The How To Guide To Running a Cafe: Series Part 5

We’ve been coming to you weekly with our  How To  series, diving into topics such as how to move a line and how to multitask. This week, we shift gears a bit and focus on some big picture ideas: how to think about hiring.  You can learn more about the series and read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.  

Hiring staff is hard. Putting up ads, interviewing people, calling references ”it’s a tedious process and yet most of us don’t think about the importance of hiring until we actually have to do it. Hiring something I think about all the time and it’s something I’ve already written about  for this blog. It’s not just a necessary part of owning and operating a business, but a fundamental way in which you project the goals and values of your business. In this edition of my ˜How To’ series, I want to discuss not just how to hire, but how to think about hiring the best people for your particular café.

  1. Hire for potential, not skill.

Nick Cho wrote an excellent piece about hiring practices at his business, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, and how potential is much more important to him than any actual skills a barista may or may not have. That’s a scary declaration because it means, as an owner or leader, you’re going to have to do a lot of work upfront ”teaching coffee skills, working slowly on drink building, maybe even teaching someone how to wash and dry dishes (I have done this in the past). But it also means, from the get-go, you and this employee are on the same page; you share a goal that they are here to grow and learn, and you are there to help them. Even if they do have a ton of experience, letting your baristas know that you value them for more than the drinks they build from day one is an important tool for empowerment and growth.

This is a big responsibility. For owners and managers, it requires attention and constant feedback, which, if you don’t set up your staff to listen to or receive on a regular basis, can result in backlash from employees ”no one wants to receive negative feedback if they weren’t prepared for it. But on the other hand, it requires a business to be proactive in its own growth. No one actor is responsible for everything, and no one barista can take credit for a good or bad service. Seeing beyond skill helps you envision bigger and greater goals for both your staff and your store.

  1. Look beyond typical job-hunting sites.

I love the coffee industry. I do, it’s awesome and great and I’m convinced folks in the coffee industry are more empathetic and caring people because of their experiences serving others and thinking constantly about the supply chain and where coffee comes from. However, we are not always good at hiring a diverse group of people. We tend to hire those with experience, we tend to hire people we or someone else we know knows, and we tend to hire people that look like us.

If you are getting the same type of applicants over and over again, you have to ask how you’re attracting potential hires. If you live in a diverse neighborhood and your main recruiting method is coffee industry sites, you could be missing talent in your own backyard. Consider reaching out to local organizations or even just post an ad in your café and get the word out locally. Or go beyond the typical websites that are industry-focused and try to appeal broadly to as many people as you can (never dismiss Craigslist). Job ads can isolate those who aren’t familiar with the specialty coffee industry or haven’t had much interaction with coffee in the lives, so think critically about how you write your ads and the type of people you want to feel welcome and excited to apply for a position with you.

  1. Ask the same questions to everyone, and be conscious that biases exist.

It’s easy to see good qualities in those that look and act like you. You know that feeling you get that’s sometimes ineffable but makes you sure that a person might be a good fit? Sure, gut feelings are helpful and are not to be dismissed, but it’s easy to feel them for people who remind us of ourselves. Because, hey! We’re at this job and we’re doing fine, so it must follow that someone with out same skills and traits would also do well.

One way to fight some of these inherent biases is to ask each and every applicant the same questions, and to conduct interviews in the same manner. If you call one person’s references, you should call everyone’s. If you give a pass to an applicant who is five minutes late but hold someone else accountable for punctuality, then you have to ask yourself what’s going on. One way we combat this at my job is to do two interviews with two different people in the business. Every person gets two interviews and gets the chance to meet both the manager (me) and the owner. This allows us to come together and compare our impressions of an applicant, and see if perhaps the way we view a person is impacted by any particular bias or viewpoint we might subconsciously carry.

The last point I made touches upon a topic I think is often the cure to workplace turnover and unhappiness: transparency. In the next edition of this series, I’ll discuss how to create transparent systems that ensure fairness and predictable outcomes for your staff.

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

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting article, thank you for sharing, lots of good tips! Its definitely important to be aware of biases when hiring and reach out in the local community, more than anything if you find someone enthusiastic and willing to learn they can always gain the skills. It’s always wonderful to bring new people into the coffee community.

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