I'm in the process of opening my coffee establishment and was wondering what you believe to be important characteristics of a good barista, beyond the obvious making of a good coffee..

I need people that will help me in growing as well as educating people in the art of coffee-making.

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Great question. I ran 4 coffee houses some keys we discovered

1. Must like coffee

2. Don't hire from other coffee houses you know don't make great drinks, or even at all - they always seem to revert to this is the way we did it at so and so. We never would hire people from local competitor as we believe that was not good business practice. Also avoided hiring from chains such as the green one.

3. Give them a take home menu and give them a test on the menu if you like them just to see how interested they are.

4. We liked fast talkers

5. We liked fast walkers

Ask them goofy questions Such as why a man hole cover is round, what they cant do well, why hire them

Try to hire as they could be a manager not just an employee, if you set the bar higher you will be happier

Look at how long they have been at places.

Try to hire a good mix of people like your customers will be.

Hiring is key but also very hard to do well. Do reviews often after 1st day, 1st week etc. If they are not working out and you know it they may know it as well and best to let them go.  Also going forward have a great review plan with a self review part of it it makes the reviews much easier.

ask, what is your fav. job, and why?

ask, what was your worst job and why? (i like to see what they say here) 

tell them, most of the job is cleaning, and structure. 

I like asking "you can make more money somewhere else so why would you want to work here"?

"whats your strengths and weaknesses"

my old boss used to have the barista bring a shot of spro during the interview and place it infront of the interviewE and ask "explain to me the characteristics of this espresso"

 

kinda puts people on the spot, but funny when people say I love coffee and the face they make when you bring them a shot. 

My main thing i bring out is, CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN, finding stuff to do when there is nothing to do. 

Interesting points. I understand not hiring from the green but would like to grasp not hiring from other coffee establishments as that's where local baristas tend to reside.

It's interesting here as most baristas are international hires do to the fact that locals demand no less than twice the pay as an international and tend to be more demanding and have a sense of entitlement.

Clean. Walk fast. Talk fast. Know your coffee. Love your coffee. Clean. Good summation?

Most coffee shops do not have skilled barista or barista trainers, the likelihood is that barista from another shop will have poor skills, bad habits, etc. and will always revert to those. And a "good" barista will often want to do things "their way" and may tend to correct you if they think your technique is wrong. Avoid the headache. 

Hire people who are passionate, about coffee, about food, etc.

Skip the classic interview, most know how to give smooth and acceptable answers. Instead, have them write a 300-500 word essay on why they love coffee and why they want to work for you. Be specific about how they hand these in -- in person on such and such days only and between X and Y hours only. This will show that they can or cannot follow simple directions and also how they present themselves. If they can't follow directions, file it in the circular file. And aside from content, check spelling and grammar as well. If they are serious about working for you, they will provide you with an excellent read.

Caffeine said:

Interesting points. I understand not hiring from the green but would like to grasp not hiring from other coffee establishments as that's where local baristas tend to reside.

It's interesting here as most baristas are international hires do to the fact that locals demand no less than twice the pay as an international and tend to be more demanding and have a sense of entitlement.

Clean. Walk fast. Talk fast. Know your coffee. Love your coffee. Clean. Good summation?

I mainly look at their personality and their love for coffee. Experience isn't as important to me. I would rather hire someone that has never worked in the field before. That way you can train them how you want and not have to worry about bad habits. I put a very high emphasis on customer service so I just try to have a regular conversation with a candidate as they would with my customers.

While I get the desire to avoid ingrained bad habits, I would never say "don't hire someone with cafe experience".  That will close out a lot of potential employees who have a passion for coffee and/or customer service.  By the nature of its low pay & lack of benefits, there are going to be some really great people moving around a lot at the "entry-level" positions in our industry, i.e. baristas.  Great workers have to be retrained and relearning all the time, even in the same company.

I look for personality above all else--get the interviewee to talk about something they are interested or passionate in.  See how well they listen, what their body language and eye contact are like.  Avoid generic/leading questions like "do you like customer service" (who'd say "no" to that?) and instead get specific, like: "What's the best experience you've had as a customer lately--coffee, food, shoe-store, anything?"  Try to get a feel for their preferred work environment/mode, again with specific questions.

Interview lots, hire few, be really critical and willing to cut in their first few weeks.  Look for real people-persons, baristas who can easily or automatically focus on the customer instead of themselves & their coworkers.  You can teach pretty much anyone to make coffee & clean stuff, but politeness, enthusiasm, and engagement have to come with.

I love the feedback I'm getting. What about personality tests and the like?

The process of hiring and firing is both a costly and time-consuming one here in terms of bureaucracy and the such thus I may not have the luxury of terminating within the first few weeks.

Has anyone tried personality tests or hiring via long-distance interviews (Skype, etc?)

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