Improve your cafe by focusing on workflow. When working in a busy café, maintaining consistency is key to delivering exceptional and speedy service. Consistency is accomplished through the proper organisation of the workflow. From the initial entry of the customer all the way through to the cleaning of dishes. At every step of service, efficient workflow is crucial.
Good workflow balances 3 key areas (below).
Ask yourself the following questions to pinpoint where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
- Speed: how long does it take to complete the step? Could it be quicker?
- Efficiency: are you moving calmly, maintaining cleanliness and producing a high-quality output?
- Synergy: do you feel confident with the workflow? Are you keeping consistent?
If you want to make your workflow quicker, calmer, productive and consistent read further. The answer might be easier than first thought.
Henry Ford the founder of Ford Motor Company in the early 1900s was the first to introduce to workplaces the concept of the assembly line. The assembly line became famous for reducing the time to build an entire automobile. For reduced time from more than 12 hours down to 1 hour and 33 minutes. Since this innovation, the production line approach has been applied to millions of businesses in varying industries including Apple and McDonalds. The concept simply isolates each individual task involved in service. It gives 1 person, 1 specific role and trains the individual to complete that task to the highest level. This is one of the most profitable workplace models in history.
Although cafes are very different from building a Ford automobile, there are important lessons to be learned from the assembly line template. Essentially, deconstruct all of the steps involved in service. Divide the steps into sections and give one employee the responsibility of one section. Train the employee in this area to the highest level. The outcome: well-trained staff, clear job roles, smooth operations, happy customers, and happy employees!
Workflow for Cafes
1. Welcoming customers and taking orders.
a) Greet customers as soon as they enter the café. If your counter is close to the entry then this might be the person working the till or the main barista. Where your counter is further away from the entrance then make sure floor staff promptly greet customers.
b) Provide clear signs and/or staff to direct customers to ordering points. This will keep the flow of foot traffic moving in a smooth direction especially during busy times.
2. Placing orders
a) Detailed communication at the point of sale is essential. This can include; reading back customer orders, taking customers’ names for takeaway orders or, giving table numbers for dine-in customers. In addition, ensure to inform customers of wait times and where to collect orders.
a) Make sure that the dockets are easy-to-read to accommodate to all staff members.
b) Ensure that dockets cannot be dampened, dirtied, lost, or knocked away. The easiest way to accomplish this is with an inexpensive docket slide, most commonly attached to the front of the machine or above. Docket systems become especially important if two baristas are to work on one machine at the same time.
Behind the machine
a) The grinder(s) must be surrounded with enough free space to operate them easily. Position the grinder on the opposite side of the machine to the milk steaming and service area. There will also need to be enough space next to the grinder for scales and a tamp mat.
b) Coffee grinds can make a mess, particularly when they are mixed with water. Aim to keep your grinder area dry at all times and keep stray grinds away from your cups and saucers. Having a large paintbrush handy enables staff to clean down the grinder station easily.
a) Preferably, the knock box will be against a wall and out of the customer’s sight. Make sure there is nothing behind it that needs to be kept clean. For example, don’t place the knockbox in front of a cake display, or your rail of dockets.
b) Keep your cloth close. The tea towel you use to wipe the portafilter needs to be close at hand and easy to use. Freestanding knock boxes are widely used but if space permits you might like to think about a knock box that’s built into the bench with a rubbish bin underneath.
3. Espresso machine
a) The coffee machine should be centrally positioned between the grinder and the service/pick-up area. The machine should have enough space around it for two people to work comfortably side by side. If you’re really busy, having space for two to work side by side (one person pulling shots the other, frothing milk) comfortably means you can maintain the quality and the speed!
b) Having enough staff to manage the workload both behind the machine and on the floor goes hand in hand with maintaining effective workflow.
c) All areas around the machine should be kept clean throughout service so having plenty of clean cloths available. Cleaning as you go is the ticket to success. The visual clutter created by messy coffee-making slows down production. Plus, any stray coffee grinds and spilled milk can be transferred from cup to cup. Keep your station clean to keep your coffee clean.
d) Have a cloth designated for wiping the benches and a designated cloth for cleaning the steam wand.
4. Milk Steaming and Presentation
a) Steaming and pouring milk is the last step in the process but is romanticized in the forefront of customer’s minds as the beautiful step – the ritual of spinning the jug, pouring the smooth foam, creating a design. It’s the step where the customers can see the attention focused entirely on their drink.
b) Make sure there is enough bench space to spread out several saucers at the service end, and enough space for several jugs near the steam wand.
c) A built in jug rinser is recommended especially for busy cafes, so that way there are always clean jugs ready to go.
5. Service Area
a) Alongside the grinder, the service area is the messiest area – spilt milk, syrup drips and chocolate powder all combine on this area of the bench. This presents badly to customers so keep it clean and well organised.
6. Home Position
a) Staff must be in the habit of returning the space to a ‘home position’ after every coffee. Home position is a base setup for the area that puts all the consumables in their place, with a clean bench.
b) For example, all staff must put things like the chocolate shaker, syrups, powders and sugar etc back in the same place when finished. Keeping a well organised station with all equipment and ingredients within arm’s reach will provide a more sustainable workflow with less rushing around trying to find items or products and less time wasted.
a) Store all of the coffee gear close to the coffee machine. This sounds obvious, but you’ll be surprised where some coffee-related items get stored. Spare chocolate powder, chai powder, coffee beans, tea, takeaway cups, lids etc. should be within reach. If space doesn’t permit bulk storage of items, it’s wise to ensure that at least enough stock to survive a very busy shift. This would also include having plenty of milk jugs, cups, spoons, saucers, teapots and any other items that are used during service readerly available.
b) Write a checklist with the minimum required stock for all items for the day and ensure the staff keep it stocked. This would be best to be done at the end of every shift so that the morning staff are ready to go first thing each day.
Tips and Tricks
- Use rubber mats on the floor in coffee preparation areas, both to maintain safety in the event of a spill and to reduce barista fatigue.
- Provide sinks to facilitate the washing of jugs, portafilters, and tools.
- Keeping the machine and portafilters super clean is the number one way to instantly improve your coffee – clean them every hour and back flush the machine with water so have all your cleaning handles within easy reach.
- Ensure that the milk fridge is within easy reach of the coffee station, include space for enough dairy milk to last a busy shift as well as alternative milks
- Have plenty of Chux-style cloths available. Have lots of tea towels available.
- Make chocolate and chai powders into a runny syrup so they’re quick to portion out. Use a 1:1 ratio of power to hot water and store them in a squeezy bottle
- Allow for enough time to complete all set up procedures in the morning before the café is due to open so that staff are ready as soon as customers walk in.
- For very high volume cafes having a third person working in the coffee area putting lids on takeaway coffee and calling orders can be very helpful to the 2 barista’s working on the coffee machine to minimize wait times.
- When the cafe rush has finished, staff should take their breaks. Take note of when your busiest times are and block out breaks during this period.
- Always choose the best staff member for the position, some staff are naturally going to be better at pulling shots and some are going to be better on milk steaming, it’s important that all staff able and confident at all tasks but putting the right person in the right position for each shift will help keep things running smoothly especially in a busy situation.
- Get regular feedback from staff working in the coffee area, baristas need to be happy with the layout of their workstations, improvements can always be made.