Sales and Savings

Cafe’s have been operating on extremely tight profit margins for a long time, and the current state of the industry hasn’t made that situation any easier. One of the things you can do to maximise the profitability of your business is to carry out a regular Sales and Savings audit to find ways you can make more and spend less.

Start by setting goals and targets and sharing them with your team. They might be daily, weekly or average transaction value (ATV) sales targets, upsell goals or targets for the reduction of wastage or wages.


There are only 4 ways to increase revenue… 

  1. Sell more to the customers you already have
  2. Get more new customers through the door
  3. Increase  frequency of customer visits
  4. Raise your prices.

Start with the customers you already have and work on getting them to spend more, come back more often and tell their friends about you.

Train your team to be a sales team. Make sure they know the menu well and which companion items to offer with each dish. Teach them how to upsell as both a tool for sales growth and customer engagement.  Selling doesn’t have to be pushy – your team should be proud to offer more of your range to your customers. A strong ‘second coffee’ culture is the easiest one to start with. You can use this Companion Sales Guide Template to give your team the information it needs, and this Second Coffee Scoresheet to keep a tally and reward your best sellers.

Put some energy into retail sales. Retail beans are the easiest and most obvious. Put some display bags front and centre by your till. Add them to the menu and spread the word via your social media channels. Even better if you have your own branded beans! 

Explore other new revenue streams. A lot of venues will have brought on delivery and ramped up takeaway. Can you add in some other retail items? Ready made meals? Think about what you’re already using or making e.g. dukkah, sourdough loaves, chutney, eggs etc. Cafes with a strong, loyal customer base and great branding should consider creating merchandise, like t-shirts of coffee mugs.

Some of these ideas that many venues introduced early on in the restricted trading phase you may not have introduced at the time, as you didn’t have time and were scrambling to stay on top of the rapidly changing circumstances, but now that the market is more used to these ideas and things have settled down a bit, you might want to consider adding them in now.

Find out more about what your customers want and how to serve them better by doing a survey. Implementing the ideas a survey reveals should increase ATV as well as customer retention and return frequency.

Improve in-store signage, promotion and merchandising. Clear simple signage and compelling, well positioned displays. Make sure everything has a clear price tag. Use table talkers to promote deals, specials and new revenue streams.

Create bundle deals that increase average spend, like a coffee and muffin deal or a meal with a drink, that adds value rather than simply discounting your products. Getting into a consistent rhythm with regular deals means that customers are more likely to get used to these offerings and remember them.

Make the most of what you’ve got, like doing a deal on end of day stocks left in the cabinet in the afternoons to minimise wastage and get something rather than the nothing you’d get if you threw it away. Create and cost these deals, inform staff, tell your customers and keep a tally and/or wastage record so that you find the ideal stock level to minimise stock on hand.

Start a loyalty program to encourage return customer visits. There are a bunch of apps that will make this easy for you, and some are built into or available as add-ons to POS systems or pre-ordering apps. Bear in mind that some of these apps don’t give you access to your data, which is not ideal so try and find one that does.

Raise your prices. Profit margins were already slim before this all started, and intense competition kept prices low. Now’s the time, if ever there was one, to increase prices to more realistically reflect what your products cost to produce, and the more in the industry that do it, the better. Try increasing overall menu prices by 5% in tandem with sales data, finalised costings and a menu refresh.

If you have been holding back on increasing your coffee price and are currently priced at less than market standard, then think about increasing your prices too. 

Find compatible partner businesses in the local area that you can work with to co-promote and increase revenue for each other.

Revisit your marketing plan if you have one, or create one if you don’t. Start by focusing on the free channels available to you like social media, business listings and review sites, and create a strategy around it to make it more effective.

If you don’t have a mailing list, now is the time to start one. Ask people checking in to your venue if they would like to receive updates and special deals via your email newsletter.

Really the best marketing you can do right now is to provide a quality customer experience. Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising. Encourage customers to recommend you, check-in on social media, write a positive review or testimonial, or give you 5 stars.


There are lots of ways to save money if you look, and finding efficiencies in the way you do things can be one of the best ways to do that.

Recost your menu to ensure that your food costs percentages are in line with your profitability formula goals. There are lots of recipe costing apps and programs out there, such as CookKeepBook or MenuCoster and certain POS systems like Kounta have costing capability built in or plug-in modules available, but at the very least you can use a simple costing sheet to work what you should be charging for each dish, especially if you have a small menu. Don’t forget to add packaging, cutlery, condiments etc into your costings where relevant.

Ensure that your kitchen team is not over-portioning, as this could be costing you a lot of money. If you haven’t already, create portioning guides and recipe cards with presentation images, to keep costs in line and ensure consistency across service periods with different team members

Streamline your menu, using POS data and food costing info to create a more profitable menu overall. It’s said that the optimum number of items on a menu is 7, so try and keep in between 5-9 items in each menu area to maximise profitability.

Minimise wage costs by keeping it tight and having clear expectations of team members, rostering in 15 minute increments if you have to . Ensure you have systems such as open, close and cleaning checklists in place to make the staff’s jobs easier and to get the most out of their time.

Trim your opening hours.  Many will have been operating on reduced opening hours during recent times, which may have revealed that you don’t necessarily have to go back to your old ways.

Carry out some barista training with a focus on maximising speed and efficiency while minimising waste.  Efficiencies skim preparation time, give you room to grow and foster a more desirable way of getting the most out of your team.

Likewise, carry out some kitchen training around portion control and wastage minimisation and make sure the systems are in place to support that

In keeping with the old adage “What gets measured gets managed”, implement a wastage log for both kitchen and front of house. Start today! 

Review workstation setup and workflows to ensure your team is operating as efficiently as possible in the space.

Reduce your selection of cabinet foods to minimise wastage and stock on hand, keeping in mind that you’ll need a plan for what you can use to make a less empty cabinet still look great, such as baskets of fruit or bottled items with a long shelf life.

Reduce stock levels of pantry items, and create specials to use up old stock.

Have you found there are some things you didn’t need during the lockdowns? Consider whether you even need to start them back up

Do you still need newspapers? Think about getting rid of them or minimise them and put in some books and magazines instead. We did this at one of our cafes and it was a great success. It may seem like a small thing, but even 4 newspapers a day at $2 = $2920 extra in your pocket in a year.

Invest in technologies that increase efficiencies (apps) and reduce time and wastage (Puqpress, Juggler systems).

Carry out a supplier review, something you should do every 6 months or so.  Renegotiate with current suppliers, or change to a new supplier who will offer you a better deal.  

Cafes and the Corona Virus

We’ve been working with clients to determine what they could do right now to address the current situation, and how they might prepare for what’s to come. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know if some of the ideas we’ll share will even be practical or realistically doable, but at least we can get a conversation going.

One thing’s for sure, this crisis is highlighting the importance of strong communities and the fact that we are all in this together.

Right Now

  • Obviously ensure all staff are practising recommended hand washing and other hygiene protocols. Download some templates on how to correctly hand wash and make these visible in key positions in your cafe.
  • Make sure you have hand sanitizer and wipes available for customers and staff.
  • Minimise risk by not accepting Keep Cups.
  • Communicate with your customers through social media, other comms channels and signage in store to let them know what you are doing to address the situation and reassure them that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
  • Communicate regularly with your staff so they are up to date with current information on both what you are doing (customer facing info) and what you are expecting for your business.
  • Make sure all food handlers are using gloves and know how to use them correctly. For example, opening an oven door with a glove on, and then picking up a sandwich to serve a customer is possible cross contamination.

Cutting Costs   

We’re seeing the downturn in customers numbers and revenue, and at this point it’s not clear if or when the government might call for a shutdown of your town or city. Given what’s playing out in other countries, we can assume that this is likely to happen in at least some regions in Australia, if not country-wide.

Either way, this means that as a  business owner, you need to think about your cash flow and do what you can to keep it in balance as best you can.

  • Adjust the roster where possible. The hard truth is that casual employees will suffer the most, but the reality is that cafes operate on such slim margins that a shutdown of even a couple of weeks could be devastating to many businesses. You might have to make some tough decisions if you want your business to survive, and for those casuals to have a job when we get through to the other side of this.
  • Minimise hours where you can, while trying to spread the loss of hours across the team where possible. Look daily at your POS data to determine your roster start and finish times.
  • Information for employers and employees from the government’s Fair Work department can be found here.
  • Get your full time and permanent part timers to take some or all of their holidays.
  • Trim your opening hours.   
  • In preparation for a potential shutdown, start to run out stock (particularly perishables) and minimise your menu accordingly as you deplete items. You might have to get creative, and run specials with perishables, for example. 
  • Do a stocktake so you know what you have on hand, to help you prepare a plan for stock management. What have you got sitting in your freezers right now?
  • Minimise purchasing where possible, including alcohol stocks.
  • Talk to your suppliers, especially your major ones, to find out their plans and to see how your supply chain might be affected. You might also have to negotiate the paying of bills at some point, and this is where the good relationships you’ve hopefully built up with your suppliers over time will come into play.

Maximising cash flow

Consider what you can do in the short term to keep customers coming through the door and what you might be able to do to diversify revenue streams.  This is a time to think outside the box and work to your strengths, and the opportunities unique to your business.

  • Can you offer a delivery service, with even a limited menu?
  • Offer pre-made frozen meals, even if it’s a deviation from your regular menu to something that is easy to make and freezes well, such as lasagne or a curry.
  • Offer gift vouchers that can be redeemed once the shutdown is over, to bring the cash flow forward. You could offer an added incentive e.g. pay $50 now and redeem for $60 value later.
  • Create a special offer and promote it now.
  • Create a retail space and sell some of your bulk items (large pasta sauce, bags of coffee, boxes of soy milk etc)
  • Look into the assistance that the government is offering small businesses to see if it applies to your business. Information and be found here.

Make the most of any downtime

If business slows right down in the short term, or your town does go into shutdown, what can you do to make the most of the time to the benefit of your business in the future?

  • Have a break and know that everyone is in the same situation. Talk regularly to your family and friends and support each other.
  • Carry out some of the deep cleaning and maintenance that you might have been too busy for or have been putting off for ages. Create a ‘to-do’ list for each department, and pass the work on to your permanent staff.
  • Start planning for reopening. For example you can work on updating your menu for winter/spring and ensure that your costings are up to date so that each dish is profitable.
  • Work on your marketing plan for when you re-open.
  • Create content that can be used either during a shut-down period and afterward.  This is a great time to consider building the profile of your business with creative content.
  • Produce marketing collateral such as flyers and menus to distribute once you’re open again.
  • Work on ideas for other revenue streams, like developing that catering menu you’ve been thinking about implementing for the past couple of years.

Although this is a scary time for many of us, we should draw strength from the community we have built, utilise our ‘social’ media channels to help us connect, and draw strength from the beautiful images we’ve seen on the balconies of Italy. The world is changing. For now emanating calm, peace and love is WAY more productive than allowing the fear to transcend our spirit.

3 Tips for Cafe Profitability

Everyone’s motivation for buying or starting a cafe is different, and many cafe owners are ex-baristas or chefs and not necessarily business minded. Cafes can look like an easy way to make money and many are surprised at how hard it is to turn a profit.


Beyond the day to day running of shifts is the complex framework that owners need to have in place to ensure their business is running in a sustainable manner. These are things like managing cash flow, creating strategies for growth, staying on top of compliance, updating systems, and being nimble and adjusting your product and services to compete within a saturated and constantly evolving market, but it’s often the financial aspects that are the most stressful.


If you’re a solo operator, juggling all of the elements that yield financial success can be a real challenge. Whatever your business structure, you need to find the right people to help you cover the bases and employ experts as needed to support you.


Success means different things to different people and even in your own business, as you reach milestones, your view of success will change. This happens as you achieve goals and set new ones.

Whatever your view, the overarching outcome of success sits in the creation of a sustainable and profitable business. This means at the very least having a cafe that provides you a decent wage, with a modest profit. In addition to that, smart operators are working at building their business toward a future sale to get a one off bonus payout and redeem their initial investment.

Whether you’re working toward selling, maintaining or expanding your business, there is one core element that will allow your business to be successful, and that’s profitability.

Profitability is the ability for your business to generate profit from its overall operations, and it’s the ultimate driver of success or failure in your business. Put simply, you can be turning over strong sales numbers and still not have a profitable business if you’re not on top of your expenses.

Achieving profitability is a combination of financial oversight, good planning, systems and procedures, expert assistance and a method of ongoing accountability to help you stick to your plans. What I’m finding in struggling businesses right now is a lack of understanding of the financials, little attention to the flexible costs within the business, and the lack of a ‘sales culture’.

By no means do I consider myself a financial expert, but in my many years as a cafe owner, understanding the levers that drive profitability was vital to the success of my businesses, and while there are a multitude of factors that can influence profitability, I’m going to focus on three key things that can bring you some quick results;

Knowing Your Numbers
Building a Sales Culture
Managing Menu Costs


We’re seeing one key problem with our new clients and that is they don’t have real-time financial oversight in their business.

Even if you’re not a numbers person, you’ll need to know the basics, like how to read a profit and loss statement (P&L) and balance sheet, how to determine your wages, cost of goods sold (COGS) and operating expenses as a percentage of overall takings, how GST works and the balancing act of achieving your profitability formula.

When I first started in business we worked with a simple profitability formula like this:

Wage costs                30%
COGS                           30%
Operating Costs       30%
Profit                            10%

Based on recent industry data, the formula now looks more like this:

Wage costs                35-40%
COGS                           25-30%
Operating Costs       30-35%
Profit                            4-7%

Industry averages for profit margins should be a guide for you in your business, however as a unique business with your own unique circumstances, establishing your own profitability ratios and benchmarks for financial stability and growth is vital. For example, you may have low rent and two owners working in your business doing the work of four, allowing you to keep wages down and improve your profitability. In this instance you could be achieving your 30% wage costs.

When it comes to looking at your P & L and balance sheet, annually is too late. You need to be drawing regular reports from your POS and accounting software systems daily, weekly or at least fortnightly, and using that information to make the necessary adjustments.

Products like Kounta, Deputy & Xero in your business give you real time reporting capacity and the data to enable better decision making around rostering, staff performance, which products are selling and when they are selling, what your most profitable items are and annual performance tracking to name just a few of their best features. These digital tools also create a seamless relationship between you, your bookkeeper and your accountant by providing you an integrated network of information.

Within your business these tools allow your managers and team to have access to their own performance results, ATV/sales targets and expenditure budgets, which is another great aspect that fosters accountability and improves performance. I’m a big believer that knowledge is power and when a team is given the data and parameters around the expectations of their role, they have a chance to meet those targets.

What’s great about implementing software tools into your business is that you have direct and immediate access to the data you need and it’s not reliant on a manual process which can too easily be put on the back burner and never attended to.


One of the most important things you can do in your business is to hire well and have the right people at the face of your business. Waiters and counter staff that are confident, friendly and engaging are suited to customer facing roles. We all know this and yet so often we see the wrong personality types holding the most precious spaces in a business. Regardless of the circumstances that lead us into these situations, it’s important as cafe owners to continually reflect and correct, getting the right people on the right seats of the bus.

Once you have the aces in their places, it’s important to invest time in training them to deliver an authentic and engaging sales and customer experience.

Most cafe operators I talk to wouldn’t consider their front of house crew to be a strong sales team. Most cafe staff I either coach or encounter don’t act as, or consider themselves sales people. This is a big problem for small businesses that are faced with high competition and tight margins, but I understand it.

In the world today, the sales process is heavily integrated into our every move. Try ignoring digital billboards at traffic lights, or linger too long over an image on social media and you’ll be heavily marketed to. Insidious marketing practises are targeting us, but at the same time it’s making us better at sensing an inauthentic sales scenario.

My underlying philosophy around ‘sales’ is this – if you have a beautiful range of products on your menu, why wouldn’t you want to share that knowledge with your customers, so that they have every opportunity to experience them? This philosophy empowers me to feel confident in the sales process because providing customer satisfaction and a great customer experience is intrinsically linked to the sale of products.

How many times have you been in a cafe trying to get the attention of a waiter to order a second coffee or an additional item, and just given up? How many times have blockages like a lack of signage or no price tags meant you’ve missed the opportunity to order an item?

On the flipside, how many times have you been offered a sample item and ended up purchasing it either then, or at a later time because it tasted so good? How many times has a waiter passionately explained their favourite menu item and influenced your order? These are examples of simple everyday scenarios that either encourage or lose you a sale.

To build a strong sales team there are three key elements:

Product Knowledge
Targets & Accountability

Product knowledge

How hard is it to sell something you don’t believe in? For me, it’s near impossible. To get your team enthusiastic about your product, let them experience it for themselves. It’s a sure fire way to get them engaged and build their confidence and sales language.

The better your team know your menu, the easier it will be for them to sell. The same applies to technical products like brew equipment and ancillaries – ensure the team understand what they are selling and what the applications are.

If you hold regular performance reviews, include product knowledge into staff KPIs. Having clear and accessible recipes with ingredients lists is an asset that not only facilitates product knowledge but creates efficiencies during busy periods.

Another great tool we work with is what I call a ‘Companion Sales Guide’ which is a guide of the best ‘add on’ item to complement a dish. If your team are allowed to order lunch from the menu, use this opportunity to ask them to complete the companion sales guide and share their knowledge with others. Product knowledge builds confidence and you need your sales team to be confident out there, using descriptive language to sell your products to your customers.


Everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways, so it’s important to understand your team and how to coach them in a way that works to their strengths and learning capacity.

Being comfortable in any role takes time and practise. That’s why I love using the skills of the best ‘sellers’ in the team to train others. This process has a dual benefit, as it can reignite the trainer’s enthusiasm and teaches them new skills, while the trainee benefits from learning from a peer rather than the boss.

In our group training sessions I like to re-create customer scenarios, utilise role play and practise the language of sales to achieve sales outcomes. We encourage and incorporate ‘banter’ and a sense of ‘play’ into the sales conversation, which is in my view an absolute necessity in being able to weave a sale into a customer moment. With practise and after building good relationships with your customers, it does become second nature to your team.

Role play has the added benefit of helping to build empathy and understanding about the different needs that customers have, and we find inexperienced team members quickly understand the language and physical actions they need to handle different scenarios they’ll face.

We also encourage prompters like small black boards and good signage that promote daily deals to assist not-so-confident team members in the sales process.

Targets and Accountability

The impact that a 5% uptake of sales in your business can have, is substantial. On a turnover of 10K per week that’s less than twenty $4 upsells per day. That could be a side of haloumi, a second coffee or a muffin, and if you have 3 team members on any one shift, that’s just over six upsells each to reach that goal.

Setting targets and quantifying the potential results is a great way to bring your team along for the journey. It engages them with a focus point and deepens their understanding of the way they contribute to the business’ success.

The important thing with targets is to create a practise of reinforcing, often reminding and always rewarding the positive behaviours you are seeing. This all comes under the banner of accountability. There’s no point in half building your sales team. Following up on their success (or lack of), finding ways to evolve how they sell, identifying what’s working and improving their skills is vital to everyone staying on the same path toward the goals you have in place.

Everyone in your business should be working against some kind of target, whether that’s individual or group. A great measure for front of house teams is ATV (Average Transaction Value). This is a fair measure of how well your team is selling to your existing customers.

Set sales targets for your management team too. They should have targets that feed into your front of house team’s targets. With these I’d focus on weekly sales, wages and wastage targets.


One of the big contributors to profitability sits with your menu. It’s one area where there can be fluctuations based on supplier prices, portioning and wastage. One key component however, is incorrect menu pricing.

If a menu isn’t costed out properly, with accompanying recipe cards and portioning guides for your kitchen team, or if suppliers increase their pricing over time and you don’t make the necessary adjustments to menu prices, this will directly impact your bottom line. When recipes and portioning are not followed it’s not only the product consistency and customer experience that is jeopardised, but also your profitability.

What we’re seeing with many of our small business clients is that cost of goods are sitting anywhere from 35 -50%, leaving no room for error and little hope for profit. In some cases we’ve seen individual menu items sitting as high as 87% food cost!

It’s surprising how many business owners haven’t costed out their menus, and have no idea how much each item is costing them. The reality is that many cafe owners are guessing menu prices and basing prices on the cafes around them.

Setting yourself up correctly with a suite of kitchen systems that will take out the guesswork and enable accuracy and accountability gives the best chance of success. Knowing how much each dish costs to produce, having clear recipe cards and portioning guides and then ensuring they are followed, are some of the items that should be in your kitchen suite.

There are many costing programs out there and some of them can be expensive. I highly recommend either purchasing a program or having professional assistance to complete your costings and set up your kitchen systems. If you have a chef on board, they should be capable of delivering you a fully costed menu based on your directive for COGs. In a cafe environment and if you haven’t placed priority or set targets around COGs, it is likely not to happen, so utilise the skills of your team where possible.

The reality though is you don’t need all the bells and whistles of an expensive costing program if this is out of your budget, you just need a calculator, some digital scales and some time. You could use a costing sheet. template like this one, but don’t forget sauces, garnishes and extras like packaging if it’s take away.

Once you’ve costed out your menu, then you have to work out what to do with the data.
You may have to raise prices, adjust portions or find cheaper ingredients. Most likely it’s a combination of these.

The other way to deliver an overall menu costs ratio that is in balance with your targets for COGs is to make less of a profit margin on some items and more on others. Make sure you identify those higher margin items to feature on promotions and be sure the floor staff know to push them. Your biggest sellers should have a good margin on them (unless you’re running a loss leader strategy combined with other higher margin items such as alcohol.)

Minimising the menu can be another strategy to help save costs. It reduces your stock levels, prep levels, wastage and can improve efficiency in general.

I mentioned before the ‘suite of kitchen systems’. These are the backbone of your kitchen and include things like portion guides, plate up guides and wastage logs to name a few. Having strong kitchen systems for accountability and product consistency are so important for your kitchen team and general profitability.

There’s so much more to cover with regard to managing your menu costs.  If you still want to know more, or would like help with another aspect of your business, you can get in touch with us via our website or drop a line to

Another Day at the Coffice

  Today I attended a seminar about creating valuable content (another story for another time) where I met a recruitment specialist who holds a lot of her interviews in cafes. She reminded me of the important role of cafes as third spaces, outside of home and office, and making those utilising your cafe for work or business related purposes feel at home, welcome, and not rushed. In my experience I’ve found most people conducting work related tasks in cafes are conscious of not taking up a big table for a long time and often order more than one coffee, as well as food, in consideration of their use of the space. The rise in digital nomadism, the gig economy and the home office means that this is not going to change, and more and more people will be using cafes as their “coffice” (coffee/office) for things like holding meetings, conducting interviews in a neutral space and breaking the routine if they work from home. This is especially true in cafes located in their city’s CBD area, which is 26% of all cafes in Australia according to the latest Cafe Culture survey. You also have to remember that, as in the instance of our recruiter for example, she might go to the same cafe a couple of times a week, often staying on for food, and recommending the place to her colleagues, clients or employees. If she gets an uncomfortable ‘hurry on’ vibe from the staff at a cafe, she simply won’t go back there, and as we all know there are a more than enough cafes around to accommodate her, so why not let it be yours. You may also find that when it comes the time for them to organise a function or they need catering, you just might be the first one they call. What can we all learn from this? Communicate to your staff your policy around this area, train your staff in ways to interact with this type of customer, and don’t be afraid to simply talk to the customer if you need to move them to a smaller table during a busy time. You might also be able to recommend a small item as a snack if they’ve been there a while, but in a friendly, non-selly way. Always have free WiFi available and promote the fact both online and in-store. Many cafes are also making power points & USB hubs easily accessible for charging laptops and phones. How about encouraging those customers to share a table to work from or even set up a workhub space, particularly if you are a CBD cafe. The biggest thing is – treat every customer as valuable both now and in the future and you’ll be right every time.  

The Cafe Fix_Part Two: Team

My last blog began a discussion around the 5 key factors that contribute to the success, and failure, of cafes. I started with Leadership because good leadership and a clear vision will set up a solid foundation for your business and give it the best chance of success. Following on naturally from good leadership, and intrinsically linked to it, is your Team.

The importance of a great team can’t be overstated, and I could literally talk about this subject for hours, just based on my own experience in business, but put simply – it’s your team that deliver on your vision, and because of this they have the ability to make or break your business.

When I ask my clients, cafe owners and managers the question ‘’what is the biggest problem you face in your business?”, the most common answer  is always “staff” and I find that it’s generally a combination of four factors:

  1. It’s really hard to  find great staff
  2. They can’t get them to do their jobs properly
  3. They’re scared to ask them to do their job properly for fear of losing them
  4. The rate of turnover is high so they find themselves constantly recruiting and training new staff members.

In my cafes I was very fortunate to attract the right people, but it wasn’t just luck, it was hard work.  I worked hard on maintaining good culture in my businesses, I invested in my team both personally and professionally, and I was committed to the continued streamlining of systems to improve efficiencies, reduce wastage and provide accountability frameworks which ensured everyone understood the parameters and expectations of their roles.

So what can you do?  How do you motivate your team to do more than just show up?  How do you find staff that can be ambassadors for your business and care enough to value things like correct portioning, watching & managing espresso extraction, or just the simple things like greeting your customers with a great big, genuine smile?!

An easy way to look at it is to break it down into 3 parts: Gain, Train and Retain.


Whatever method you choose to get new talent to walk in the door, your team should be hand picked by you. I want to drive this point home because it is absolutely vital that your team members  fit the vision for your business, that they complement the skills of the existing team and that they will contribute positively to the culture of your business.

I’ve always hired based on a combination of skills, experience, attitude and energy.  To formalise your process and help you understand what you are looking for in your team, I recommend you create a matrix of ideal skills and attributes. This will allow you to grade candidates from low to high and provide  a reference point during the recruitment process, with 4 key objectives and outcomes in mind:

  1. Establishing a benchmark for what you are looking for in your team members
  2. Creating a standardised approach to assessing new talent, as well as existing team members
  3. Gaining an understanding of what areas your team need to improve on (which can also form part of their path for growth within the business and the setting of KPIs)
  4. To give clarity to your team on what your expectations are around their roles

My assessment sheet includes ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills, graded from 1 to 5 and includes things like:

  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving ability
  • Ability to cope with pressure
  • Ability to resolve conflict
  • Confidence and personality
  • Years in the industry
  • Role specific skills such as the ability to troubleshoot extractions and perform latte art (for baristas), the ability to carry 3 plates or to manage a ‘section’ (for floor staff) and so on.

You also need a clear picture of the existing team’s skills, so you can identify any skills gaps in the business that need to be filled.  A combination of various skills and attributes in an individual and in the whole team will form a big part of the success of your cafe.

How you recruit will depend on the size and nature of your business.  Cafes with strong team culture and an established credibility in the community will naturally attract talent. Whether you put a position vacant sign in your window, place ads on employment websites, utilise social media, word of mouth referrals or recruitment agencies, the most important point is to be clear on what you need, beyond simply filling the role.

Also, no matter how desperate you are to find a new team member, please don’t settle for 2nd best.  The negative impact a wrong team member can have on your team culture, your customers’ experience, and ultimately your bottom line, outweighs the short lived ‘warm body’ that fills the gap.  If you have a great team culture already, your existing crew will step up and take on more hours or responsibility until help arrives.


Being in such a customer focused business, you need a happy and competent team, capable of delivering on the needs of the business. So how do you get them to do their jobs consistently and reliably?

Clarity is key – you don’t know what you don’t know right?  Having a staff handbook or manual, which includes all the important information, guidelines, position descriptions etc, will make this much easier.

In terms of training a new team member, you or your manager need to lay down the expectations of the role in a one-on-one session to set the correct course from the outset, using the following steps in order of priority:

  1. Create your Skills Assessment Matrix, including both soft and hard skills
  2. Develop position descriptions (PDs) that clearly outline the expectations for each role and get your team members to sign off on their role
  3. Provide a proper induction into the business, including operational aspects, vision and company culture, and customer experience expectations
  4. Collaborate with your team using the Skills Matrix to set individual targets and map ongoing progress. This creates a goal-oriented environment and sets the course for personal development
  5. Set team goals, whether that’s daily or weekly revenue targets, or based on other metrics like wage costs, COGS, wastage, finishing times etc.

The point of these steps is to provide clarity, gain consensus and implement accountability frameworks that create pathways for staff to grow with the business. It also fosters team cohesion when everyone understands how they can contribute to a common goal.

From there I would either personally train new recruits, especially key team members, or have your section leader (chef, manager etc) take on that training role, using all of the systems you have in place to guide the process.  What I also encourage is having existing team members (not necessarily the lead people), pass on the training of smaller tasks when they have shown competency themselves. It’s a really great way to empower them, improve their confidence and build comradery.

Once you’ve taken the time to align the growth of your team with the goals of the business, it’s about ensuring your day-to-day systems are clear and current, so your team have a proper framework to work within.

I plan to talk more about Systems in a later blog, but by developing and implementing a suite of systems such as standard operating procedures for product delivery, and open, close and cleaning checklists that team members place their initials against, you create clear guidelines, expectations and accountability.  When you are in the training phase with a team member, it’s also a good idea to set timeframes for tasks to further clarify expectations, provide recipes and costings worksheets to the kitchen team so they have the formulas to work with, and set up order sheets and par levels so that staff understand stock management and can carry it out effectively and efficiently.

The point of all of this is not to create a checklist for the sake of it, you are providing parameters and for the team to achieve goals and meet your expectations as well as creating an easily repeatable induction process.  Clarity around expectations of the staff, including their roles as sales people and ambassadors for the brand, makes it easier for staff to do a good job.

Of course none of this is of any use without you or your manager following up and providing feedback, positive reinforcement and resetting the course for new goals and targets.


Retaining great staff should be the easy part, especially if you have followed the above steps.  But we all know that staff turnover in cafes is pretty high. So how do you minimise that, and hold on to the ‘gold’ as long as possible?

I’m a strong believer that life is too short to have a bad time at work, and for this reason I have done my utmost to create cafes that are a great place to work in.  I know this sounds simple, but if you look after your staff, they will look after you. I’ve had staff follow me from cafe to cafe because they want to work with me, and be part of the team I’ve created.  You should invest a great deal both personally and professionally in your team, and the benefit is not only their loyalty but, in many cases for me at least, beautiful friendships.

I believe we all want to be part of something, and that we have an in-built desire to grow, be appreciated and contribute to something worthy of our time.  We are also social creatures, and the cafe space has come to hold an important place in the fabric of a community, not only as a meeting place (and socially acceptable drug dispensary), but to serve a valuable function as a 3rd space, a place to be that sits outside of home and work.  So if you own a cafe, you need to accept the reality that you’re in the people business and your success will be dependant on making memorable moments, not just with your customers, but with your staff as well.

Creating a positive, healthy and well run workplace is a great starting point, but as humans we are all unique in our motivations, so there are other steps I recommend you put in place to create a workplace that’s valuable to an employee. Let’s face it, there are plenty of cafes out there, so if you aren’t creating a great space to work in, you will have real difficulty retaining quality staff.

On top of that, a lot of hospitality staff have other priorities in their life – they’re students, artists, musicians etc, and unfortunately few see it as a long term professional choice. Accepting this and working with it is your best option.

Here’s a few ideas around the ‘give and take’ of getting the most out of your team and keeping them on your roster:

  1. Create targets and goals, with incentives for reaching them, based on their motivators. Whether it’s a gift of movie tickets, a team dinner once they hit a collective target, or a profit share scheme for your manager, incentives can motivate staff to go that extra mile.  Keep in mind that not everyone is motivated by money.
  2. Provide feedback on targets and continually reset the course with performance reviews every 3-6 months.  Create a pathway for growth.
  3. Invest in their personal growth, including the stuff they do outside of work.  Go to their important gigs, keep track of what’s going on in their personal life, be flexible when they need it (within the constraints of running your business).
  4. Listen to their ideas and feedback
  5. Work by their side to show your capabilities and expertise – let them learn from you.
  6. Hold monthly meetings that are a combination of staff training session, team meeting or social gathering, depending on the needs of the business at the time
  7. Be a great leader
  8. Thank them often

At the end of the day, you can’t control anyone but yourself.  People will make promises and let you down, sometimes they’ll give it their best and still don’t quite meet your expectations, and everyone has good and bad days because at the end of the day, we’re all human.  Trusting the process, in the ebb and flow of staff, has always kept the smile on my face and brought awesome new humans onto the roster, just in the nick of time.

Which brings me to my last point – fun & humour.  I’ve always employed the dancers, the artists, the misfits, the musos and the actors because, as I said, life is too short to have a bad time.  We became known as the cafe with ‘Coffee and a Show’ to our customers, which was really just ‘Us at Work’, vibing off the madness of pumping out 10 kilos of coffee and 150 meals in 4 hours .

Whatever the vision you have for your cafe, I recommend you add a healthy dose of laughter into the mix, stay present, and remember that tomorrow is a new day and a fresh opportunity to trim the sails.

Takeaway Points

  1. Create a great work environment and team culture and half the work of finding and keeping great staff will be done for you. People will want to work at your cafe.
  2. Know what you are looking for and what your business needs in terms of skills and attributes when it comes to the recruitment process.
  3. Set clear goals, targets and expectations and build accountability on those goals and targets
  4. Establish systems to make it easy for team members to do their jobs
  5. Make room for fun and laughter

The Cafe Fix_Part One : Leadership

It’s been an interesting few months, working with everyone from small start up cafes to multi-site franchises.

Regardless of the scale of the business, I’m continually reminded of 5 key issues at the core of an operation’s dysfunction, and then I’m finding those same 5 things at the core of its success. At the centre of it all is leadership.

I talk about leadership a lot with my clients because, in my opinion, good leadership is the most important aspect of running a successful business. With good leadership comes better cohesion within the team, which flows into higher quality and consistency of product and a better customer experience.

In the projects I’ve worked on recently, I’ve experienced varying degrees of owner/manager engagement and all for various reasons – exhaustion, inexperience, loss of vision, financial stress and so on. How different people manage these issues within themselves is critical to retaining composure, clarity and the ability to stand strong for the team.

The first step in being a great leader is knowing where you’re going, and where you’re leading your team. Whether you call it your vision, mission statement or BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), create the vision for your business and articulate it in things like mission statements, your code of conduct and your employee culture documents. It can be layered into your social media with hashtags as well as in other customer facing material.

From your vision, set your business goals and targets with timeframes that keep you on track, and this becomes the roadmap to guide your team. The vision, articulated as goals and targets, provides your team with clarity and purpose and gives you the foundation of their KPIs. Another great thing about having all of this articulated for your team is gaining consensus on the mission at hand. The wrong staff will shy away from someone with clear goals and expectations and the right staff will buy in, invest and believe in you.

A great leader can inspire on a grand scale but also have the frameworks in place to focus the team on the tasks at hand. A great leader contributes to achieving those goals, they create accountability and they reward effort and achievements. That’s foundational.

Then we have what’s always in a state of flux – every day your cafe is open, every service period, every shift change, where anything can happen and often does. How a leader deals with these unplanned events can build the trust and respect that unites a team under their direction.

When I’m working to build a leader’s skills, I’ll generally find an analogy that strikes the right chord with that person. Some of my preferred analogies include the coach of the team, the captain of the ship or the flight attendant during turbulence. Usually one of these scenarios resonates with the person, and from there I can grow an understanding with them of how pivotal a role the person in a leadership position has in the successful running of a shift, team or company.

Being faced with varied levels of skill, experience and engagement among staff members means that every day, every shift, or even every hour, the team will need a leader who can set a course and navigate them through a changing landscape, cohesively and seamlessly. It can be an exhausting gig – sometimes it’ll feel like you’re the ringleader at the circus, sometimes you’re winning a war and other times you find yourself on a vast ocean with no wind to fill your sail.

Too often I see ‘teams’ that are actually not teams at all, just a group of people. They have no clear direction, no goal, no sections, no communication, no accountability and, in short, no one leading them to their potential.

In hospitality, and in the current climate of a saturated market where customers are literally spoiled for choice, there is only one game to play. It has to be an A game, and you can’t afford any gaps in the play.

There are examples of poor leadership all around us, but in a cafe it means there will be dysfunction in the team vibe, the level of service and product quality will suffer, and systems won’t be followed, resulting in damage to your profitability, a drop in customer retention and an increase in staff turnover.

On the other hand, good leadership will align your business to give it the best chance of success. If you’re struggling or know someone who is struggling in this area, the course can be can be quite easily corrected with some tools of empowerment, the creation and adherence to systems, clarity around expectations, accountability and, importantly, a positive mindset that embraces a culture of review and realignment.

I’m continually amazed at how quick the wins are when a leader steps into their power, and the results feed directly in to sales, improved team engagement and customer retention, and make your cafe a nicer place to be for everyone.

Takeaway Points

1. Set and share your vision for the business and use it to map out practical goals with clear time frames
2. Build individual KPIs that align with the goals you have created, and build a culture of accountability within your team
3. Keep the map close at hand, reference it, realign the course as needed
4. Believe in yourself