Going to a favorite cafe in my local area in the outer suburbs of Shanghai is something I usually enjoy. I go in, receive a warm greeting from the person at the door, grab a large beverage of choice, sip it first at the counter and tell the barista how good it is, smile, and happily walk out the door with a good coffee and a little something extra than when I walked in. I have a spring in my step, I am alive, and all is well - at least, that's how it usually goes.
Sadly, the script got a little 'altered' today. I went into a favorite local cafe to grab a brew, and I came out with quite a bit of 'coffee for thought'. Pull up a seat, spare a minute or two and let me fill you, and/or your cup, in.
6.45 pm rolled around this evening and I was in complete slow mode. Misbehaving hay fever allergies, 80% humidity and Shanghai's infamous Air Pollution were not my best friends today, so I decided to grab a brew before going to a local swimming pool to kick myself into gear. I had not been to this particular cafe in a few weeks, so I thought I would pop in, brew up and carry on.
Upon entry, I immediately noticed differences. There were no people to greet customers at the door, none of the regular Monday night employees that I had seen previously were on shift and the cafe was emptier than usual. I didn't think anything of it, and I went to the counter to grab the menu near the cash register and point out my order to the barista - only to find it was no longer there (the menu boards above the counter were all in Chinese, and my Chinese is not so good).
The lady behind the counter looked at me a little startled, and then spoke to a co-worker in the little kitchen area near the front counter. The young man came out and searched for some menu's in a set of cupboards just behind me. After about 2 minutes he found one, and I pointed out what I wanted. He then proceeded to make some phone calls, spoke with the lady behind the counter, got out his cell phone, typed in a message and used a translator to tell me that
" Sorry, the coffee maker has got something else to do."
I had a few thoughts in mind as to what might be happening, but I decided to carry on. I wrote a note on paper asking him if he knew how to make coffee. He translated it, and shook his head. Basically, all he appeared there to do was take an order and neither he, or the lady, had any idea on how to make a coffee. Needless to say, I left the place empty handed.
My desired Hazelnut Latte might have come to empty, but I left the cafe with a mind full - and no desire what-so-ever to blame the guy behind the counter. Both he and the lady tried to do things as best they could, but I feel there were a few 'errant beans out back' contributing to the 'below par coffee out front' - and that there were some good lessons to be learned.
Lesson 1 - Get your back room in order
A quality bean usually leads to a quality coffee. A back room is like a bean. When its good quality, it leads to good quality. This particular cafe seemed to be having a quality crisis. Cafe only 10% full at peak time? People working behind the counter who apparently do not know how to make coffee? Need I say more?
Lesson 2 - Be prepared
Cafe's need to be prepared to meet the orders of customers as they come in. Trends, demands and tastes change so one must always be at the ready to serve things as requested. Having the skills and people to do so would also help :)
Lesson 3 - Train, train, train
Your employees are your life blood. Actually, no - scratch that. Your DISCIPLINED, KNOWLEDGEABLE, WELL TRAINED employees are your life blood. Making sure your employees are fully, substantially and appropriately kitted up for their jobs is worth every cent you have to spend on them getting them up to speed. Your business lifeline depends on your front line so its in your best interests to make sure your front line is up for the task at hand.
Lesson 4 - Watch your culture
What kind of business, be it a cafe or otherwise, puts people on the floor without the skills or knowledge required to do a job? One with a poor internal culture. One that has no positive expectancy. One that has no desires to be in it for the long term. One that does not expect employees to stick around. One that wants to suck mud. Don't be the ONE. Look after your team so that they will look after you.
Tonight's coffee experience was disappointing. I went into the cafe, one of my favorites, with a positive expectancy, and left it without a steaming hot Hazelnut Latte. I did, however, leave with a mind full of solid reminders on how a great cup of coffee should, and shouldn't, be made. Hope I gave you some 'coffee for thought' also.
Who is up for making a brew ??