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

We focus on educational opportunities and professional development in part two of our series on budget-friendly benefits small businesses can provide their staff.


Photos by Jordan Black

Part Two: Workplace Enhancement

In the first part of this series, we shared ways that small businesses could support the wellness of their employees while maintaining their budget. By providing avenues for staff to eat better, exercise, and invest in their mental health, shops can promote a happier, more productive workforce with a lower turnover. But the buck doesn’t end at an individual’s good health.

In-shop culture can deeply impact the quality of the lives of your employees, which can encourage them to stay on your team for the long haul. From educational opportunities to shift breaks, there are a number of ways to produce sustainably positive experiences for your employees without having to go broke.

Providing benefits to employees doesn’t have to cost a ton—there are a lot of creative ways you can enrich the lives of your staff and make them feel taken care of.

Always Be Learning

Facilitating educational opportunities for staff can make your baristas feel more invested in, more capable, and more confident at work. Academically focused initiatives will ultimately support your baristas’ personal and professional development within your company. Everybody wins.

  • Give your employees a year’s membership to the Barista Guild of America. While you may not be able to pay for their certifications or fund their trips to Barista Camp, you can gift them the discounts associated with a BGA membership.
  • Host “viewing parties” of regional, national, and global coffee competitions in-store. This is a great way to keep your people engaged with competitive coffee events, and all it takes is a projector and a blank wall.
  • Gift subscriptions to Barista Magazine (and/or another favorite coffee publication) to your baristas. Many young coffee professionals are eager to learn about the larger coffee community, but lack the avenues to properly engage with them. Sending coffee news to your employees’ doorsteps is a great way to share the culture of the specialty coffee industry with your staff, from the comfort of their own home.
  • Offer raises to employees for achieving educational milestones, such as when they receive their Barista L1, or when they attend a local roaster’s training class. Note: While this doesn’t make education more accessible to your employees, it does incentivize your staff to pursue coffee education.
  • Consider hosting regular ‘calibration meetings’ where baristas can work on skill improvement alongside their peers and managers without the pressure of service. You’d be amazed how much a person can learn in an hour when they’re not being interrupted by customers.
  • Create an in-store resource library full of coffee, tea, and hospitality-oriented literature so that your staff can take their education into their own hands (literally).
Create opportunities for your staff to keep learning so they don’t feel bored or like they’ve plateaued at work. Provide reading materials, magazine subscriptions, or low-cost educational events for them to attend.
  • Hang up educational posters in the break room—a form of passive education you might remember mentioned in my last series on creating an in-house barista training program.
  • Work with your management team to create leadership development programs and mentoring systems to empower your employees to learn relevant (but less coffee-focused) career skills.

Other In-Store Benefits

  • Keep your baristas caffeinated with comped shift drinks. If you have a food menu, offer comped meals for those on shift as well. If you don’t have a food menu, make a snack basket that baristas can enjoy throughout the day. Hungry, under-caffeinated employees are far less productive—and far more grumpy—than well-fed, caffeinated employees.
  • Make paid breaks mandatory. Many states don’t require employees to take paid breaks (or even any breaks at all), but demand them in your café regardless. Working on your feet for 6+ hours is exhausting, and even a 20-minute rest can make a world of a difference for the individuals on your team.
  • Offer discounts to employees who aren’t on the clock. Be generous with this discount—after all, it doesn’t hurt you to share your products with your baristas at cost, and it encourages your staff to try your menu items.
  • Schedule compassionately. Try to give your full-time employees two days off in a row. Consider making the schedule several weeks or months in advance so that folks have enough time to plan for life outside of work. Keep schedules as consistent as possible (read: no ‘clopens’). Consider giving your staff a paid day off on their birthday.
Small gestures—like a consistent schedule or a paid day off on their birthdays–show your staff you care and respect their time without breaking the bank.
  • If your company roasts its own coffee, gift employees with a free bag of coffee to take home every week. The costs are low for you, and it’s a massive perk—no pun intended—for your people.
  • Offer commuter benefits or stipends for employees who take public transportation to and from work, or have to pay for parking in order to get to work. It’s an initiative that can be just as environmentally forward as it is staff-supportive.
  • Not all baristas are single 20-somethings who are working their way through college. Consider extending employee perks to their immediate family. Partner with a nearby daycare center to provide discounted childcare to your employees with families. After all, if we want our industry to support career coffee professionals, we should consider the needs of our employees’ families as much as we consider the needs of our individual employees.

In the third and final part of this series, we’ll explore creative alternatives to bonuses for cash-strapped businesses and learn how other small cafes around the nation encourage the financial well-being of their baristas. Stay tuned!

How do you support your employees when they’re on the clock or in your building? Email diana@undercurrentcoffee.com—I’d love to hear from you!

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.

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