For some years now, high rates of staff turnover have been an issue in the hospitality sector, including coffee shops. For instance, according to research from management software platform Deputy, the UK hospitality industry alone has an employee turnover rate of 30% – double the national average.
Furthermore, staff turnover rates were also prominent before Covid-19, but the pandemic only made things worse. This forced many coffee shops and roasters to adapt their business strategies in response to staff shortages and reduced opening hours.
But just how bad is the problem? And how can coffee shop owners deal with high employee turnover rates? I spoke to two industry professionals to learn more about the challenges of staff turnover and how to retain staff in the long term. Read on to find out what they had to say.
You may also like our article on looking out for barista wellbeing after COVID-19.
Why is staff turnover so high in the hospitality sector?
Around the world, hospitality businesses generally have higher staff turnover rates than those in other industries. These rates are also increasing year-on-year – including in coffee shops.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) State of the Restaurant Industry mid-year 2021 report, some 75% of US business operators say that recruitment and retention of employees is the biggest challenge for their business. The same research also shows that despite some growth over the past two years, employment rates in the US food and beverage sector are around 8% below the pre-pandemic level.
Another survey conducted by the NRA found that over the last ten years, the staff turnover rate for full-service restaurants has increased from 78% to 107%. So why is this issue worsening?
José De León Guzmán is the owner of Kofra, a four-location coffee shop and roastery business based in Norwich, UK. He tells me there are many factors which influence staff turnover rates in the coffee sector.
“The problem has a lot to do with wages, overall structure of the business, and staff motivation,” he says. “A team that is well paid and has solid management [to guide them will] usually stay with the business for longer.
“Naturally, as a result of their career development, they tend to move on – but for the right reasons,” he adds. “It’s like a cycle.”
For some baristas, problems associated with limited career advancement opportunities, a lack of financial stability and job benefits (paid time off, for example), long working hours, and unfavourable working conditions can lead them to find other work.
Tibor Hámori is the Head Barista at Gerbeaud Café in Budapest, Hungary. He tells me that it’s never been as difficult to retain staff in coffee shops as it is at the moment.
“Nowadays, it is much harder to keep staff on than it was a decade or so ago,” he says. “Younger generations have different wants and needs when it comes to working in the hospitality industry.”
While financial security is a primary concern for many baristas, Tibor feels that a sense of purpose and emotional wellbeing are just as important.
“These employees are moving on faster if they don’t get what they expect from the job role,” he adds.
Did the pandemic exacerbate the problem?
Covid-19 undoubtedly had serious consequences on the global coffee industry, and some of the longer-lasting effects are clearly still present more than two years on from the onset. In early 2020, around 95% of out-of-home coffee businesses were forced to temporarily or permanently close their doors around the world, which put a strain on employers and employees alike.
While coffee shops were able to find ways to operate under strict health and safety measures – such as deliveries or curbside pickup services – many were forced to reduce the number of available working hours for baristas. Naturally, this meant many turned to new work opportunities to remain financially stable during the pandemic.
What’s more, the uncertainty and shifting regulatory landscape during the pandemic have also had long-lasting effects on overall employee emotional and mental health in some circumstances. This means that some baristas have ultimately felt the need to leave the hospitality industry altogether.
However, Tibor tells me that in his experience, the pandemic also had some unforeseen positive effects.
“The pandemic taught us that we have to care more about our team members,” he says.
“Some of the staff at Gerbeaud Café have been working there for more than ten, 20, 30, or even 40 years,” he says. “[This goes to show that] if we care about our staff, we can encourage long and prosperous working relationships.”
José also agrees, saying that the pandemic fostered a sense of community among the team at Kofra.
“When the pandemic started we had a team meeting and we all decided to handle the situation as a collective unit,” he explains. “We closed the stores for six weeks and then we reopened one store at a time for takeaway only.
“Eventually, the whole team (who were furloughed) came back to work,” José says. He does, however, note that one person did decide to leave the team during the peak of the pandemic.
How does high staff turnover affect coffee shops?
There’s no doubt that high staff turnover has a major impact on coffee shops. It takes a significant amount of investment to train baristas to a high level, so an increase in staff turnover also means an increase in costs for coffee shop owners.
There is also a risk that when a trained barista leaves, beverage quality and customer service decrease until everyone becomes properly trained to use equipment in the right way.
As a head barista, consistency in coffee quality is a top priority for Tibor. He tells me that because of the pandemic, Gerbaud Café closed for the first time in 162 years. When the coffee shop reopened, the team made the decision to operate with a reduced menu and less staff to allow a focus on maintaining quality.
“We didn’t want to keep the original menu,” he tells me. “[Instead, we reduced the number of items available], but we were able to serve everything to the same level of quality.”
He adds that the coffee shop recently hired new staff, and as a result, they have been able to return to a full menu. However, Tibor says there is now a bigger focus on training to ensure baristas are able to prepare and serve drinks to a high standard.
“[By focusing on training], we have become able to grow the business once again,” he adds.
Increasing staff retention and morale
Staff turnover is ultimately inevitable no matter which industry you work in, and just like other businesses, coffee shops must be prepared to handle it properly.
“It’s important that we have a structure in place so that when we do experience staff turnover, we can sustainably replace or fill the position,” José tells me. “By doing so, the quality of our food and beverages won’t be affected.”
He also believes that training and career development opportunities are key to keeping staff motivated.
“Most of the staff at Kofra tend to stay for an average of three years; some even more now,” he explains. “There is minimal staff turnover in comparison to other coffee shops because of the opportunities for career development.”
Tibor emphasises the importance of understanding that each staff member will have different expectations and needs when it comes to career development.
“We have to find a unique path for each person because everybody has different needs,” he says. “If you help people to be passionate [about coffee] and ensure they feel like they play an important part in the company, they will perform better at their job role,” he adds.
Tibor also explains that this will trickle down to the consumer, too.
“If your employees are happy and healthy (mentally and physically), customers will also be more satisfied with their experience,” he says.
Ultimately, José says that coffee shops need to stay true to their values if they want to reduce staff turnover.
“In order to keep your staff on, they have to be proud of their place of work,” he tells me. “You can only achieve this by being an authentic company. If coffee quality is important to your brand, then your staff also need to support this.”
He adds that staff are the brand ambassadors of a coffee shop, so if they are treated well and encouraged to stay positive, staff turnover rates are likely to decrease across the board.
“If you want your staff to be professional baristas, you must treat them and pay them as professionals,” he concludes.
Although the hospitality industry is always likely to have higher staff turnover rates than other sectors, there’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated what was already a key issue.
To tackle these problems, coffee shop owners need to find ways to retain happy, satisfied baristas and ensure that they are properly supported in their roles.
By doing so, they can stabilise staff turnover, plan for the future in a sustainable way, and ensure that both coffee quality and customer service remain stable in the medium and long term.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on career progression for specialty coffee baristas.
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