In your opinion, what are the top three most important areas of focus in order to have an excellent shop?

There are many areas that we focus on in the cafe. Some are imediately useful and others are not so much. What are the top three areas that you feel are key to a shop being the best?

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One very important area of focus that I've come to learn is the type of people maintaining the shop. Bad attitudes can be seen and felt in everything the coffee house produces. Be it a grumpy baker, or a crotchity barista, the products they're creating become tainted. Who wants to have a half-assed coffee drink passed to them before 8am with a grumble? Not I.  On the opposite side, happy thoughtful people, put all that happy thoughtful essence into what they produce. Why is grandma's baking so good? Because she cares. The right people contribute to the atmosphere, the product, and ultimately to the customers experience.

 

Communication. Without communication NOTHING can be successful.  Communication between customers and the business, communication between staff, communication with vendors and other third parties are all essential.

 

Lastly, and most obvious, purity and quality of products.

My suggestions would be (in no particular order):

 

Product quality.

Product consistency.

Customer experience.

In this very particular order:

 

1 - Customer Experience

 

2 - Product Quality

 

3 - Consistency

add to that efficiency/solid workflow and good tracking and thats about 90% of any good business.

 

To mix it up slightly, I'm going to say and order mine as:

 

Consistency (not just in product but also in customer experience)

Sales

Customer Service

 

and we could argue about what constitutes quality, despite us all striving to be top notch.


Brady said:

My suggestions would be (in no particular order):

 

Product quality.

Product consistency.

Customer experience.

In this order:

 

1) Product Quality

2) Customer Experience

3) Customer Education

 

The simple answer is: We can always improve quality. We can always improve our service, layout, ambiance, etc.

 

But I don't like simple answers.

 

In my mind "consistency of product" is part of quality and "consistency of service" is part of customer experience, so no need to call it a separate item -- whichever category you think of when you think "consistency".

 

Now "customer experience" and "customer service" really aren't one in the same. At least I don't think so.  Now I could be wrong, but I see customer experience as encompassing quality of product, customer service and ambiance. And if that's the case, then it really cements my assertion that first and foremost product quality has to come first. You can be rough around the edges by nature, or maybe you can even come off as an a-hole at times, but if you don't care, if you don't REALLY care about the quality of what you serve, then you don't care about your customers. Smiling, knowing everyone's drink, keeping your tables and ceramic spotless are all hollow if you serve poor drinks.  How many of you have made the journey to X restaurant, dropping $200+ for your meal, plus wine, and make the mistake of ordering an after dinner coffee or cappuccino.  You've now just ruined your experience.  Thankfully some places, like Charlie Trotter's, are doing a much more respectable job on coffee service... but there are clear examples of how wonderful service can be trumped by a poor beverage.  Don't let this be you!

 

So I do think that the best way to improve customer service is to improve the quality of your drinks. Honestly, I don't know a place with stellar drinks who sucks at service. A few are poor, most are average, some are good, and a small number are great... but I really haven't been to one I would classify as horrible. However, I've been to several places with absolutely wonderful service: clean shop, great knowledgeable barista, smiles aplenty.... and then I taste their drinks.  With all that hoopla if I'm not moved by what's in the cup, I'm not likely to return. 

 

I think many operators push "customer service" because they don't have the huevos to do what's necessary to have great product quality. It takes a good owner to be a wonderful host and maintain a clean and inviting environment. It takes a great owner to do everything a good owner does, but to also say "no" on occasion in order to maintain and establish a level of quality.

 

Every time you have customer contact, whether pulling a shot, pouring a latte, delivering a drink, etc. you have an opportunity to educate the customer. This also contributes to the customer experience and gives them an awareness of WHY quality is so important and things, both large and small, that go into it. If you can share your passion by educating the customer both by what they taste and what they come to know/learn, it's a win-win.

 

Be great.

 

 

 

 

I'm surprised no one has brought up employee education yet. While I would agree that the quality of the product and of the customer's experience are crucial for a shop to be successful, I think what separates truly specialty coffee from the rest is the knowledge and skills of the people behind the bar.

 

I would agree with everything John said right above me, but that customer can't be truly educated if the person serving them doesn't know what they're talking about. Being able to tell a customer their high grown Guatemalan is "clean" or "floral" or has a "lime acidity" is all well and good, but if in that moment you can dispense that these things are present because the coffee is incredibly dense because its bourbon and being grown above 1700 meters, or from being washed and explaining the washing process, or from being picked when perfectly ripe, then you have truly imparted the notion of quality in their minds and taught them something.

 

Education isn't just "drink this because it's good", it's "drink this because it's good because of X, Y or Z". 


@Jonathan

Do customers really "need" to be educated that much? Shouldn't they drink it because it tastes great, period? We need to know that stuff...we love knowing...but all our knowledge is so we can deliver a great product to those who should not be expected to know. Many times our "education" can come off as a bit pretentious and insecure. Why begrudge someones lack of articulation if they are loving what your serving? Customers come back because of taste, not facts. All the info in the world on a coffee will not make it taste better or worse. First things first...it's what's in the cup.

 

Great comments so far, Just another question to add here:

Practically speaking how do you effectively implement your top three focus points?

Maybe I was being a little lazy to throw out "customer experience" as an area of focus, since it is so all-encompassing.

 

My thought on customer education is that it can be a good component of the customer experience... though I agree with Chris that it can be and often is overdone.

 

My thought on employee education is that it is an essential means to achieve your ends. It is the only way to achieve good product quality, consistency, customer experience, customer education, sales. Does that mean it is an area of focus? I guess so.

Thanks Brady, that is more the point I was trying to make. I agree with Chris in that every customer that comes in doesn't want 100% of the knowledge I can offer on a coffee, and that most don't. I really like what 3FE(Colin Harmon's shop in Dublin) does with their "drinking" and "tasting" menus, and knowing what a customer wants, or doesn't, from their experience.

 

At the end of the day, taste is what matters, but you have to know how to get there, and why it is you've arrived there so you can get back, even if you never tell anyone about it.

Brady said:

Maybe I was being a little lazy to throw out "customer experience" as an area of focus, since it is so all-encompassing.

 

My thought on customer education is that it can be a good component of the customer experience... though I agree with Chris that it can be and often is overdone.

 

My thought on employee education is that it is an essential means to achieve your ends. It is the only way to achieve good product quality, consistency, customer experience, customer education, sales. Does that mean it is an area of focus? I guess so.

Oddly.....no one here started with LOCATION! Then everything everyone else most everyone else said....

Chris,

 

It IS possible to come too fast and hard with the education, but the first layer of education comes just by "doing things right". We've had our shop for over six years and there's been quite a transformation in the knowledge of the customer base. It starts with them noticing that you are grinding for every order "Why do you do that?" and they actually see crema on the espresso, latte, americano, and ask... What's the little frothy and creamy brown bubbles?" or the "How did you do that?" When you pour a rosetta. The education begins as a conversation between barista and customer because the customer notices something different from the average shop. 

 

Everything we do in terms of roasting is in small batches, so I rotate my espresso about every ten days to an entirely new blend or Single Origin. (I do about 35-40 unique blends per year) So with each new espresso we tell every customer, "Today's espresso is..." and quickly tell farms and flavors. And because they are tasting something different, and they KNOW they are, they are receptive.  To new customers, it's a breath of fresh air. It's not too much education; it's just right.

In terms of implementing quality, I think that has to start from the top down. Owner, manager, barista. Now it's easy for us because both my wife and I are all three. But the same goes for any shop. Quality is drink, service, ambiance... It needs to be the soul of what you do. It has to be at your core. Quality is about having a vision of excellence in what you offer and not compromising it even if it means you may lose a few people now and again. However, you will open many many more doors because quality is a rarity.

 

For us, we select our beans from primarily small farms and small regions. We roast everything on site. We only sell whole bean (no exceptions), and our game really steps up with our siphon coffee as we serve it in house and black only. All aspects of quality in product, customer experience, and education come to play for the siphon. It's not that it doesn't exist with everything else, but with the siphon, it's most apparent.

 

We choose two or three coffees to feature on the siphon. I run them each for about two weeks. While the water heats we give a brief history of the siphon, how it works, how it creates clarity in the cup, why we preheat the ceramic, why we use Japanese tulip shaped or tapered cups... as the coffee is served we tell about that coffee and what to expect. More often than not, a conversation ensues in bits and pieces as the customer notices, appreciates, and questions. This also creates a good base for our Coffee Tasting Classes which showcases both customer education and quality. 

 

The most important aspect of creating something meaningful for the customer is knowing that we can improve what the shop does and actually doing it. Customer experience begins with everyone caring about what they do and wanting to share that with the customer. It's music, choice of colors, choice of ceramics, menu, service... It begins with saying "hello" to everyone who walks in the door (we do) and ends with us saying "Thank You" to everyone when they leave (we do). We try our best to shape our customer experience to be what we would want if we went into a shop. 

 

Excellence is a promise to yourself and to your customers. Excellence is about DOING. Excellence is about giving a damn, and showing it.

 

 

 

 

 

I'm echoing what I said initially. People. The people in the space are the most important. If seen like machines themselves, they are the cogs and wheels that make everything work; essential parts, the foundation. Without people, the open sign is never turned on. 

 

If these parts (people) are damaged, gunk'd up, eroded, or simple operating very poorly, they will ultimately contribute to the deterioration of the machine (business) capabilities itself.

 

When all the parts (people) of the machine (business) operate efficiently, are regularly tuned, cleaned, and maintained in proper working condition, all the other needs of the business to succeed are met. Sincerity, Consistency and Quality in all arenas.

 

 

 

 

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