R.E.S.P.E.C.T that’s what Leadership Means to Me.

The stress of middle management is nothing to laugh at.

Those of us in customer service industries understand the daily grind of dissatisfied soccer moms, enraged businessmen, unavoidable staffing shortages, unruly and irresponsible employees, pressure from upper management, and struggles against our own flaws, anger issues, and inadequacies.

For us….the struggle is real.

E      v      e    r       y      d   a    y      .

If I’m not careful I soon have 1,000,000 reasons why it’s okay for me to run over people, fly off the handle, or let my looks kill in order to “get the job done”.

But HOLD UP A SECOND….

What is my job again?

No…not what does my district manager “insinuate with his attitude” that my job is.

OR

What emotionally imbalanced, road-raged customers insist my job is.

NOT EVEN

What those under me think my job is.

BUT what does it really say in my job description? What does “management” really MEAN?

There is much more to it then simply results. If it were that easy to achieve those result we wouldn’t feel like lighting our hair on fire some days.

So in the naked, bare-boned sense what is my responsibility as a individual in management?

I would love to provide for us a clear cut spread sheet on how to be a successful manager. Or a nifty, color-coded pie chart on how to handle our peeps and responsibilities…..but the truth is; this stuff is messy.

Way to messy to nail down in sales goals and growth development plans.

As much as we try to dance around it there is a human element involved in our job that is attached to EVERYTHING.

We are responsible for the empowerment, growth, motivation, and coaching of PEOPLE.

Sure, we’re also responsible for cleanliness, sales, customer satisfaction, etc….etc….etc….

But all of these things hinge on the way we interact and invest in our crew.

We cannot accomplish any of those business goals flying solo with crowd of employees that would rather quit than work together.

Our team can make or break our jobs let’s face it.

So how do we help? What can we possibly do to sustain positive interactions with people who have to work in close proximity with each other in, sometimes, unbearable conditions?

How about a little barista code to live by:

Reward hard work.

I don’t care if it’s a high five for unclogging a toilet or a gift card for selling the most coffee beans. Even the most cynical barista needs affirmation. They may blow you off like you’re a gushy parent; but without it they will become dissatisfied and bitter……anyone would.

Enforce your boss’s mandatory preferences: even if they are not your preferences.

Why? Because the secret sauce for a positive work environment is RESPECT; and that starts from the top.

Stay as tough as nails when necessary.

Part of respect is not letting crew members disrespect each other. If Amanda is always picking up half of Tyler’s work; Tyler needs to know that he is hurting the team and disrespecting Amanda…..and that is a big deal. These conversations are the worst and will make you wish your shop carried Bailey’s on tap to mix with your espresso…..but it’s okay. There is much to be said for leadership that is courageous enough to get dirty instead of looking the other way.

Play hard because you work hard.

NEVER……….EVER……..I mean     N         E      V      E      R…..underestimate the power of comedic relief. By all means, harness whatever humerus bones you have in your body; no matter how small. It will be your greatest weapon in your arsenal against negativity and stress induced sarcasm. You can stop spats from happening on your floor before they start with a well-timed satire, or anecdote. Hec, I don’t care if you have to break out the memes, just lighten the mood.

Excellence is it’s own motivation.

This will not hold true for every employee; you will have some that just want to punch in, work as little as possible, and get the hec outta dodge. But this is NOT the rule. Believe it or not, some crew members (specifically males between the ages of 18 and 27) simply disengage when they find their work to not be challenging. Understandable. Your shop is not McDonalds….you can excel in the coffee craft if you would like. Pull up a barista championship and bust out the competitive latte art. There is more to this industry than 30 second mochas and millions of blended diabetic comas waiting to happen. Sometimes we just have to remember it’s there.

Create a safe environment.

Let’s remember that though we are apron-clad, espresso slinging machines….we are still HUMAN. This means we mess up, we freak out, and give up sometimes. It happens. Know when to pull out the pink slips and when to offer grace. (And not passive-agressive “It’ll be worse for you next time this happens” grace but complete “I have no recollection of your wrong” type of grace). Remind your crew that you are all still learning. Be the first to admit that YOU are wrong. There is valor in apologies and respect to be gained when you have the you-know-whats to give them. Bottom line: if good employees have to live in perpetual terror they will quit……every time. You know it’s true.

Treat others with…….you nailed it……..RESPECT.

Sometimes people are just not cut out for the high-paced, ADHD inducing nature of the coffee industry. It’s hard when you have to pull the plug on someone. Or when they peace out because they would rather shuffle papers around then scream people’s names out over crowds of cell-phone addicted zombies. Deep down can you really blame them? Even the punk kid that was slug McSludge on bar and wiped drinks off with his apron……even after you almost threw up when you watched him do it, even he has goals, dreams, and abilities. Don’t be too hard on him just because they are different than yours. Let him go with class and RESPECT.

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Tending Bar….Espresso Style.

The connection has been made between baristas and bartenders many times.

And it’s true.

When we tie on our aprons, rinse our espresso machines, and alphabetize our syrups; we are mounting up to be daytime bartenders. Emotionally, socially, and physically there are many similarities. We cannot simply make good drinks and claim that we are fulfilling our responsibility. We also have a responsibility to you….. you are a REAL person. You deserve time, conversation, and good-humored wit.

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We are conditioned to sympathize, observe, joke, and amuse. Our primary goal is to make your day…..in a high paced, high stress culture; this requires more than an expertly crafted foamy drink. We want to establish a relationship. A barista-customer bartender-patron relationship that encourages small talk, venting, dating discussions, parenting rants or whatever else needs to come out of your mouth so you can get it off your mind that morning.

Sometimes the world needs a few more Nick Millers and Woody Boyds.

Good baristas know this and fill in the gap by tapping into their social bar tending skills even as early as 5am. You can spot a exceptional barista by the little things: eye contact, smiles, natural small talk, and laughter. If your morning barista includes you in her crew’s inside jokes or lets you see her tired quirks when you come in each morning; you know you’re considered one of the family. This is what we do, we become your anonymous, vague second family that is always there to offer up plenty of caffeine, opinions on pop culture, dating distress stories, and mutual human complaining.

Sure, when we see you your usual drink of choice is the first thing that pops into our head, followed by your name and other facts we know about you. But this does not mean we are insensitive. If you ever hear a barista refer to you as “Vanilla iced-coffee with room guy” or “Small decaf hazelnut latte” do not be offended; many times this is affectionate. We enjoy your predictability in beverage choice and appreciate your consistency. Your a familiar face that brings consistency to our day and we LOVE that.

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The Devil Wears……Mom Jeans and Ugg Boots.

Here’s some wisdom for the busiest shopping day of the year… You know the strange phenomenon of Nov. 28th where the moon rises and out come the caffeine buzzed teen agers and coupon-armed hipster moms.

Maybe you remember the dime-a-dozen chick flick “The Devil Wears Prada”. People think of Ann Hathaway as the big cheese of this film….

…but it was really Stanley Tucci let’s just be honest.

His eloquent tongue, and subtle narcissism kept everyone sane and everything moving. Charming, direct, and quick witted, he tells it like it is. Every work environment needs a guy like Tucci.

This one, iconic scene I haven’t been able to forget ever since I first saw it:

It’s true.

Tucci is speaking some retail wisdom here.

There is NOTHING you can do once you’ve practiced, prepared, and the circumstances just go apocalyptic….all you can do is gird up.

I have never gone through a black friday in my industry without this phrase.

EVER.

After an evening of food, family, and classic TV shows I passed out, woke up two hours later and made my way to my shop, to prepare for the zombified mall shoppers up for round two of sock-the-next-guy-for-the-big-screen-tv.

What do I say to my team on the day of the Olympics of customer service?

You guessed it. We gird up like Tucci commands, throw back espresso shots and seize the day.

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Who is that Americano man?

You know who I’m talking about. . .

He comes gliding in with a hard back book under his arm and enough character to have USA network flagging him down.

He speaks no excess words; only what is relevant and necessary. He seems to be preoccupied with sorting through his latest international excursions, world health dilemmas, and social justice to bother with small talk.

Admitt it.

You wiped a little drool off your face after observing his entrance.

If only you could be a fraction as cool.

Remotely as distinguished.

And maybe you stand a chance of reaching that goal….. but there’s one hindrance.

One element of rough, organic swag that you can’t fake. . .

The black Americano.

A foreboding brew of dark espresso and hot water, as black as tar and 5 calories. . .

You look down at your extra caramel, white chocolate latte with piles of delicate whipped cream and some sort of……sprinkles.

You’re never going to make it. You feel demasculated.

Before you give up and sell out to graphic T’s and girly drinks for life let me encourage you; no one ( accept maybe John Wayne ) ever fell out of the womb throwing back black coffee without a wince.

What you’re observing is the fruit of practice and perseverance.

It takes dedication to become a critique, a conessuir. You have to love what you’re drinking. You have to catch the artistry. The rest will follow if you keep your love close to you and study her carefully.

The number one response of casual coffee drinkers when they sit down to experience an authentic coffee tasting is; “I can’t tell a difference” or “It just tastes like coffee”.

Do these people have poor palates. Or secretly hate coffee? No, no they’re simply out of practice. They haven’t applied themselves to the discipline of distinguishing flavors and aromas.

It’s alright. You can start slow.

What can you do to reach black-as-tar swagger status?

Well, starting is simple. Take a moment and smell your coffee before you drink it. Sip it black before you sugar it up even if a teaspoon is all you can muster. Getting yourself accustomed with how coffee tastes in its pure state is the first step toward being able to distinguish subtle flavors.

Warning: once you begin this process your chances of developing coffee snobbery increase dramatically.

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Turn Your Business into a Brotherhood

You may as well fess up….

You know you’ve done it…..

It’s your fifth time watching The Godfather, and secretly your soul wishes you were in the mafia.

No, not because their Italian beards are awesome, they wear those creepy leather gloves, or because they assassinate people to earn their keep….but because of their brotherhood.

Deep down, those rough-talking Italian men with anger issues know they have somewhere that they belong. They have brothers who will fight for them.

They also have men that they fight for, protect, and honor….this leads them to ferociousness. Passionate allegiance.

Wherever they go, someone has their back. Wherever they go, they’re watching out for their men.

They remain faithful…..through thick and thin.

Maybe it’s about time for your business to go a little gangster.

When a person feels believed in and supported….told they are capable of great work and good things….then given the room to work hard to excel; great things happen.

On the flip side, when someone is constantly being monitored, corrected, supervised, OR ignored there is little use for them to strive to work harder or unleash their creativity to problem solve and strategize. It simply won’t seem worth it.

Does this mean we should manage our businesses like liberal parenting? Just say positive things and let the kids run the house? No, not necessarily. It’s about respect and relationship.

Investment in your team is long-term investment in your business. Team members that flourish and feel at liberty to use their creativity will prove to be invaluable. Let’s keep these guys by building a business that resembles family more than a factory.

Some companies do this very well. (Think Google, Mac, Disney, Starbucks, Potbellies etc.)

There are common threads that seem to run through these businesses.

Team members are treated as individual with specific strengths and weaknesses.

They are given unbiased criticism and review as well as opportunities to move up to greater responsibility. This keeps employees who are self-motivated and hard working in YOUR business… instead of somewhere else where they feel like they will be able to use their creativity.

They are financially and relationally compensated for above-and-beyond work.

None of us outgrow verbal affirmation. When employees blow the lid off the company’s expectations they are told so by crew and supervisors alike. When these employees stay late, come early, work overtime, train new people, or take on more responsibility; they are paid for it. . . and it shows.

Crew members have NAMES, BIRTH DATES, and FAMILIES.

In these flourishing environments, members have stories and lives that go beyond the work place. In healthy work environments, others will know about these. Let’s drop this mysterious “professional” ficade that no one really enjoys. Keeping it up is a lot of wasted energy. Crews that know they can be honest with each other will find it much easier to pick up each others’ slack once in awhile, knowing that all of us have bad days.

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We’ll be Elves by Monday

It happens to us every year ….

Let me set the stage for you:

The air outside smells different; maple, cedar, and frost replace the scents of sunkissed pavement, fresh cut grass, and suntan lotion. Those outdoor runs now compete with the gym treadmill when the rain won’t let up or the sun goes down before we can lace up our kicks.

Many of us fell head over heels with popsicles and sunburns when we sprung out of the womb. Summertime has stolen our hearts with no intention of giving them back. For us, this transition that happens year after year can be traumatizing. But don’t worry, the leaves are now a fiery orange and it’s hard to deny that walks in the woods are now like running through Dragon breath: and who doesn’t love that.

We’ve just begun to remind ourselves that this isn’t so bad. We’ve had our first fall flavored coffee and have even baked something for the sake of taking the chill out of the house (because turning on the furnace would be accepting defeat…obviously). We are finally getting excited about flag football, bulky sweaters big enough to store snacks in when we binge watch Netflix with our buddies, and lots and lots of plaid. (Don’t forget about no shave Novemeber; which goes great with the plaid gentlemen).

Then BOOM!

November 1st.

Every retail worker in America is violently ripped from their cozy pumpkin scented utopias and thrown, cold-turkey, into………..CHRISTMAS.

For summer lovers this is world-shattering. For those who love thanksgivng, cruel. And for the rest of us. . .still wildly inappropriate.

We’ve traded our pilgrim feather in for elf ears long before Turkey day even hits our day planner. Not by choice……by online shopping and early Santa’s.

We can no longer dwell in the season the earth gives us; but catapulted by consumerism into the season that’s coming next with all its positives and poisons.

The stores we work at begin stocking holiday merchandise, making Christmas beverages, and playing festive music… long before the first snowflake falls. Not to mention the agoraphobic Christmas shoppers are out already to “best the rush” along with those over-zealous super savers. Then there are the real elves that play Christmas music in secret in their can all through July….THOSE crazies start coming out of the woodwork all aglow with “Christmas cheer” at least 60 days pre-mature.

This is madness America.

What about the pilgrims? The flag football enthusiasts? The Turkey lovers and pumpkin artists?……what about them??

What about the souls that make their bread and butter behind a cash register, behind a counter, in an apron….. they would like a fall too.

So next time you get your coffee, buy a new shirt, or tip the server…..bite your tongue before “happy holidays” slips out of your mouth in a moment of panic (I know we don’t help by surrounding you with plastic peppermint sticks and early bird sales.) …but a much appreciated “have a great day” or “happy thanksgiving” will do just fine.

Apocalypse Preppers Make the Best Lattes

Baristas are a strange breed.

Maybe our years in the customer-service industry have turned us into over-zealous people analyzing machines.

Or it is possible that something about the unpredictability and high pace of coffee houses attracts those who are social anomalies.

Think about it.

We’d rather meet the guys that host Impractical Jokers then the president or Beonce.

Admit it; flash mobs and other social experiments FLOOR us.

We fight to work on black Friday in hopes we’ll witness the mad chaos of mothers fighting over tickle-me-elmos and young punks trying to shop lift big screen tv’s.

We’re the type of crews that announce  that every member select a theoretical weapon of choice at 5am…….and everyone obliges.

I’ve often wondered, (probably because I possess these social oddities), what would happen if I was stranded in a life or death situation with my crew.

Apocalypse…

Plane crash…..

Natural disaster……

Terrorist attack……

How would we do?

Would we be loyal? Would we survive? Or would we be eating each other like some sick Lord of the Flies remake 48 hours in?

Before you write me off as some paranoid doomsday prepper, I want to interject that this is a phenomenal exercise for leaders, management, and workers to ask themselves. It helps us reflect on how we lead people, whether or not we respect each other, and if we are showing integrity as a team.

All vital attributes for efficient and high-quality business…..as well as  desert island survival.

Throughout my apron wearing days I’ve reflected, more than once, on the fact that if I had to take my chances fighting against incredible odds for survival, I’d cast my bets in with my work crew everytime.

Some days it feels as though we’ve done just that: with iPhone 6 mobs, tornado warnings, power outages, pre-enraged Christmas shoppers, and break ins….we wonder if we’ve signed up for an urban breed of Survivor.

Continue reading

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Stop and Smell Your Joe.

*You are about to witness a scene that is currently taking place all over the western world.

Alarms beep at 6am.

The motivated and restless hit the gym.

The parents of babies and those in high-maintenence marriages hit the snooze three more times.

We throw pb&j’s in brown paper bags for our offspring while trying to find shoes.

We swear under our breath at our microwaves because 2 minutes feels like a  LONG time to wait for oatmeal.

We throw our brew in a thermos or do through a drive-thru.

Then it’s rolling stops, red lights, for some of us more swearing, and 5min. late everywhere.

At work we run from one meeting to the next, strategizing about how to achieve more goals then last year.

More expectations, more stress.

When we clock out there’s kids to pick up, spouses that need attention, doctors appointments, little league games, get togethers, and dinner dates.

We eat fast, dress fast, shower fast, text fast, ….. we’re always late, often flustered, rarely in control of our sprawling day planners.

…..now before you start hating.

We work hard; we play hard.

We discover, invent, lead, create.

We provide for our families, contribute to our communities, and invest in the greater good.

We accomplish many things in our crazy lives.

Yet pretty soon we wake up and wonder where our life has gone. Why we’re worn out, can’t focus, or follow through our 50 tasks we are doing at once. Other people seem to enjoy life; we wonder what secret their keeping to themselves. It’s not because they make $10,000 more annually. Or that the have a beach house in some peaceful location. Sure it would help; but you’re surrounded by luxuries everyday: “hidden” retreats that can lower your blood pressure and calm at least one rampant thought in your over-taxed brain. Some, don’t even require memberships or driving time.

What can you do to stop and smell the roses, without really stopping, and smelling roses which no one has time for?

Simple.

Before you take you first swig of morning joe…….sniff it.

Nope, I’m not joking. Stop for a hot second and notice what you are drinking. Breath for a few seconds and inhale all the aromas emanating out of your cup of morning life-blood.

At first you’re going to say, “Coffee, crazy kid. I smell coffee.”

Try again.

Cocoa, wood, herbal tones, dark cherries, currant, nuts, ….. what other scents do you notice in your coffee. Hold it with both hands….feel it’s warmth, and treat your coffee with the tender affection it deserves.

Give your morning java of choice two full minutes of your undivided attention. It will thank you.

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$5 Addict

What’s your vice?

White chocolate mochas?…..I thought so. But you’re a college student, which means they cost about as much as you make working your part-time job.

And you?

Those iced caramel macchiatos…yes those are delicious. But they don’t fit into your mother-of-three budget do they? I know I know, the nemesis of weekly grocery shopping is only made scalable by that triple shot of espresso lava-lamping in some creamy vanilla milk kissed with caramel sauce.

What about you sir?

Mmmmmm….. you’ve turned those morning caramel lattes into skinny vanilla ones to save your manly physique. Because you cannot stomach the thought of going back to gas station cappuccino. You’re successful, don’t get me wrong, but you’ve gotten there by hard work, sometimes these $5 morning busters feel a little absurd.

Don’t worry….I’m not going to tell you to quit cold turkey. I’m not even going to look at your yearly income and then word-slap you for your expensive habit. We all make food choices and if coffee is your drink of choice you should by no means have to banish it from your culinary vocabulary. OR settle for second rate java purchased at places that sell high-school energy drinks or cardboard doughnuts.

Nope.

No guilt here.

No shame.

We’re just going to see if we can enjoy great, coffee-house beverages, smarter.

Here are 3 alternatives to your favorite pricey drinks and a piece of advice that can save you bundles of cash each year.

1. A little white chocolate dream.

It’s the ol’ syrup in brewed coffee trick and you shouldn’t knock it before you try it.  Get your favorite flavored syrup you usually put in your lattes or mochas (don’t forget the seasonal ones) in a brewed coffee with room. Then add cream or milk to taste and even top it off with whip cream if you can’t shake the habit. This one small change can save you up to $30 a month!

2. Ice it up!

Can’t quit the iced macchiato or those blended drinks even in the dead of winter? Try this: order an iced coffee with your flavor of choice and cream, (don’t forget to splurge on your topping of choice or whipped cream if you’re feeling frisky). This can also save you up to $30 big ones a month and some calories as well. Don’t be scared of iced coffee, it’s not diluted like you would think, who knows you may like it so much it becomes your knew fav.

3. Marvel at the Misto.

Depending on what part of the country you’re in this savvy beverage is called a Cafe Misto or a Cafe Au Lait, It consists of half brewed coffee and half steamed milk. You can switch these up like teen girls treat outfits….the crazier the better and customize them to fit every mood. These babies come with the decadent steamy foam that keeps you coming back to the latte. They are also better for your waistline if you’re concerned about such things. These are awesome in seasonal flavors or skinny versions with sugar free syrup and nonfat or lactose free milk alternatives. Get on this train and you can save yourself $20 bucks a month easy.

4. Treat that store card like a badge of honor.

Don’t hate on those coffee house registered cards that give you “gold card” or “store card holder” status by showering you with coupons and a free drink. These little pieces of magic will add up more than you think. Some store give card holders free refills on certain drinks as well as special offers not open to “the common public” show your dedication to their company and they’ll reward you with a free drink every so many purchases. This is definitely worth packing yet another card in your wallet. (Or app on your phone if you’re that snazzy). Being a recognized customer can save you up to $10 a month JUST ON REFILLS as well as $10 in free drinks and offers. Pair this with our other tips and tricks and you can be sitting a good $40-$50 dollars a month richer.

By all means keep visiting your corner coffee house, it’s an important part of your routine and of our culture. If you’re tight on green, don’t worry order smarter and keep your eyes open. You never know, you could end up with new favorites and a pound or two lighter.

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Bean Bling

You’ve been told that storing pre-ground coffee in the freezer is like domestic violence to coffee beans…

You’ve also been told by well-meaning coffee snobs, that pre-ground coffee itself is a defilement and that whole bean is the only way to go.

Then there are the anti-folgers people, the anti-canister people, the ones that only roast their coffee beans themselves in their basements (these people amaze and scare you).

So, in attempts to increase your coffee courting skills you make your way to the coffee house.

You stand in front of a wall of impressively packaged beans.

Your palms sweat and you rock back and forth on your heels…

Here it comes again; all those voices in your head.

“Light roast?!…you’re joking!”

“………you don’t have a grinder…….stop touching the coffee then, man.”

“You buy coffee that’s…...FLAVORED??”

Their faces flash through your mind and their offensive comments echo in your mind, ruining every ounce of peace in this purchase. You can feel like you need to whip out an AARP card by sticking with the blue canister….or you can gag at the register when this fancy bag rings up at $14.95! I mean, come on, you just paid the bills; which means you have about $5 in cold, hard cash and the rest is plastic.

Your hand reached toward the low-priced senior citizen option. The yoga-master-hippie voice shouts in your brain; crying out against your naivete. The holes in your pockets have launched into their own tirades about medical bills, school loans, and security funds.

Can you please them both?! Sure you can. You just gotta get creative.

For one,

DON’T KNOCK THE KNOCK OFFS

There are a few really great, inexpensive brands out there you just have to be choosey. 8 o’ clock has a kickin Columbian for a buck or two more your canned coffee. Pour those things into a fancy canister if you’re embarrassed when your “classy” friends come over. (Those snazzy chalkboard labels will get them every time.)

GOOD GRACIOUS MAN, GET A GRINDER!

It may seem harsh, but this one piece of advice is very true. Not only does buying whole bean open up a whole new world of brand options, grinding your beans fresh every time you brew can make $8 beans taste like $14 beans. No need to go big on this purchase you can find cheap, compact models at Target, Wal-Mart, or other house ware stores that get the job done just fine. This little baby will buy itself back in no time.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON SANTA

Coffee houses are known to have some killer deals on coffee beans around the Holidays for last minute gifting. Perfect time to stock your cabinets with your favorite blends that feel like you’re donating a kidney when you buy them the rest of the year.

So go ahead, drink like a sensei-yoga-master…..while saving some of your Abraham Lincolns.

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