The most prevalent discussion points or questions that I encounter when I am with a Café owner or manager is to help find them a barista to work within their café operation. Without fail my all-encompassing question to them about “What’s Going On?” is always met with, “Can you find me some baristas”?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t write that most businesses in food and/or hospitality are generating the same type of sentiment. Labor is and has always been a major component of the bottom line not only in terms of profitability but perhaps equally, in terms of a business’s viability for long-term success and survival. The pressing concern these days, which I don’t seem to hear or see being met by most cafés, is the workforce’s demand for a host of things beyond just the per-hour compensation agreement. Would-be coffee workers want to work with people they like and respect, and that are looking out for them in a variety of ways. This isn’t a new concept, but it feels a bit heavier than it used to be.

Study after study, post pandemic, speaks to “must haves” like shift flexibility, mission driven issues, social impact, career growth and a host of career-oriented things typically around personal development. These are all in addition to the compensation schedule. It’s a difficult managerial course to navigate, in an industry typically driven to a seasonal labor force of high school and college age students to fill in the gaps amongst permanent staff members. Shift management is already a yeoman’s effort to complete without factoring in class schedules and holidays with this type of demographic amongst the café’s operation. 

All said, while it is a tough equation for most businesses, it is one that can and must be dealt with. That’s evidenced by the very successful operations we all encounter from time to time. If one was to inquire about a café staff’s average tenure at a successful shop, you’d probably hear it answered in terms of years and not weeks or months. If you then asked, “why so?”, you’d probably hear, coffee related trips to seminars, conventions, great people, educational and managerial opportunities etc. Today’s workforce seeks a fair and honest wage AND to be inspired for the future in a super business environment. A café bricks and mortar operation does not have to answer the question of whether one can work there forever but it should be able to succinctly answer the question of “Will you help me each and every day to better myself and prepare me for my promising future”? Think about the student summer jobs of years gone by in an ice cream shop, a bowling alley, or a bakery to name just a few. Now think about the stories told from those places by countless former students who did their respective times there and beam with pride years later when they talk about their own success formulas being shaped there. The work ethic they developed shoveling Rocky Road after Chocolate Mint Chip after Sugar Free Cherry Ice cups and cones in the swelter of an August night was second to none.

They all worked at “That Shop” which was managed by an owner who cared or understood the value enough to know his/her workforce sought out a great place to work, with positive energy and an eye on their future skill development. Now, it’s called “culture”! These stores and shops had a battle tested formula for developing the employee’s softer skills to be utilized somewhere down the long road by the employee. The wide-eyed student took a leap of faith on it, as that was all they could do. Only a life lived, and more experience would prove it worthwhile. When they went on that first career entry interview post high school or college and were asked about: Leadership, Teamwork, Handling pressure, Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution, and just dealing with people, they all had plenty of experiences to pull from. Experiences that any hiring manager quickly understands how to calibrate them. The mom’s and pop’s (so to speak) at “That Shop” had done their instructor job well and in return had a reliable and able-bodied workforce throughout the years. The names and faces changed but the quality of service and work did not. Isn’t that really what a customer craves with each transaction? Isn’t that what your customers implicitly ask for when they get in line at 8am for their cappuccino?

Today’s café operations and their seemingly insatiable need for reliable and quality workers need not deviate from those mom’s and pop’s operational formulas. By offering a competitive wage and driving a culture of teamwork and collaboration emphasizing the need to satisfy a customer, will always be an attractive employer to a discerning employee. Combining that with being an instrument for an employee’s personal development and showing them just how much they are an asset to the business and to the team, will not only have the buzz about a café being the success story of the neighborhood, but many will refer to you as that place where all those good and great people work or have worked at. Just becomeThat Shop and employees and customers will come looking for you.