As third wave café owners, our main goal is to serve delicious specialty coffee to people while also making a profit. To do this, we hire the best staff, buy the best equipment, adapt a great space, and offer the very best coffee we can.
But when it comes to wait time, sometimes we let our customers down. And in doing so, we also damage our profits and reputation.
Are we really prepared for long queues? Can we craft hundreds of coffees in a short time? And what are some simple ways to improve efficiency? I interviewed several café owners to find out. Here’s what I learned.
Spanish Version: Cómo Reducir la Línea de tu tienda Café e Incrementar Ganancias
Ready to serve coffee. Credit: 5 Senses Coffee
Why You Need Shorter Wait Times
Making a delicious coffee can require time – especially if it’s a pour over method or we want to produce great latte art. However, it’s important to remember that good-quality products do not always make up for long wait times. Busy customers may go elsewhere if you make them queue too long.
Dale Harris, Director of Wholesale at Has Bean Coffee, tells me that long wait times can be barriers to increasing sales and serving new people.
And, of course, without large numbers of sales, it’s hard to profit. Karl Purdy, Founder of Coffeeangel in Dublin, says that while coffee’s profit margins can be good, you need to sell many products.
With fewer sales, you would have to increase the profits per sale – either by increasing prices or cutting costs. The thing is, customers who pay high prices usually expect both a great product and great customer service.
And great customer service is normally prompt.
In other words, efficiency in serving coffee is key to profitability. It can increase hourly revenue, customer satisfaction, and in turn customer retention.
So let’s look at a few ways to decrease your shop line and serve those coffees more efficiently.
No queue? It’s a customer’s dream. Credit: Ozone Coffee
Karl tells me that a good use of space, and well-thought-out equipment placement, will allow baristas to work well.
“We try to have a linear workflow, so our equipment tends to be consistent across all our shops in terms of where it’s positioned,” he tells me. “Because we’re handling hot beverages, we do not like our staff having to cross either behind or in front of people.”
A good workflow will shave time off serving. Baristas who get in each other’s way can not only create safety hazards but will also delay each other. And while it may only be a few seconds per cup, when you have a queue out the door that time quickly adds up.
Similarly, Dale recommends that you consider everything your baristas need and make sure they’re in the best place. “Simple things, like pre-rinsed papers and weighed-out doses of tea and coffee, can halve the time it takes to serve a customer. This will enable you to focus that time on the customer and the product they are buying.”
Karl agrees: “There is no point in stopping for five minutes while you run for milk jugs.”
Good workflow can increase serving speed. Credit: Marco Beverage Systems
Karl believes that barista efficiency goes beyond workflow, however. It’s also about training and delegating.
“People should obviously be skilled in all aspects of brewing, whether it’s grinding, tamping, extracting, steaming, pouring,” he says, “but they should be dedicated to one job for a certain amount of time, and move as needs be.
“You shouldn’t have two or three people all tamping, brewing, extracting, steaming, all… in the same time frame.”
Having one team member per task allows those team members to work with the utmost efficiency – something your busy customers will appreciate.
Stephen Leighton, Owner of Has Bean Coffee, tells me that good team management isn’t just important for speed but also for customer confidence. Don’t make customers wait while you sort things out, he advises. Instead, make sure your baristas are comfortable with their tasks and can do them well.
Barista pouring latte art
Kasim Ali, Founder of the World Tea Brewers Cup and the Cardiff café Waterloo Tea, tells me, “Investing in good equipment often leads to improvements in efficiency.”
From grinders to espresso machines, different equipment will have different levels of efficiency. And you should consider not just how efficient a piece of equipment is, but how efficient it will be for your particular coffee shop.
Take espresso machines: a three-group or four-group machine will allow you to serve more coffees at the same time. On the surface, this is easily the most efficient option. However, for small shops, a one or two-group machine can improve workflow. It’s easier to place the espresso machine where you need it in the shop. Which one is most efficient? It depends on your coffee shop size and the number of customers.
You may also find unexpected ways to be more efficient. Karl told me that using the espresso machine as a hot water source for non-espresso drinks led to delays. They were forced to wait for the steam pressure and boiler temperature in the espresso machine to recover – which meant his customers were forced to wait too. He needed an external hot water supply.
Don’t underestimate the impact this can have, either. Karl tells me he opted for the Marco MIX, a multi-temperature volume-controlled system that this year won SCA Best New Product in both Seattle and Budapest. The result? “More or less, in two weeks our coffee volumes were up by at least 30%.”
Kasim – who also uses the Marco MIX – tells me shops should also be concerned with energy savings. He explains that there is a large amount of hot water usage over the course of the day. The “peaks and troughs” of service can make energy efficiency important from both a financial and environmental perspective.
This is especially important for coffee shops serving specialty tea as well. Tea requires a greater variation in brew temperature than coffee, with different ranges for black, oolong, green, and white leaves.
The Marco MIX. Credit: Marco Beverage Systems
Want to improve your coffee shop revenues, customer satisfaction, and customer retention? Reduce customer wait time.
But while simply telling your staff “work faster” might stress them out, there are several easy ways to improve efficiency in service: good workflow, staff training and management, and equipment choice.
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