culinary skills!) but, dare I say it, I’m pretty blooming good at making a really good coffee. Would any of our customers ask me to work a shift in their kitchens serving their customers? I’d hope not! Similarly, why should someone who is “unskilled” at making coffee be asked to operate a machine and trusted to make coffee properly?
We’ve met some very enthusiastic trainees in our Barista training sessions, similarly we have found some very apathetic ones. We’ve heard some horror stories about how the big chains train their “Baristas” (I’ve used inverted commas for a reason!). We also know how the big chains simplify/automate drink production to deliver consistent coffee, shame it’s consistently average, at best.
As we prepare to open our very own coffee school here in the North East of Scotland I’d like you to think about this. Just as food is important to a restaurant, isn’t coffee just as important to a coffee shop or café? Shouldn’t we, as customers, expect consistently great coffee when we’re out and paying for it, just like we do when we’re out to eat? When we say “compliments to the chef”, shouldn’t we also be right to say “compliments to the Barista”? If food isn’t cooked or served properly we know, and we reject it, shouldn’t we do the same with coffee? As owners of retail catering outlets shouldn’t we give serious consideration to how we can develop the role of a Barista and credit their skills accordingly?
We will very shortly be able to offer an unrivalled training experience using the best equipment available in the market today. Do you want to invest in your staff? Do you, as an owner, want to understand exactly what makes a great coffee? As a customer do you want to understand what you should expect from ANY coffee outlet? We’re investing heavily because we hope that, as a whole, we can play our part in improving the training services we already deliver to ensure that more and more retailers can genuinely serve outstanding coffee. We need the help of consumers, owners and trainees and we very much hope that our efforts will pay off!
In the meantime, here’s to the unsung heroes of the coffee trade – the really, really great Baristas who, with care and knowledge, sympathetically produce outstanding coffees. I’m on your side, and I’ll have a flat white, please!