For many consumers, coffee is simply an on-the-go caffeinated hit. The perfect solution to long working-days at the office and the ideal reason to make a visit to the local coffee shop. But what does it actually mean to be a specialty coffee shop aside from serving coffee that is more expensive and how can shops deliver on their promise? This article aims to explore this question and help baristas, managers and owners of coffee shops to see the inherent possibilities in serving specialty coffee.
Below are five practical tips about how you as a member of a specialist or quality focused-coffee shop can improve your offering in order to better deliver the right experiences to your customer base.
1. Develop an in-house training programme
We've all experienced that Monday morning shift. Yesterday’s barista didn’t clean or close down the espresso machine properly. There’s still coffee sitting in the grinder hopper. Perhaps they don’t know how or they simply didn’t realise its importance. When it comes to these kind of problems, it is important to confront these issues head on and have open conversations about how to improve systems when working in a quality focused coffee shop. In order to help prevent issues like these from happening in the first place it is key that specialist coffee shops look to develop an in-house training programme that allows all staff to be on the same page when it comes to quality, cleanliness and service expectations. This is also a great way to fairly compensate staff who do great work consistently. Has Fred the customer service assistant passed his level 1 barista training module? Perhaps he should be making a few espresso shots on a quieter day. Did Joanna explain the Colombian natural coffee really well to one of the regulars? Maybe she could do with some extra training resources to help further her interest. For coffee shop owners, an in-house training programme is a great way to tell your staff that you care about their progress and want to see them do well. In addition it will only help further quality, consistency and customer experiences in store. A definite win-win here. For professional barista certification we recommend the SCA and Barista Hustle though we welcome you to our roastery to help develop your skills too.
- Taste, discuss, write down then taste again
What do you think about the coffee you serve? Do you prefer an espresso shot with more fruitiness or more acidity? How about sweetness? By opening up discussion with your colleagues about the coffee you are serving, what you think about its quality and how you think it could be improved, you are not only furthering your own knowledge and understanding of the products you offer, you are also helping to build a culture of openness and teamwork within the business. Make the time to taste your coffee. Whether this is in the morning before you open during dial in time or after hours, a barista who knows what is going on with the brews he is serving will be more confident and fulfilled but most importantly he will be a professional.
- Differentiate what you offer
Perhaps the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is a little bit too far in this case as who doesn’t love specialty coffee? Nonetheless if you’re not differentiating what you offer alongside your core offering (whether this is through exciting guest filters, exclusive micro- lots or even events), you might be missing an opportunity to excite and delight your customers. How about over-exceeding rather than under-delivering? Of course if something is working that is fine however without trying new things and seeking to iterate and improve it will be harder to become a must-visit coffee destination. One example of how you can differentiate what you offer is by adding a pour-over filter bar to your shop that is efficient and presented well with a rotating selection of guest filters from independent roasters. Ask your roaster for a guest grinder if you are interested in serving their espresso for a week, put on home-brewing events or tastings. Think outside the box.
- Practice regular quality control
Leadership expert John Maxwell says, ‘Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.’ While we’re talking about coffee in this article I think the sentiment can be applied when brewing espresso or filter in the fact that quality can be objectively better if a few things are done consistently. If a customer comes into your shop once and receives an amazing experience, how are you going to replicate that? What systems and quality control checks are in place? One key thing to think about is coffee wastage. How much coffee is being used to dial in a new offering? Is there any old coffee left over this week? If so perhaps we need to reduce our order or use it for training purposes. Some further links to stimulate thinking about this include: freshness of coffee (Chris Baca from Cat and Cloud Coffee has a great video explaining the details here), consistent extraction measurements (Scott Rao has a book all about it here) & Matt Perger’s espresso recipe creation video.
- Go deeper down the value chain
Finally, for many people who work in a coffee shop a visit to a coffee roastery can be a great experience as it really allows them to understand coffee on a deeper level and help them see the bigger picture. Of course a visit to an actual coffee farm can be even better though different types of people will have different preferences on this. If a member of staff is interested in coffee I definitely recommend taking them to a coffee roastery an importers office or origin. Perhaps they didn’t realise these things existed or fully appreciate their role in the value chain. A simple half-day could open their eyes to how remarkable coffee can be and the various nuances behind it.
When we take the time to do things the right way it often has a knock-on effect to the things or people around us. In a specialty coffee shop this could simply be wiping down a bar surface or giving the group heads a backflush every 30 minutes. In regards to customer service a simple but genuine – ‘how was your day?’ can make the world of different to someone who actually isn’t having a very good one. All of these additional considerations take time and effort but when combined, it will become clear to your customer that you are indeed worth paying a visit to and their loyalty to you will be heightened.