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.

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. GAIN 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. TRAIN 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. RETAIN 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