October 7, 2015

Service: The Missing Step in Serving Specialty Coffee?


Let’s take James Hoffman’s analogy and talk about burgers and service. (Don’t worry, you’re on the right site, and we’ll start talking about coffee soon.) Think about the differences between a burger from a fast food place and a burger from a fancy restaurant. The fast food burger costs about $1 and you know it’s going to be bad—especially when compared to the fancy restaurant’s juicy, expertly seasoned $15 burger made from high-quality, fresh ingredients.

But is quality the only reason we’re willing to pay fifteen times as much for the restaurant burger? No.

Spanish Version: Servicio: ¿El Paso que Falta para Servir Café de Especialidad?

hamburger and chips

 Is your coffee fast food or high end? Credit: Pixabay 

Sure, the product is better; the chef spent years in culinary school learning how to make the ingredients really shine. So’s the décor and the music. But when it comes down to it, the often overlooked factor that encourages us to pay more is service. That’s what makes us feel like we’re indulging ourselves in a luxury experience that’s worth every cent of those fifteen dollars—and that’s what’ll make us come back.

In the world specialty coffee, we’ve created amazing drinks. We’ve spent incredible amounts of time and effort developing our technique. We’ve updated our spaces to keep up with the latest design trends. We’ve practiced our brew methods and we continue to chase the god shot.

But we still expect customers to wait in a queue, order a drink (often without direction), pay before ever tasting the product, and then stand about waiting for us to shout their name (if we can pronounce it) across the busy café. We then serve them their drink in a paper cup and send them on their way, hoping they’ll drop some cash in the tip jar. It’s no wonder that some customers don’t see the point in tipping for a drink that, at least in their eyes, they could have picked up just as easily from a fast food place.

Even if it was the best burger in the world, would you go through that process and pay $15 plus tip? Would you return?

No way. 


 If your coffee is awesome, shouldn’t your service be too? Credit: Pixabay

We may be serving truly excellent coffee, but if we aren’t presenting it in the right way then our customers won’t know the coffee’s value. Good service sends a message; it tells people that their coffee deserves appreciation. And when the aloof, angry barista is the stereotype for our industry, it’s apparent we have a long way to go. It’s no wonder that many customers still see coffee as a caffeine fix rather than a unique experience meant to be savored.

So read on for the 4 easiest changes you can make to your service in order to give customers a truly specialty experience. (See what we did there?!)

1. Sit Your Customers Down

What’s the most annoying part of getting a coffee? Standing in a queue at the counter waiting. It’s boring. It’s stressful. And the customer spends the whole time willing the coffee to arrive quicker.

But if, instead, the customer were able to sit down and wait comfortably for their drink, they’d have a much more positive experience.

I wholeheartedly recommend offering table service when possible. At my café, we do this on Saturdays. A server seats customers, takes orders, delivers them, and checks in occasionally to see if they have everything they need. And you know what? We see a substantial increase in customer purchases. The fact that customers feel taken care of and free to linger. When prompted by their server, they’re open to the idea of getting multiple drinks.

Now table service isn’t always possible (especially on busy days), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. After they’ve ordered their coffee, we can sit them down in a comfy chair to wait. Not only does our customer flow not get blocked, but the customer is much happier.

Also, can we please stop shouting our customer’s names as if they’re naughty children? At my shop, we never call out a drink order or a customer’s name. We never make people come get their drinks, even during the busiest times. Instead, we deliver the drink to the (typically delighted) customer, giving them the message that this is far more than fast food coffee. This is an experience to be enjoyed.

3 male baristas

Ready to serve the first customers of the day. Credit: Eric Squires

2. Break up the Queue

Speaking of waiting, what can we do about the line of people ordering drinks? Customers didn’t come to stand about bored; they came to hang out and drink coffee. So do everything you can to get customers through that queue as quickly as possible.

Think that’s easier said than done? The answer isn’t to make the coffee faster. Instead, it’s to make operational changes. If you’ve got multiple people working behind the bar and a chatty customer starts talking to the person on the till, have someone else jump in and take the next person’s order. Also, make sure baristas are capable of talking and working at the same time, so you can keep the customer flow moving. 

customers in a queue

Lines may make your shop look popular, but no one wants to wait. Credit: Pixabay

SEE ALSO: Managing Expectations: How to Introduce Customers to Third Wave Coffee

3. Stop Using Paper Cups

Now that we’ve made the experience of ordering and waiting easier, it’s time to look at the product—and the dreadful paper cup it comes in. Now to some degree, coffee shops will probably always have to do takeaway service. But what about the customers that are sitting in? Why not give them actual cups instead of paper ones?

As well as saving the shop a few pennies per drink, using real cups sends an important message to the customer. It signals that their drink that has been carefully crafted. It enables them to see any latte art that might be on the coffee. And, since there isn’t a lid, it allows them to smell the delicious aroma of their drink.

paper cups

Don’t make your customers drink from paper cups. Credit: Eric Squires

4. Anticipate Needs—Even After You’ve Served the Coffee

Your customer has now had a pleasant ordering experience and been served a beautifully presented coffee, but service doesn’t finish until your customer’s left the premises. They might want another drink, the WiFi code, or directions to the toilet—but don’t make them come to you. Meet them at their table with paper towels if they spill something. Be ready as they finish their drink to ask if they’d like another.

Hospitality is understanding your guest’s needs before they do. Anticipate their needs by looking for visual cues that they want something.

Specialty coffee is incredible—yet lots of people think it’s no different to what they can buy from the supermarket. If we want customers to realise that we’re offering something more than fast food, we have to focus on customer care. Customers don’t see the effort and care that goes on behind the counter; they only see the service we provide them with. So we must exceed every customer’s expectations. We must show them that this product is a luxury by presenting it to them as one. Then, they’ll see the true value of specialty coffee.

Edited by T. Newton.

Perfect Daily Grind.