How to open a coffee shop or cafe with confidence

Your People

Employing and retaining the best people  

Everyone we talk to has the same problem at the moment: finding great people.

Finding and retaining people is not a new problem; it has always been an issue for our type of business; even when there were plenty of people looking for work, attracting the best hospitality staff has always been a challenge.

Someone with fantastic hospitality can pick and choose who they work for and won't stay long in a job they are not appreciated or poorly paid. They look at your coffee shop through their lens before even applying to work there. They will check out its design and ethics, the team and the guests, the whole working environment before sending in their CV.

In terms of pay, coffee shops compete with restaurants and pubs in a marketplace where tips can make up a large proportion of your salary. You need to offer a competitive rate; your business must charge high enough prices to fund this.

Pricing is a chicken and egg situation for many coffee shops; your guests' perception of how much you can charge them is formed even before they walk over the threshold. You know that you will pay more at the Ritz in extreme terms than a greasy spoon. You must position your business as high as you can to charge what you are worth, and this is a subject of a whole future action plan article!     

The rise of the speciality Barista has done a lot to elevate our reputation as a place to work. However, there is still the impression that working in a coffee shop is a temporary job that anyone can do.

The availability of people is affecting the ability of the chains to grow. Even Joe & The Juice are finding it hard to recruit. Chief Executive Thomas Nørøxe needs to recruit 15 people every week to achieve their expansion plans; not only are they not getting new people in at the time of writing, but 5 of their London stores are also temporarily closed because of lack of staff.

'Culture eats strategy for breakfast', is a famous quote from the legendary management consultant Peter Druker. In other words, an organisation with great culture will be more successful overall.

In a big business, the culture has developed over time. It is a combination of the stories, the rituals, the organisational structure, the way both customers and staff are treated.

The culture in your coffee shop directly reflects that of the owner and manager, and many of the issues we see around poor recruitment and retention are firmly down to poor leadership. Often we hear excuses from owners that blame the 'Millenials' who have no loyalty. At the same time, they offer these people little security or joy. They can't see that they cause the problem and become even more bitter, making the culture even more toxic!

Any amateur psychologist reading this would know Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In simple terms, it outlines what motivates people to work, starting with the need for survival through getting food and shelter, then for safety and security, including emotional and financial security. In our modern society, these first two are almost a given.

It’s the following three levels that employers need to focus on to provide a fulfilling job.

Your team need to be loved and feel they belong; they need to feel respected and accomplished and ultimately develop and grow personally.

Getting a great culture embedded in your business is fundamental to your long term success. We have analysed many hospitality businesses looking for the magic ingredient that makes them extra special. We have found that it's the quality of their team and how long they stay around which makes them exceptional.

We all know how much time, energy, and money it takes to fully train a new team member, and we should factor that into their wages to maximise how long people stay with you. 

McDonald’s have their university and training star levels that take their people on a journey and offer a clear career path because of their size.

The Loungers group has grown from a single site to 140 since 2002; they have an annual Loungefest - where they shut all the sites, and everyone gets invited to their own Glastonbury style festival. 

 What does a business that has a good culture look like? According to Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game, they have a sense of cause; the company stands for something. People would turn down a better paying job because they want to be part of it, their soul is fulfilled, and their lives have meaning. There is a sense of trust where people are comfortable saying they have made a mistake or need help and expect others to rush forward to help or support them.

 Working in hospitality often means unsocial hours & weekends. Still, with careful planning and a fair system, it's possible to accommodate people's needs. Working school hours or having fixed days off are simple things that make it more attractive to work for you.

Many larger businesses can offer perks to their employees, like a free gym membership, yoga night or discount cards that you may think you can't compete with.

We have negotiated many deals with local businesses for our teams by doing contra deals. Your local gym could offer your small team a free membership in return for providing all of their members a discount on their coffee. The opportunities for these 'I scratch your back and you scratch mine' deals are almost infinite, from gyms, garages and travel agents, to bakers, butchers and florists. A great way to get discounts for our teams while building relationships with local businesses.

Whatever you do around the edges with perks etc., to make you look like a great place to work is nothing without the right culture.

Listen to your team at work. Are they having fun, and is there laughter even at the busiest times? This is one of the best indicators of a great culture.

 First published in Boughtons Coffee House Magazine Jan 22