How to open a cafe - Part 3

In his previous two posts in our ‘How to open a cafe’ series, Ross of Browns of Brockley, explains everything from the initial set up (Part 1) to layout and equipment (Part 2). Here in part 3, Ross discusses staff.

I would like to start this article by saying that I am not, by any means, sipping from a ‘world's best boss’ mug while writing this - mostly because I save it for the weekends, but also because I don’t consider myself as such. I hope in the last two posts I have emphasised how challenging it is running a cafe business. Now add staff into the mix, and what is already challenging can become overwhelmingly so.  Below are a few steps to help minimise the challenges.

Knowing the law

One can find many examples online of disgruntled baristas and other young employees declaring that cafe employers should have a firm grasp of employment law. I don’t deny the importance of this, but if I had a firm grasp on one of our country’s more complicated and arcane legal practices, I wouldn’t be sitting here scribing articles about how to run a frothy coffee shop. Employment law is long and boring. Understanding the basics, however, is very important and relatively easy to read up on.

ACAS is a truly wonderful resource that makes one vaguely proud to be British. As they state, they ‘provide free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law’.

Rarely do I have an odd query that their website can’t answer. They also run courses across the country on a wide range of different employment subjects. When things get really bad (you really shouldn’t have punched your breakfast chef), they offer mediation services.

Citizens Advice also have a good list of the basics on their website.

Hiring staff

Now that you know where to go for legal advice, you need to actually find some staff. A bit like Pokemon, there are many different places to find them all. If you’re in London or another large city there is Coffee Jobs. Although for non-coffee specific jobs like chefs and floor staff this might be a bit specialised. Gumtree is obviously very popular but it will cost you £36 per ad, so if you’re looking for a lot of staff it may prove too expensive.

Ads in the shop window are often helpful and tend to recruit employees who live locally which is always great. Social media can be a good resource if used properly. Set up a specialised email account for job applicants to avoid your inbox getting clogged up with the deluge of five-page CVs you will almost certainly be receiving.

There is so much that can be said about employing people, but to avoid burdening the editor of this website with another two days of editing I will only add two critical points.

Be clear

It is your business; so you’re allowed (within reason) to ask whatever you want of your staff during their scheduled hours. If you don’t want them smoking during working hours, if you want them buffing your alloys while it’s quiet, or if you want to pay them weekly, if you close for six weeks during the summer, if you do not want them etching latte art or stealing from the till... It’s all fine, but you need to be clear. Employees cannot do what they’re not told. Try to remember you’re in a place of work, and try to reinforce this with your approach to your staff. That doesn’t mean you can’t be relaxed or jovial with them. But it does mean that you’re not employing five best friends.

While on this subject I would steer well clear of employing friends, family members or loved ones. In my book, this is up there with using second-hand equipment as a definite NO. Just think about how great this year’s Christmas will be after you’ve had to issue four written warnings to your cousin for turning up late.

It is always your fault

Is someone on your staff making terrible coffee? That is because you didn’t train them properly or review their skills. Is someone turning up late? You didn’t make it clear that this isn’t acceptable, and you didn’t stop to consider how they were going to make a two hour mid-morning rush hour commute to your cafe when you hired them. Is someone stealing? You didn’t implement a tight enough security system to indicate theft straight away or eradicate the possibility of stealing at all.

It’s tough. The phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ rings true on a daily basis for employers who return home with the weight of many of their employees’ struggles and strife firmly on their shoulders. But like many aspects of the business it is ultimately rewarding to watch people develop and learn.

While there isn’t the space for it here I would implore you to seek out Michigan-based Zingerman’s Deli’s approach to Open Book training with staff. They have a number of books and DVDs available directly through them (they’re quite expensive but well worth a read.) A realistic and mind-blowing approach to running a business.

Books and DVDs available from their ZingTrain website.

Photo by Vic Frankowski, courtesy Vespertine Press.

Further reading:

How to open a cafe - Part 1

How to open a cafe - Part 2

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