how to find the best baristas

How can coffee shops attract the best baristas?

As the specialty coffee industry becomes increasingly competitive, co-founder of Water Avenue Coffee Matt Milletto talks to Matt Haw about how coffee shops can entice talented baristas to join their team.

Nurturing a talented and passionate team of staff is the goal of any coffee shop owner. However, many report that recruiting is one of the most challenging aspects of the job.

During a 2016 survey, nearly 82% of hospitality professionals said it was harder to recruit suitable staff than at any time in the past.

A barista will not only prepare beverages for customers, but also act as the face of a business. This is why there is so much more to being a barista than just making great coffee.

A barista’s technical skills from grinder calibration to milk steaming are of critical importance, and many employers will look to these when hiring new staff.

“These skills represent measurable ways a barista can excel and benefit a coffee shop,” says Matt, who is also co-founder of The Coffee Business in Portland, Oregon.

However, it is the less tangible attributes of a prospective employee, such as their emotional attitude and how they can integrate into a team that must also be considered.

“Confidence in preparing and presenting beverages and other menu items with a strong focus on quality is paramount,” Matt says.

He believes it is the barista’s passion for their craft and the coffee industry that can help create levels of excitement that inspire customers. He adds that a barista’s ability to read a room and be attentive can make or break an experience, especially in a high-volume coffee shop.

barista pouring milk into a coffee

The value of a good barista

The hospitality industry revolves around connecting with people, so a superior product and highly skilled staff will not be enough to set a business apart.

Author and award-winning restaurateur Danny Meyer outlines this in his book, Setting the Table. He stresses that success can be measured by how customers feel while using a product.

As such, employers are advised to seek out candidates whose strengths are divided 51% to 49% between emotional hospitality and technical excellence.

The book states that people who are naturally kind, empathetic, and curious, who possess a strong work ethic, will often thrive on providing hospitality.

“The technical skills of being a barista can be learned by someone with the right attitude and emotional skill set. However, it is almost impossible to reverse this principle,” Matt explains.

A good barista will be invigorated by interactions with guests, know how to put customers at ease, and be able to make the coffee shop feel inviting.

By focusing on these qualities, employers lay the groundwork for creating an emotionally receptive and pleasant environment for the guests. This has been shown to not only increase interest in specialty coffee but encourage repeat sales and customer retention.

best baristas serving coffee

Holding onto talent

What to look for in a new employee and what they can offer is only one side of a coin. The other is the employer’s duty of care and responsibility to their staff.

“Appropriate remuneration should be a large part of an employment agreement and is an effective way to be competitive among other coffee shops,” Matt says.

“Factors such as a clear review schedule, pay levels and tiers based on the employee’s role, as well as ongoing training and education round out to a great employment package,” Matt says.

Research suggests there are many factors beyond ordinary compensation that can help attract and retain staff. For instance, a team that feels valued, respected, and included is more likely to excel.

His views are supported by a 2013 study that found only 13% of people would consider a bonus motivating. Alternatively, 31% said better treatment from their employer, more praise, and a greater sense of being valued would be motivating.

This same study also revealed that 40% of participants ranked their relationship with their colleagues as crucial to job satisfaction.

Often, barista work is seen as a stop-gap rather than a professional career path. Therefore, a shift of perspective can help baristas feel more valued.

“Professional development opportunities and a pathway for career growth can help to lay out a two-year plan for new starters,” Matt says. “This should include clear progression into expanded roles in training and leadership, and be based on performance metrics that also help grow the business.”

To be successful, the needs of the employees should be met first, followed by the customers, and then the community, suppliers, and investors.

“If you are devoted to your staff and can promise them more than a paycheque, you can get the best service for customers,” Matt says. “In the long run, this will provide the best return.”

How can coffee shops attract the best baristas?

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