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Jason Coffee

Baristas are Important

The barista position has to be the most important position in a coffee shop. (An argument can be made that they are equal to the leader/store manager.) Ever single customer’s experience hinges on how well this person does their job. In most coffee shop experiences they are the last person the customers sees before they sit down or leave. Baristas are the core and most importantly the life of the coffee shop experience. Every time I walk in the door of a coffee house I can tell if this is going to be a place I want to frequent within a minute or two. This decision has almost nothing to do with the decor, seating, lighting or wifi, though all do play a factor. It is almost solely weighted on how awesome the interaction with the barista was and how well they performed in making an amazing beverage.

Most Coffee Shop Visits

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that over 80% of my coffee shop visits are just ok. The visits are not bad but they are not rock your socks of gorgeous either. I think a portion of this comes down to how people are deployed in most coffee houses around the US. Track with me here, you have your cashier and your barista. Usually one person does all the cash handling and the other makes your drink. More often than not the person taking the cash usually checks out of the interaction after they hand of your drink to the barista at the bar. Now you are waiting at the bar watching the barista make your drink. They hand of your drink and you are gone. In this senario you have split your very limited connect time, say 5 minutes tops, with two people. What if we rethought this process and you had one person help you throughout your whole visit. The same person that rang you up, also made your drink and was able to continue the initial, “Hey, how are ya today.” into something deeper and/or fun.

It’s Just Coffee

I do realize that their are people reading this thinking, “Man Jason it’s just coffee, I want to get in and out fast.” or “What do you want a full on counseling session?” and I get it. If you fit into one of these two categories and could care less then kudos! If I was in that boat I would personally just make my coffee at home and save some dough. I go to coffee shops for the awesome hand crafted coffee, for the interaction, for the connect, for the relationships, and call me sentimental – for the Love!

Why do you go to coffee shops? How are your visits? What are you thoughts on the barista position? Let’s talk about this…

*I banged out this video a little impromptue and in one shot. This is by no means the fullness of my thoughts on the position and how to take it to the next level. I am literally just wanting to “riff” around the top of barista postion and how to better the interaction between customer and employee.

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  1. Bryan Wray

    As a barista for nearly a decade and a barista competitor recently I can tell you that while what you suggest is a fun idea, it is no way practical, that’s why you don’t see it often.

    Indeed Intelli’s Venice store is a great idea, but I know of 3 coffee companies nationwide that could afford to have that many people on staff at a given time.

    Also, as Jennifer pointed out, having one person’s “touch” on bar is going to mean less tweaking for everyone. The difference between one person’s 30 pound tamp and another person’s 35 pound tamp can mean the difference between a shot that gets served and a shot that gets dumped.

    For me, however, the real reason you don’t see this happening is two fold. 50% of my customers order their drink first, the other half order a pastry first. Let’s say that 3 people are working the bar. One person comes in and orders a latte. The next person orders a pastry (their barista splits off to the pastry case). They then order a latte as well. While the second person was ordering their pastry a third customer ordered a latte, ahead of the second customer. While all this is going on the first barista has the latte under construction, however, their customer orders a pastry. Finally, the third customer orders a pastry.

    We now have the first barista making a latte for their customer, and heading to the pastry case after it finishes. Barista number 3 is waiting to use the machine ahead of barista number 2 (both waiting) and barista number two has a customer who just was pushed to the back of the line, behind barista number three’s customer. We also have three baristas staring at the machine waiting for their chance to jump on. In addition to that we have three baristas going to the pastry case instead of one.

    While all of this craziness is going on, a fourth customer walks in wanting a simple cup of coffee. He sees three people working and none of those people are helping him. He only wants a simple cup of coffee but now has to wait for three lattes to get made by three separate individuals before anyone acknowledges him. Finally the first barista finishes their drink. They present it to their customer. The customer orders their pastry. The barista gets their pastry. They ring the customer up. One transaction down.

    The first barista acknowledges the fourth customer, who wants a simple cup of coffee. The third barista finishes the latte for the “second” customer (actually third) and both the first and third baristas end up at the register at the same time. Now they are both waiting on the register.

    None of the baristas are being used as efficiently as they should be. Sounds confusing as hell doesn’t it? It is. No one is “getting in the groove” on the machine. Everyone is waiting on everyone else to get out of their way. Everyone is walking into each other, traveling over the entire bar, and meanwhile, customers are being forced to wait 2-3 times as long for a similar product while they stare at a barista who isn’t making their drink wishing everyone would just get out of their way and hurry up. After all, it’s 6:45am, they have to be across town at 7:00 and their barista has two other baristas ahead of them in line, all of them waiting to make lattes on the espresso machine.

    It’s a disaster area.

    This is the same reason why there are servers, line cooks and chefs. Sure, sometimes there are differences in talent levels, but often the server knows as much about preparing the dishes as the chef. “Too many cooks in the kitchen.”

  2. Dean Kallivrousis

    Jason this is spot on. This subject has consumed my mind the past week. thanks for the post. I desire to be the best barista possible by maximizing the customer expirence. This is the reason i joined the industry.

    Thank you again and i look forward to serving you at the roasterie Jason.


  3. Emma French

    Conversation is good and all, but I might be part of those people who like to get in and get out. Unless I’m making a special trip to the coffee shop and planning on staying. But I’m usually in a hurry and don’t mind if there is talking or not. I just mind that my coffee is of good quality.

  4. Colin Young

    I am very rarely in a position where the barista has time to talk. Most of the time when I am in a coffee shop it’s lunchtime and people just seem to want to be in an out as quickly as possible.

    I must admit though, if I think about it, I like to see the back of the coffee machine so the barista is facing me when making my coffee. It makes it much easier to spark up some conversation.

    I can’t say that this would sway my decision on where to shop because I generally go to the coffee shop that offers the coffee that I like and the social experience with the staff in store doesn’t have much to do with it.

  5. mattcreynolds

    Great idea with one person, but I NEED to point out one place in particular that carries this philosophy perfectly…. Intelligentsia Venice, and you can see photos and such here:

    Other than that, you end up with a big hole in the middle with little or no connection….

    How about this, remove the counter on the espresso machine side and turn the machine, inviting folks in to see the process and chat if they wish?

    Anyway, interesting points here Jason, I really enjoyed that!

    – Matt

  6. Jennifer

    Jason, some good points. This is something the industry continues to experiment with. It really depends on the setup of the cafe, location, customer base, etc.

    As far as I know, only one person should be handling the cash in their own register. And to keep drink quality consistent, there is someone only at the bar. Which is why there is usually someone for separate stations- register and barista. If the cafe is laid out so the line continues in front of the Barista, there is more likely some time to chat.

    There are also the cafes that have a bar up by the Barista for complete interaction. Unfortunately, this setup only works in certain locations and are very scarce.

    Either way, I do think the Barista should be able to chat to customers willing to interact. If it’s busy, then it’s more difficult to carry on a conversation.