August 19, 2019

Planning For a Positive Work Culture in Your Coffee Shop


Demotivated employees, sloppy work, and resignations from your best team members: all things that can make a coffee shop unprofitable. And all of them can be caused by a negative work culture. 

Your staff is one of your biggest investments and your biggest assets. But as a start-up or even an established coffee shop, how can you plan for good employee attitudes and high retention rates?

I reached out to Matt Milletto, Vice-President and CEO of Bellissimo Coffee Advisors, to find out his advice. He will be leading Campfire Café: Retaining Employees and the Coffee Business Start-Up Seminar with Bellissimo co-founder Bruce Milletto at Coffee Fest L.A. 2019, this 25–27th of August (register here). Matt has nearly 20 years of coffee consultancy and café management under his belt, which includes mentoring and training more than 2,500 barista trainers and coffee business owners.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Crear Una Cultura de Trabajo Positiva en tu Tienda de Café

The bar of a coffee shop. Credit: Neil Soque

Why You Need a Positive Workplace Culture

“It’s important for us to bring out the best in our employees and have them feel a sense of ownership within our company,” says Matt. He maintains that employees who experience a good workplace culture are happier and more productive, which in turn boosts productivity and profit margins.

This is particularly important in a specialty coffee shop because the business model revolves around consistently crafting and serving a bespoke, high-quality beverage. Your staff’s performance is essential to being able to deliver your product.

It is also a people-centric encounter. “Your business is as strong as your team’s ability to create a resonating experience,” Matt says. 

A positive workplace culture will encourage employees to stay with your company longer. This not only provides business stability for you, but also allows you to avoid repeated hiring costs, forecast your future profits more reliably, and chart staff and sales growth alongside each other. 

A stable workforce also fosters meaningful relationships between your staff and your customers – and keeps the latter coming back for more. And, it will add up to better teamwork. “Places with positive workplace cultures have great communication, high morale, and create goals together as a team,” says Matt. 

So, let’s look at how you can plan for a positive workplace culture.

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A barista pulls a shot of espresso.

Define & Communicate Your Values

You can’t nurture a specific environment until you know what it is you want. While certain things are universal – such as respect for coworkers – others will be more specific to your company. Take the time to define your values. Then, make sure you communicate them with your employees, either during onboarding or recruitment. 

“We have created some simple core values that are clearly explained to each new staff member on the day of hire, and even in interviews. We offer a comprehensive onboard structure with training and reinforced ongoing education,” says Matt. 

This gives staff a robust code of conduct to work with, clear expectations to meet, and a structure for you as the owner or manager for following up with them and providing feedback.

Inside a busy café.

Feedback & Mentorship

Regular communication with your team is key for monitoring performance and motivation, resolving issues, and keeping staff happy. However, if you wait until there is an issue, you may find that considerable damage has already been done. It’s much harder to fix a negative work culture than to create a positive one.

Plan ahead: make sure that you have regular check-ins with your staff. Come to each of those knowing what you want to say and ask, and listen to what staff members tell you. Create a training plan and implement positive, structured feedback methods that will build up rather than tear down. 

Make sure that you acknowledge staff members’ successes in these meetings. “Recognition builds positivity,” Matt says. “When people feel recognised for their work it creates good energy and it becomes a domino effect.” 

Read more in Barista Training: How to Provide Meaningful Feedback

Create a rewards and progression system that celebrates teamwork, and make sure to praise team members who support others. At the same time, encourage a certain amount of autonomy in your team. This encourages accountability when something goes awry, but also a collective pride when your team works independently and thrives. 

You may also find it useful to create a mentorship system. Pair each new barista with a supportive and more experienced one.

Baristas at work behind the bar.

Support Your Staff

When your team knows that you support them, they become more motivated and loyal. “Respect is often gained through support,” says Matt. 

Make sure you know about your staff’s needs and wants, from preferred pronouns to career goals. “We also want to ensure that all staff are working to their potential and have an opportunity to grow with the company, and listen to what their professional goals are to ensure there is a pathway to success,” says Matt. 

You should also take the time to ask about their personal lives and thank them after tough shifts. Remember what is important to them and be prepared to show a reasonable amount of flexibility. For example, design your schedules so that there is a bit of breathing room if staff members need time off for an appointment. It is also worth planning regular team activities, whether it’s after-work bowling or bringing in cake on someone’s birthday.

“We have key core values based around… a ‘work-life integration,’” Matt says. “[We] create an environment where we are excited to be, and [are] quick to support others when they need it, or need a day off… We also create experiences outside of work such as camping trips, community engagement and volunteer opportunities and local partnerships.”

A barista pours latte art. 

Have Policies in Place

Do you know what you would do if one team member accused another of inappropriate messages, while the sender insisted they were “just being friendly”? What about if you gave a team member an afternoon off because they worked a lot of overtime, but then another team member complained that they didn’t receive the same benefit when they worked overtime the month before? Or how about if a customer was aggressive to a barista?

Situations like these can cause anything from resentment to lawsuits. To avoid them, have policies in place from the beginning, as well as plans for responding to and escalating issues. You should also make sure that your staff know the policies, including who they can speak to if there is an issue. Ideally, this will be more than one person. 

If you update the policies, be transparent about them and welcome feedback from your team. Matt tells me, “Explaining the importance of embracing change and growth will help involve your team in decision-making, and open up an environment built around positive and cohesive communication.”

Read more in Handling Sexual Harassment & Assault in The Coffee Shop

Baristas at work. 

Don’t Do It All Yourself

Finally, remember that you can’t think of – or know – everything. Leaning on the advice of objective external organisations means that you are less likely to miss a potential issue. It will also improve your systems and leave you and your team more informed.

“Bringing in third party educators to support… empowers your team with information to support them as well as the general public, as it relates to inclusion, hospitality, mental wellness, and more,” says Matt.

Some good examples of utilising external educators include engaging in hiring bias workshops, inclusivity seminars, regular health or café hygiene audits, and even coffee training classes to improve staff knowledge.

Read more in How to Make Your Coffee Shop More Accessible

Baristas at work.

“I think if [a place] is lacking good work culture, there is an underlying sense of chaos,” says Matt. “People don’t communicate and are only in it for themselves.”

However, even before you open your café, you can begin tackling this potential issue. Plan ahead to create an environment in which positive work relationships are nurtured. Know what you stand for, schedule feedback, create a mentorship system, and determine your policies. It’s things like this that lead your staff to feel motivated, supported, and part of a team.

Please note: This article has been sponsored by Coffee Fest. 

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