Customer satisfaction is a key aim for every coffee shop. By providing high quality food and drinks with friendly, efficient service, your customers will be happy and more likely to return. This is a great pathway to long-term success.
Naturally, a big part of any efficient service is workflow. In hospitality, this word is generally used to describe the process of how a team serves customers. But how do we break down workflow in the coffee shop? Is it how quickly a barista can pull espresso shots and steam milk? What should café owners be looking for, and what should they look to change?
To further explore the concept of barista workflow and understand how we can improve it, I spoke with two coffee shop owners. Read on to find out what they told me.
You might also like our guide to dialling in espresso.
How do we define “workflow”?
Google defines workflow as “the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion”.
In a coffee shop, this sequence covers all the necessary tasks that baristas need to complete throughout the course of the day. Good workflow balances three key areas: speed, efficiency, and consistency.
Brice Young is the owner of Precision Pours – Coffee and Bakes in Louisville, Colorado. He says: “Workflow within the café can be set up to service multiple [areas], whether it’s a brew bar, espresso bar, or even a bakery.”
A customer’s decision to visit a café may be impulsive, so efficient workflow is important. One bad experience of slow or inconsistent service might stop them from returning in the future.
Shaun Aupiais is the Head Trainer and co-founder of the Red Band Barista Academy in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
“Efficiency will increase productivity, which will directly impact the capacity of the store,” he explains. “By improving this, you can have more happy customers and hopefully increase your turnover.
“Good workflow is win-win for both the store and the customer. Training your staff in all aspects of barista work might add value to the entire team, but workflow is key to productivity.”
How does efficient workflow benefit the coffee shop?
At its simplest level, better workflow leads to better, faster service, making both baristas and customers happier.
However, with a more structured system in place, you’re also in a better position to communicate key information to your customers. This might mean telling them how long they should expect to wait for their drink, for instance.
Better workflow can also be quantifiable. For example, coffee shop owners can check the number of beverages served per hour on a daily or weekly basis to monitor the relationship between good workflow and sales.
Finally, a greater understanding of the importance of workflow can improve a barista’s overall skill. The intermediate standards of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) require that baristas demonstrate knowledge of organisational and operational procedures, understand how to provide great customer service, and recognise the importance of cleaning equipment. These are all key factors to consider in coffee shop workflow.
“The ability to multitask and treat each individual task as its own instance can help gear one toward perfection in performance,” Brice explains. “Although it’s not always possible to be perfect, the steps we take crafting each [task] can lead us closer to that goal.”
Making changes to your coffee shop’s workflow might be a big change in the beginning, but within a week your baristas should be able to grasp any changes or new systems, especially if they make things more efficient.
“Baristas need to be happy with the layout of their coffee station,” Shaun explains. “That will ensure that they are comfortable in the space they work in. In turn, comfort increases productivity and productivity increases confidence.”
In turn, this means a more sustainable workload for baristas, less rushing around, and more time spent engaging with customers.
How to implement the right measures
There are a number of changes you can make to improve barista workflow, but thinking about the layout of your coffee shop and how customers move is a good start.
Think about the process of how customers enter, queue, order, wait, and leave. Can you reshape this process to make it more efficient? It might not always be possible, but small changes can go a long way.
You can also encourage baristas to direct customers throughout your space. Experienced, confident baristas are more likely to be comfortable doing this, as Brice explains.
“Baristas with the most experience can drive the café to be more efficient,” he says. “Clear verbal cues as to where to move, where to pick up, and how to depart are all more important than ever, during the pandemic in particular.”
After that, think about setup and organisation. Make sure that everything is in place before the coffee shop opens for the day. In restaurants, this process is known as “mise en place”, a French culinary term used to describe the preparation of equipment and ingredients before cooking.
Fundamentally, the more organised your coffee shop is, the faster you will be able to work.
Alongside spending the right amount of time on setup, you should also consider the various tasks you have to complete throughout a single working day.
Baristas have to balance tasks away from the bar (like washing dishes and clearing tables) with those at the bar (preparing drinks, taking orders, and serving customers). Make sure you balance the workload so you don’t end up with messy tables or an understaffed counter.
You can also arrange your equipment behind the bar to help guide customers through your space. “The best way to organise would be in a way that suits the flow of customers,” Brice says. “You can [create] clear sightlines between ordering, paying, and leaving, for instance.”
But arranging equipment in a clear, logical way also has benefits for baristas. Shaun says: “If the serving station is on the right of the bar, then you can set up from left to right: grinder – knock box – espresso machine – milk jugs.”
Once you have your equipment in place, you then need to make sure that responsibilities are clearly and fairly divided between the different positions. Let’s use the following framework as an example:
- Greeting. The customer should be greeted by at least one staff member, who could be cleaning the condiment stand or pulling shots, for example.
- The register position. The customer should be greeted a second time before their order is taken. Whoever’s at the register should also assist in pulling shots as much as possible. Making sure that orders are correct, writing orders on takeaway cups, asking if customers want milk or sugar, and directing the queue towards the end of the bar are all other things to consider at this position.
- The shot position. This position is mainly focused on grinding, distributing, tamping, and pulling espresso shots. Shots should always be placed into cups for the milk position. This position can also be responsible for extra tasks when the café is quieter, like cleaning the bar or refilling the hopper.
- The milk position. This is where most bottlenecks occur down the production line as it requires the most multitasking. This position is where you prepare milk jugs, often with a variety of different milks, and steam them according to the customer’s order. Pouring simpler latte art patterns, like hearts or tulips, can improve workflow at this station.
- The runner position. This position is versatile, but should mainly be focused on setting up saucers and spoons and serving drinks to customers. Helping to pour latte art, check batch brew, clear tables, serve food, and restock will all help make workflow smoother.
- Serving and goodbye. Workflow ends for each order when leaving customers are acknowledged with a parting phrase, bringing the process full-circle.
This framework will naturally work best when there is one barista assigned to each position, but that’s not always realistic. Think about how to divide this workload logically based on the number of people and skillsets you have available.
For example, some baristas may be more confident speaking to customers, while others may be better at pouring consistent latte art.
Other tips to improve workflow
There are endless ways to improve your baristas’ workflow. One of the best things to do to get started, however, is map out how your customers, food, and beverages flow to identify any bottlenecks or overlaps. Cutting down on either of these areas will make things more efficient.
Clearing tables before customers leave helps you prepare the area before new guests arrive, and also gives you the opportunity to upsell by asking if they would like to order extra items. You can also wash dishes more quickly to make sure you have a good supply of clean cups for the barista on the espresso machine.
Keep all necessary equipment and products within arm’s reach for staff on the espresso machine to minimise movement and any possible collisions. Tamping and distributing tools should be next to the grinder at all times, and the barista on the milk position should have clean jugs, cloths, and a well stocked fridge nearby.
Designing your bar to include a bin and sink near your espresso machine will reduce movement and save vital sessions during a rush.
Finally, make sure you’re fully-stocked at the point you open. Keeping stock high throughout the day (including all types of milk, coffee beans, cups, condiments, and so on) is also imperative for effective workflow.
There is always room to improve workflow in your coffee shop. By observing your baristas in action and looking for bottlenecks or issues, you’ll be able to pinpoint the areas that need to be addressed first.
But whenever you make any chance to workflow, make sure you listen to baristas’ insight, too. If they don’t feel like they’re being listened to or aren’t convinced by a new system, chances are it won’t work.
However, when you do make the right changes, you’re likely to see results almost instantly. By improving workflow, you can in turn increase consistency, quality, efficiency, meaning happier baristas and happier customers. It really is as simple as that.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how espresso machines are refurbished.
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