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Hiring &
Training

World-Class
Baristas


By Keith Hayward

Finding and training the right employees for your business can be a difficult and time consuming process. Your future employees will be the life-blood of your business. They are your brand image. Everything they do, say, and even how they act will determine your success and the publicís perception of your company.

So where do you find the right type of employee? Just start looking around. They surround you every day.

Who sticks out in your mind when you think of a business you frequently visit? Who grabs your interest and fascination? Do you have a favorite bank teller, store clerk or waiter? What makes them your favorite? Why do you want them to help you?

These are the types of people with the right personality, desire and company image that you are seeking. Someone who has that certain energy, tireless enthusiasm, that spark of personality that makes you feel good and welcome.

Here are a few things to consider as you begin your search.

Your Competitorsí Stores - Stealing, well, letís say ďpersuadingĒ the best employees from your competitionsí stores can be a quick way to get an experienced barista. The potential employees are familiar with the type of business that you are in, understand the competition, and may be wanting a change of pace or better shifts. You will still need to retrain them to meet your qualifications and expectations, but they may bring speed and adequate skills to a new and inexperienced team.

People in a Similar Service or Occupation - People already working in a fast paced service industry - and have been successful at it - may be looking for new opportunities. Or, they may want to find a place with bigger and better advancement options, or a workplace that is fun.

In this day and age, you shouldnít underestimate the value of a fun workplace and environment to draw potential employees. The superstar of the local fast food franchise may be getting tired of wearing a funny hat and the unrewarding atmosphere.

In every service business there are fast and slow movers. Some people can adapt to pressure and pick up the pace, while some people, regardless of the incentive or need, can only work in one speed. Watch people work and find the ones who can hustle and keep a cool head while keeping up with the demand. Keep your eyes open and recruit those who stick out.

Friends and Family - Everyone wants to help when you open your espresso bar, and business owners naturally want people they can trust to be honest and work hard. Instinct says to turn to relatives and friends. Good idea, right?

Maybe not. This can have both positive and negative results. Generally speaking, most believe that friends and family can be better trusted because they share an emotional connection and personal interest with the business. While there is value in this, a potentially negative result is that they may expect extras or special favors. Or, they may want more respect, and be harder to discipline and terminate if the need arises.

The old expression of ďdonít mix business with pleasureĒ has some good advice and value to its meaning. If youíre afraid of what the consequence may be if things go awry, then donít go down that road.

Ads and Help Wanted Signs - Donít bother with an ad in the local newspaper. You donít have the time to talk with everyone who wants to explore each employment possibility from that dayís paper. You want a certain type of person. Help wanted signs, especially placed on your business, will attract more people who have some type of understanding of your business, the location and public brand.

Why Experience Isnít Necessary - You will most likely receive resumes from applicants with experience at major espresso and coffee house chains such as Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, or Itís a Grind.

There are some important decisions to make when considering this type of experienced employee. Those with this type of background are usually familiar with operational systems, company standards, procedures and policies. They have most likely gone through a training program or regimen (that realistically may, or may not agree with yours), and have hands-on experience in dealing with customers.

Keep in mind that some employees from this type of background will be lacking very important relationship building skills and techniques. In their previous job, they may have depended largely on the brand instead of their own response and behavior to get customers to return.

Everyone has habits - good and bad. Habits are difficult enough to create in a new employee, and can be even harder to break. If someone has been trained to do something right, and your idea of what is right differs from theirs, then you will need to change his or her behavior. It is up to you to project the importance of that new idea from their very first day, or you wonít change their mind at all.

Itís sometimes better to hire someone with no experience but that has the right attitude and desire to excel, than to hire someone who thinks they know the best way for everything.

There is only one way: YOURS! Donít deviate from this rule, especially from an outspoken employee. Develop and defend your own standards, no matter what. Relationships and consistency is what will make you a success, not one employeeís belief of what is right.

The Interviewing Process
The interviewing process can be very time consuming, but it is certainly worth your effort. To get through the masses you will need to concentrate on either qualifying or disqualifying your candidates as quickly as possible.

Know what strengths, attitudes and experience you want, and target these strengths from the beginning. Try not to make exceptions. You canít teach personality.

There are some great interview questions listed in the following page that can assist in narrowing down those potential employees. Focus not just on the answers they provide, but also how they respond.

While you are interviewing you should constantly be aware of their style of communication, how captivating they are, how compelling they are, and how they make you feel. How they speak with you is how they will speak to your customers. If anything makes you uncomfortable, realize that it will make your customers uncomfortable as well.

Although there may be a certain type or profile of employee you would like to hire, remember the U.S. discrimination laws. It is illegal to ask questions that may discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, race or religion. Some of these topics arenít necessarily illegal to ask, such as date of birth, but not hiring on the basis of that answer will get you in trouble.

Employee Training
Congratulations! Youíve made it through the rigors and trials of hiring the right staff. But thatís just the start. You will now need to seriously concentrate on a firm, practical and educational training program that builds on reliability and consistency between all staff members.

The true purpose of a training program is to develop recognizable standards for consistency. Having control over this consistency tells your customers that you take the time to train and educate your employees. Itís really a reassurance of quality that closely matches one experience to the next.

Your training program should include a brief introduction into coffee history and education, coffee ordering and storage, espresso equipment, espresso preparation, troubleshooting bad coffee, customer service, certification, and retraining.

Most espresso bar owners never take advantage of their greatest educational resources. Other than personally working in the industry and experiencing the necessary systems and training guidelines, you have two great educational tools. One is hiring a private, experienced consultant, which will cost you. For most needs, in my opinion, you can call on your coffee roaster. In most cases, that educational resource is free.

A consultant educates and trains for a living. Although sometimes expensive, they can be worth the money if you find one with the right type of experience and the ability to tap into your business needs and style. They can offer every range of service, depending on how much time you need and what you are willing to pay.

Your coffee roaster, on the other hand, has a different incentive for helping you. Your roaster wants to offer you the best training and education so that you can enjoy a long lasting and mutually rewarding financial and personal relationship. Your roaster has the strength and knowledge of how your coffee should taste. They will take the greatest strides into making sure the product that you are producing matches the correct flavor and consistency. Many roasters are now increasing their free offerings or customer perks. Training programs are very important, so donít hesitate to ask your roaster or potential roaster what they can offer and what they will customize to fit your exact needs.

Each barista should have a working knowledge and background of the coffee industry, and be able to describe and profile any coffee that you offer. Have your roaster create a guide for each coffee you sell with a few descriptive words. Keep it easy and simple, so they can easily rattle off those key words with confidence. This education is absolutely necessary for up-selling and suggestively selling to your customers.

Your espresso and coffee brewing equipment should be detailed in an employeeís guide. Your staff should be able to give a complete walkthrough of every piece they use, knowing each major part and its function. This is vital so they can understand the extraction process. It will also assist in the troubleshooting process.

A proper espresso preparation training program is essential to your success. Keep each recipe in an easy reference book with pictures, ingredients, steps and presentations.

Hiring a new barista, having them shadow current employees, then throwing them on the next shift is foolish. Training programs are absolutely necessary to ensure quality and consistency. Educate your staff with both educational tools and hands-on training.

Donít schedule any new employee onto a shift until they can pass a written test about your business, its hours, the coffee you carry and their descriptions, and a hands-on drink preparation test of each specialty item on your menu. Wouldnít you rather they use you as the guinea pig instead of a customer?

Once they have passed their test, have them recertify every six months to make sure your standards are being maintained.

Hiring and training world class baristas can be time consuming. If you do it right, youíll find that they are the best possible ambassadors of your brand image. Your company wins, your baristas win by enjoying their job, and your customers win every time they place their order. Now thatís success!

Keith Hayward is vice president - sales & marketing for Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Sumner, Washington. He travels the country facilitating barista training seminars. Whether teaching a class at an industry convention, such as Coffee Fest Seattle or for Dillanos clients, his attendees walk away with a much richer knowledge of the coffee industry. Keith Hayward, (1) (253) 826-1807 or KeithH@dillanos.com.


Tea & Coffee - June/July, 2005
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