Dear Joe,

When school is out for the summer, there are tons of kids hanging around the cafe buying smoothies. This is great for business, but it also requires that I hire extra help. I have employed high school students in the past, but the quality of help is hit or miss. I also don’t want to spend a ton of time training someone who isn’t going to stick around all year. Do you have any tips for hiring that can improve my luck?

From,

Ray Jardine

Ray

High school kids can be a great addition to your staff if you hire properly. There are plenty of young adults who are attentive learners and dedicated workers. For many students, your cafe will be their first job and there is an incentive to prove themselves, but for many high school kids a job is not essential. To find the best employees, look for people who may be interested in a career in the culinary arts. This may be hard to find, but the interest in the field will turn your cafe into a learning environment as opposed to just a job.

This attribute will also mean that your potential employee will seek reccomendations in the future. Students who get along well with your other employees will also contribute to the environment of your cafe and can help you appeal to a larger audience.

The advantage to summer help is that you can gain experience with the hiring process. Even the worst summer employee will not be around for more than three or four months, so experiment and use what you learn for future interviews. You may find that your intuition could use some polishing, and you can learn a bit about your current employees as well.

Yours in coffee,

Josephius A. Graham

Dear Joe,

I recently learned how to brew coffee using the toddy method, but I’m not sure why anyone would choose a brew method that takes so long. What are the advantages and disadvantages of brewing coffee with this method? I feel like there is some potential here, but I would like to learn more.

From,

Eric Jackson

Eric,

The toddy method is a fairly new idea in terms of coffee engineering. The method is also very different from conventional brewing, considering that no hot water is used at all. The original purpose of the toddy method was to produce a version of coffee that contained smaller amounts of acidity. Acidity is sometimes undesirable, because it can upset sensitive stomachs, and it can also adversely affect flavor if incorrectly balanced. Although the toddy method does a good job of reducing undesirable acidity, there is another very useful advantage to the Toddy method, namely shelf stability. Coffee brewed using a traditional hot water method is typically stale within a few hours. Coffee that is brewed cold over time does not have the same chemical structure and is therefore fresh for weeks.

Coffee made with the toddy method can also be reheated for use in hot drinks, but the more popular trend with toddy coffee is iced coffee and frappes. The cold coffee is always at your barista’s fingertips, which minimizes the time it takes to prepare a single drink during your morning rush. You can also reduce waste by brewing large batches of toddy at once. Spilled coffee, used filters and overdosing are no longer issues of concern. Simply pour the exact amount of coffee that you need and put the rest back into the fridge.

The toddy method is a great way to ensure that cold coffee products can be delivered quickly, but the process does take a little forethought. The biggest issue that café owners will experience with their baristas is forgetfulness. Suppose that your café depends on toddy style coffee for cold beverages, and one night someone forgets to brew up a batch. By the next morning there will be no time to whip up something quickly. The average brew time for the toddy method is eight hours. So, if you do choose to implement this idea in your café, either double-check every day to ensure that there is enough toddy for tomorrow, or have a back-up plan for the inevitable stock-out.

Yours in Coffee,

Josephius A. Graham

Dear Joe,

I just opened my first cafe in September. As winter comes to a close, what obstacles should I be expect to face during the spring season?

Sincerely,

Chris Sharma

Chris,

The biggest obstacle that cafe owners will face in the coming months is ironically, pleasant weather. When there is snow on the ground and temperatures drop below zero, coffee and hot chocolate are easy to sell. When your car feels like an oven in July, smoothies will fly off the shelf, but in the spring and fall, cafes have no weather woes to remedy. It is during these months that cafes have a lot of room for improvement. A savvy cafe owner can make up a lot of ground during these transition months by providing milder drink choices while advertising summer products. Iced tea and lemonade are great examples of mild drinks, but the role they play as advertisers is more important than you may realize.

While tea and lemonade don’t provide a ton of profit, they do send the message to your customers that you provide much more than coffee. This is an important message to send as summer approaches. If people do not internalize the fact that you offer a variety of cold beverage choices, then they will forget about you until September. If you consistently remind your customers about your large selection, then you stay in the running for larger smoothie sales in the summer. The theme of spring will be, prep for summer. If you do not advertise your smoothie and frappe products soon, then your café will see a slump down the road.

Yours in Coffee,

Josephius A. Graham

Dear Joe,

I have the hardest time training new employees. My standards are very high for the products that we serve, but my baristas aren’t as picky about quality as I would like them to be. My problem is that if I over-critique their work then they get frustrated and ignore my requests, but if I don’t stay on top of things, then the quality goes down. How can I make my products shine even when I’m not watching my employees like a hawk?

Tomas Roloson

Tomas,

Every coffee shop owner understands the value of a quality product accompanied by a reasonable price. When a customer visits your establishment, their experience should be defined by great coffee and a warm atmosphere. Their table should be clean and tidy, napkins and stir-sticks should be at their disposal, and they should have a desire to return. This is no secret, but even if a café meets all of the expectations of a customer, that customer may not choose to return. The deciding factor that will tip the scale for most customers is service. It isn’t a difficult endeavor to recall a poor experience with customer service, and it will be easy for your customers to choose a different café if the customer service of your barista staff is below standard. Customer service covers many aspects of the café, but the two most significant disciplines of service that a café owner should focus upon are, barista-product and barista-customer relations.

When a barista pulls a great espresso shot or pours some latte art, customers take notice. They may not call home or write a book, but they will choose to return if the product is better than something they can get at a fast food joint. This means that even the best quality ingredients are at the mercy of your barista. Consequently, a good café owner must pay careful attention to the way products are being prepared. Baristas who consistently over-extract espresso shots must be coached until their work is up to snuff. Of course you could yell at your barista until they get it right, but as psychological studies have shown, negative motivational techniques are ineffective at achieving the maximum potential from employees. Constant negative feedback also brings down the morale of your employees. This may not seem important from an economic standpoint, but it does make a difference in barista-customer relations.

One of the biggest advantages that locally owned cafes have to offer is customer service. Your customers don’t have to shout their order through a drive through telecom or speak in combo numbers. They can be greeted by a pleasant knowledgeable staff that cares not only about their product, but may also be aware of current events and politics. The dilemma at hand for café owners is that they must ensure that their employees are performing at a high level. At the same time there is a lot of value in high barista morale. Pushing too hard on either element of this delicate balance will disrupt the entire flow of a café. This is where the criticism sandwich is a perfect tool.

As a former whitewater kayaking instructor, I have some expertise in teaching and managing groups of people. In my experience however, my pupils would not return to improve their skills if they did not enjoy their experience. This meant that any critique had to be delivered in the most tactful manner. The technique that every guide found to be the most successful was of course the criticism sandwich. A criticism sandwich is a simple and direct procedure that ensures that the student will not even realize they are being scrutinized. The idea is simple, give a compliment, give a critique and finish with a compliment. Your barista will be so caught up in the glory of compliments that the critique will be irresistible. Also, when your compliments are tactfully chosen, they will help promote and drive home your employees’ good habits.
Consider the barista who constantly over extracts espresso shots. Instead of simply telling him, “hey Jim, your espresso extraction is too long and your lattes taste diluted,” replace that critique with, “hey Jim, you are really good at choosing the correct dosage level for shots, but I notice that your extraction time is often a bit long. This retracts from all of the great grinding and tamping that you do. Maybe if you back down on the extraction time by about five seconds then your preparation work will really stand out.” Not only does the second statement keep Jim in a positive and welcoming mood, but it also emphasized good tamping and dosing habits. The result is an improvement in extraction time, insurance that his dosing and tamping habits do not disappear, and a genuinely pleasant barista who will stick around to teach and serve great drinks for years.

Yours in Coffee,

Josephius A. Graham

Dear Joe

Business is doing well, but I have trouble getting my customers to indulge in impulse items at the checkout counter. I have mints, custom mugs and some desserts, but nobody seems to show any interest. I know there is potential here, but I can’t break through this wall. Please help.

Sincerely,

Mario Francis

Mario,

With the economy turning around, lots of people are returning to cafes for their daily dose of caffeine, but consumers have not yet forgotten about the recession. This means that impulse and up-sales are going to be more difficult, but there are some great ways to get customers to spend an extra dollar or two without breaking the bank yourself. The mints and mugs that you have at your cafe are good options for consumers, but the cost of those items can be rather expensive. Plus, the items you currently offer are available at any gas station or convenience store. In order to catch the attention of your customers you need to step outside of the ordinary and provide something that they cannot get anywhere else.

One of the greatest ways of providing unique products is to ask your community. Perhaps you host a local band or musician on Friday nights. Do they have a CD that they would like to sell? Maybe one of your customers likes to paint or make candles as a hobby. I’d be willing to bet that your customers have some really unique talents that would not only exceed expectations, but their artistic touch would be a nice addition to your cafe.

The other advantage of showcasing local talent is price. If the Saturday night jazz group only plays music as a hobby, they will probably be delighted to sell their CD at a reasonable price, and on consignment! The commitment and cost of local novelties are low, but the value is super-high. Ask your regular customers if they know of any talented individuals, and you may stumble across some hidden treasure. Look for ways to become a part of the fabric of your community, and the success of your cafe will undoubtedly follow.

Yours in Coffee,

Josephius A. Graham

Dear Joe,

The diet craze is something that we anticipate every year at Stockton Graham & Co. This year we decided to bring in Pacific Soy products as a way of trimming the fat out of lattes and cappuccinos. The Pacific Soy product is a milk substitute that is not only friendly for the lactose intolerant, but it also withstands the high temperatures of steaming pitchers. Unlike other soy milk, Pacific Soy can actually be used in all of the normal cafe applications. So, for those highly determined customers who are cutting lattes out of their diet, let them know that the milk fat that used to plague their waist is no more.

It is also very helpful to mention the option to people who have not yet chosen to drop the cappuccino from their diet. There are plenty of “get fit in time for summer” diets that are getting ready to begin. It is always a good idea to remind your customers that they have plenty of options in your cafe. If you customer feels healthy in your store, then you can be sure that you won’t loose them to a new diet program.

Dear Joe,

Dear Joe,
I would like to develop a strong retail program for the holidays, but I’m not sure what else I can do other than retail coffee, tea, and travel mugs. Do you have any recommendations?

From,
Sally Mccutchen

Dear Sally,

Retail is a great way to grow your business around the holidays, so you are at least headed in the correct direction. Many cafes loose potential business around this time of year, because they do not promote retail sales enough. Furthermore, it is important to realize that your retail sales can encourage your guests to return for more. Offering discounts on coffee to customers who purchase a drink container is a great way to promote both coffee and retail sales. When a customer chooses one of your products as a gift, the best outcome is that the recipient will then pay a visit to your cafe, so try to orient your sales around that goal.
Your regular customers are your greatest marketers, and the holidays are the easiest time of year to take advantage of their convenience. Gift cards are a great way to build upon an existing retail program because they aren’t very difficult to create, and many new customers will begin to show up after the holidays (this will extend your holiday season). You can also bank on the fact that many gift cards will never even be used. Although it is more desirable to reel in customers with wonderful coffee and excellent service, selling an unused gift card is never a bad thing either.

Yours in coffee,

Josephius A. Graham
Stockton Graham & Co.