No Man Can Serve Two (or Three) Masters

Time and time again, when I talk to people about coffee business strategy it seems the top priority is speed. "I want the customer to be able to be in and out in 90 seconds or less," and the like seem to have somehow become the goal to strive for in regards to customer service.

Fine. Good. Quick service is hard to look down on, but is that all there is to it? Of course not!

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that speed isn't a noble practice. I'm saying that it shouldn't take a back seat to quality.

I know, I know. This is said time and time again. "The horse is not only dead, it ceases to exist." Yes, right. I know. Hear me out.

You have to start with one or the other. Yeah, sure, you can have fast quality, but they are never equals. I don't care what the business plan or mission statement says. I don't care what the manager or CEO says. They are NEVER equals.

Imagine, if you will, a store that wants to franchise. They want to serve the best quality possible. For this reason, they are installing super automatic espresso machines. Counter-intuitive? Why? This means that service will be fast, and the quality will be consistent.. right?

Well... yes and no. Already, we've seen another variable enter into the equation. Consistency.

So now we have to choose between: Speed. Quality. Consistency.

Yes, those three little words that are cause for much planning, much strategy, and much debate over their importance.

The thing is, people always say, "well, they're all important", and the more advanced version, "Quality is the most important, but the others are definitely high on our list." That last one sounds great... on paper.

The problem is that too many times people will say things like that, but when push comes to shove, if there is a bottleneck line out the door, and the shot didn't come out quite right, a lot of people will serve it anyway. It'll be covered in milk anyway, right?

Herein lies the dilemma. We need more than a mantra. We need more than a concept. We need a philosophical framework for how to implement these words accurately and correctly in a cognitive manner.

Actions follow thought, so in order to perform right action, we must first practice right thought. As we've already seen, words tend to be kind of cheap. Mantras and slogans show their age and get stale. They are impermanent solutions to a fundamental philosophical problem within our industry as a whole.

As it is, time and time again I hear and preach that one should focus on a few things, and do those few things well. Time and time again, the word comes up with great emphasis. Focus.

Just as we must crawl before we can walk (and walk before we can run), we must begin begin by focusing on only one element before we can learn to successfully implement the others.

I propose the same thing than any reader of this blog would state to be their primary focus of the three priorities listed. Focus on Quality.

Start by perfecting espresso preparation and milk frothing techniques. Back to basics. Practice. Taste. Analyze. Troubleshoot. Repeat. Do this time and time again until the analysis yields consistent results, and troubleshooting becomes unnecessary.

And there, we've made our first adaptational merger of priorities. We began with quality. Now, we have adapted consistency to the primary objective.

They are not equals. Consistency is an add on. Like a six-speed transmission on a base model coupe.

It's nice, but not the core of what you intend.

Now that the fundamental skill set is in place, how do we beat the clock to get from point A to point B in our slightly improved automobile? We speed it up.

Now, speeding things up doesn't mean dropping the transmission. You certainly can't speed up with no fundamental with which to increase your speed. If you sacrifice the primary objective, the entire structure falls apart, and we are no longer in the upper echelon of product prestige.

Imagine the quickness not as a physical speed, but as an efficiency. We're going to replace the conventional oil with full-on synthetic. We're going to replace the air filter for easier breathing(inhale). We're going to use some GM Syncromesh in the gearbox, and we're going to (slightly) increase the diameter of our exhaust tubing, again, for easier breathing (exhale).

We have not added anything. We have only removed obstacles that make existing power more easily accessible. We haven't sped things up. We've only made the work flow more efficient. The result, as the car will attest to, is better efficiency, and more speed(power).

"Work smarter, not harder".. again. We don't need mantras. However, if you were to take the analogy just given and condense it into one sentence, that would be it. I just feel that such verbalizations are too general and really don't drive the point home effectively enough.

So now we have adapted NOTHING to our Primary Objective other than consistency(from earlier). We've just streamlined the operations a bit. Simple. This is not in the hands of the barista. This is in the hands of the general manager, bar manager, shop owner, whoever is solely responsible for the general layout of things behind the bar.

Now that everything is primed, this little sporty coupe is ready to hit the Autobahn.

It doesn't take much effort to speed things up a bit at this point. If it's truly challenging, then I would suspect that you didn't succeed in optimizing your work station's work flow efficiency.
(Maybe you used the wrong sized exhaust tubing. Maybe your air filter is dirty. Maybe you're still trying to cheap out by using conventional oil.)

In skilled hands, speeding up the pace means just doing the normal tasks in a slightly accelerated pace. Generally, this is more related to efficiency than actual velocity and acceleration of physical movements.

And thus, we have adapted Speed to the Primary Objective.

If you'll notice, neither consistency nor speed will stand on their own if quality truly is the high priority. Both are merely an adaptation to what is already present: a concentrated and intense focus on quality.

But if a bad shot is pulled, you don't ditch the foundation. You don't throw away the car. You throw away the offensive shot and start over. Just like making a U-turn under the highway overpass.

Think of it as a molecule. Quality has a couple of smaller atoms. The first one is consistency. Consistency has a smaller atom attached to it as well. It's called speed.

Originally found at CoffeeAspirations

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Comment by Jason Haeger on April 28, 2008 at 3:45pm
While I do think that people should be able to slow down for their coffee, not everyone is in a position to do so.

The Italian espresso bar is not built on the "stop and enjoy your coffee" model, and I don't know about Hungary, but here in the US, you'd be hard pressed to convince a morning commuter to hang around for an extra few minutes to appreciate the quality.

It is enough that they are coming to YOUR shop rather than the competition who may be running just a tad faster and a huge sacrifice of quality. This is a consumer driven market, when push comes to shove, whether we care to admit it or not (paging Mr. Caragay).

Sure, we can try out concepts to see how they are received, but ultimately, it is the customers who decide what is a successful model and what isn't.

Having a fast coffee retailer doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing quality, and I guarantee you that their customers do not feel that their life is somehow cheapened by the speed at which they receive their great cup of coffee in the morning. If anything, it is what we call an affordable luxury.

Good luck convincing someone that a luxury's speed of delivery will cheapen their daily lives. It just isn't so, as much as I want to agree with you, and as much as I want to force people to slow down a bit, and to make time if they don't have it, this is not the reality in which we find ourselves, and thus, the marketability of the slow-coffee concept is not nearly as promising.

Stateside, folks want quality, and they want it conveniently and swiftly. Location has everything to do with it. In more ways than one.
Comment by Jason Haeger on April 28, 2008 at 1:04pm
Brady, thanks for summarizing the intention in a much shorter space.
Comment by Brady on April 28, 2008 at 1:01pm
Great blog Jason. Thanks!

Kayakman, I disagree with what you think a coffeehouse should be. Sure, great coffee is best savored slowly, and when I was in school or unemployed it was great fun to sit around in my neighborhood shop and sip, read, hang out, talk with people. But for quite a few (most?) people that just isn't an option. The morning cup picked up on the way to work is all most people can realistically get. This will not be Italy anytime soon, healthy or not. (Though come to think of it, wasn't speedy preparation part of the motivation for espresso in the first place? I digress...)

I think Jason hit an important balance here - speed from skilled preparation without delay, not through shortcuts. Good shops are not slow with their great cups of coffee, just like good restaurants are not slow with their great food. When I order a meal at a great restaurant it is usually timed perfectly, to the point that the timing is not noticable. I expect it to flow perfectly - unhurried, but without delay. This is a mark of excellence in restaurant service and preparation... and I think a coffee shop can aspire to the same goal.

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