Budget-Friendly Benefits: How Small Businesses Can Offer Big-Time Support

It can seem difficult to offer the benefits and luxuries of a large business when you’re a small coffee shop owner. In this series, we explore different ways to provide perks and incentives to keep your staff happy and well cared for.


Photos by Jordan Black

It pays to keep your people happy. A 2012 CAP study calculated that, on average, a business will spend up to 16-20 percent of an employee’s annual salary as a result of employee turnover. To put that percentage into real dollars: The cost of replacing a single $10/hour barista could be as high as $4,160.

Businesses can encourage staff retention in a number of ways, many of which are based on the benefits packages within their shop. But what is a cash-strapped small business to do? Large chains have the capacity to offer high-end benefits that most startups simply cannot afford, many of which are the same benefits that baristas simply cannot afford to live without.

Across the nation, small specialty cafés are getting creative in the fight to retain and improve the lives of their employees. In this series, we’ll explore a variety of benefits that can pose a financial hiccup to small businesses, and the creative solutions that café owners are finding in an effort to keep their best people on board.

You don’t need a big budget to provide benefits to your staff.

Part One: Health Care and Wellness

When executed thoughtfully, wellness programs can be a strategic business initiative and not merely a perk. Healthy employees take less sick days, are happier at work, and are more likely to treat their co-workers and your customers well. While not everyone can afford to provide healthcare to their employees, even a handful of wellness-focused benefits can positively impact your team.

Getting Fit

  • Establish a monthly wellness stipend for employees. This can help cash-strapped baristas take necessary steps towards personal health, whether they use the stipend for yoga classes, acupuncture, or a climbing gym membership.
  • Barter with local fitness centers. Elle Taylor, owner/operator of Amethyst Coffee in Colorado, established a trade with a neighboring yoga studio: coffee catering in exchange for classes for the Amethyst team.
  • If that’s a not financially viable option for your shop, simply conducting research on behalf of your staff can go a long way. Many gyms already have “service industry” discounts in place, and you could compile your research and share it with your staff.
  • Every year, baristas at CREMA Nashville participate in the #OptOutside initiative. Instead of remaining open for business on Black Friday, owners Ben and Rachel Lehman shut down their shops and encourage their staff to spend the day outside in exchange for a paid day off.
  • Mental health can be just as important as physical health for an individual’s well-being. Consider hiring an HR Specialist and/or an in-house counselor. North Carolina-based Summit Coffee has a Director of Engagement on staff who acts as an employee liaison, providing a safe space for employees to express themselves and receive the support they need, when they need it.
Business owners can use their community connections to offer their staff gym discounts and memberships at yoga studios, but they should also consider employees’ mental well-being.

Taking Care

  • Distribute gift cards for massages to employees (they make a great holiday or thank-you gift). It’s no surprise that, over time, even the healthiest baristas will develop aches and pains after spending 35+ hours per week working on their feet. Something as simple as a massage can stop those aches from turning into long-term injuries.
  • Plan ahead for injuries. The first time I threw out my back at work, I was at a loss for what I had to do to get the help I needed. I couldn’t move without experiencing excruciating pain, and I remained that way for days because my boss didn’t know what our workers’ compensation procedures were and failed to communicate them to me. This could have been avoided if a transparent, accessible workers’ comp guide had been established in our shop.
  • No matter what you do to prevent it, people will get sick. When sick people continue coming to work for fear of the financial repercussions of missing several days of shifts, businesses are at risk of spreading the illness to other employees and customers. Paid time off gives your team the cushion they need to take a few days off of work—whether for their physical, mental, or emotional health—without the stress of not making rent.
  • If you have the means, investing in a form of life, accidental death and dismemberment, and/or long-term disability insurance can provide support and peace of mind for your employees. Many of these plans are surprisingly inexpensive!
Baristas need to know they will be physically taken care of and can take care of their own bodies by using paid sick time.

Eating Well

  • One of the initiatives I’m most excited about implementing at Undercurrent Coffee this summer is our “Employee Marketplace,” where baristas can purchase groceries through the shop, from our vendors at cost (plus tax). This is an easy way for us to share accessible, low-cost, healthy food with our employees, at no cost to the shop.
  • Empower your staff to eat well at home. The baristas of CREMA benefit from semi-annual healthful cooking courses by Nourish Nashville.
  • Partner with a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or farmers market. Many Irving Farm Coffee Roasters locations in New York City are CSA drop-off locations, providing a venue for baristas to purchase discounted local produce within their workplace.

Do you have unique methods of supporting health and wellness within your workplace? How do you support your staff’s emotional health and provide financial opportunities for them to grow? Reach out to diana@undercurrentcoffee.com with your creative solutions! I’d love to hear from you.

In the second part of this series, we’ll discover a variety of in-store benefits provided to baristas across the nation, and share how to build up the minds and spirits of your employees. Stay tuned!

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp is the co-creator and director of operations at Undercurrent Coffee in Charlotte, N.C. She is an SCA Specialized Instructor, Trainer, and Examiner, mother of two cats, and a semi-amateur Netflix marathoner. She can be reached at diana@undercurrentcoffee.com.

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at ashley@baristamagazine.com.