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As any experienced manager knows, efficient workflow is key to running a successful and productive business.  Speed of service, profitability, repeat custom and team wellbeing are often predicated on efficiency. From the initial concept, to the planning and eventually through to the fitting of the shop; the importance of a linear workflow must be taken into consideration.

Take McDonalds, arguably the most successful food and hospitality sector business model. At all times it runs near perfectly, each team member is trained to perform their specific task at their specific station, like a well-oiled machine.  That’s not to say team members must be constantly timed and checked or glued to the spot, but the systems are in place, and everyone knows the process.

As soon as any customer walks through the door of your coffee business, the aim is to acknowledge them, take their order and have them sat contented, awaiting their purchase. The goal isn’t just to provide customers with coffee in an efficient manner, but also with consistently high quality and an efficient process is a big part in maintaining those standards.

Most cafes operate in a similar way; breakfast rushes, followed by a lull, then very busy over lunch – capitalising on your busy periods is imperative.  So freeing up space at the bar is an important factor in encouraging people to come in or revisit, as the knowledge that they won’t need to wait in a queue for any length of time is appealing.  Don’t get me wrong, a queue does also indicate a demand for your product, an acknowledgement what your offering is enjoyable and desirable so don’t panic if you see a queue forming, remember you can only do so much!

So – what about the all-important barista cockpit!  We need to enable our baristas to work well and efficiently; creating an environment where everything is in arm’s reach will facilitate that.  The grinder should be placed on the opposite side to the service area wherever possible and a fully stocked fridge should be in arms reach of the steam wand.  Always ensure that there is a bin near your sink – think speed, think efficiency. Think about the ordering system, orders need to be placed in a well organised queue, not written on scraps of paper that get lost.  A bar layout should flow in a logical direction, from product displays, through to tills, then to the grinder and machine and then to the service area at the end. Keeping this structure and workflow consistent will allow team members to jump in at any point and help without the need to explain how things work.

It is important to breed a working culture and environment that promotes quick recovery post rush; clean down, restock, regroup, ready to go again.  Always be prepared, getting caught in a surprise rush when you’re not ready is not good for anyone and running out of something important will kill your workflow.  Check stock levels first thing in the morning, pre-opening; milk, takeaway cups, lids etc. Get everything you can prepared for a smooth running shift, pre-dosing your filter coffee shaves seconds off the customer wait time – every little helps!

For low to medium volume sites the main concern is ease of transaction for the customer and the server. For high volume sites the barista workload should be split into 3 sections for the most efficient workflow. These are: shots, milk and the 3rd barista.

The shots barista

This is a very important role. This is the staff member who is steering the ship. Communication between baristas is crucial. The shots barista will be literally ‘calling the shots’, telling the milk barista what he is going to be doing next, which ticket, which milk – he will be controlling everything.  If the shots barista wobbles the whole workflow is interrupted, so this barista needs to be calm, consistent, efficient and confident in directing. This guy will be in charge of order management – working to the ethos that the most efficient way to make great drinks quickly is not always making them in the order that they were purchased. Making multiple similar drinks to clear tickets, their functionality will set them apart from others.

The milk barista

Being the milk barista can be a daunting task, again communication is the key, if the milk barista does not receive or hear the smallest bit of information the ship can sink relatively quickly. Practise makes perfect! If you have two steam wands, do not use the steam wand nearest the grinder, the barista will find themselves in a logistical nightmare, bumping into each other constantly. From a health and safety point of view, our team members are carrying hot drinks, we need them not to have to cross each other’s paths, increasing the chance of an accident and causing delay.

The 3rd barista

The role of the third barista is to do all the extra bits, to facilitate the orders and ensure the other two baristas do not need to leave the machine.  This will involve making the teas, setting up the saucers, getting the milk/cream to accompany the drinks, making the V60’s/Aeropresses and sometimes running the drinks in the absence of floor staff.  This person is the glue that holds the whole process together.

Team members should be allocated roles in a specific time frame for the flow to work well.  There is no point in all baristas doing shots, all baristas doing milk and all baristas playing the 3rd barista – allow this and watch the chaos unfold!  Allocation, is the key to success, at least for the busy periods, this is what will make your shift work.  By putting people in the right jobs, and having them focus on specific tasks they will accomplish things in a more effective and productive way.

So don’t compromise quality or speed, get efficient, organise your workflow and good things will come.

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