Cafe Staffing Lessons Learned In Week 1 – The Likuid Espresso Story, Part 4

John Campbell, Mar 2017
- Time to read: 8 min
Cafe Staffing Lessons Learned In Week 1 – The Likuid Espresso Story, Part 4

Welcome to part 4 of the Likuid Espresso story. In this blog post I’m going to show you how Likuid managed staffing in their first week of opening.

Staffing is arguably the most volatile aspect of running a successful cafe. It’s a double-edged sword. Overstaffing is a comfy ride to bankruptcy, while understaffing can cost you staff and customers.

Ideally, we all want to strike that perfect balance — motivated staff, happy customers, healthy profit. Business owner Pius uses the Viability software platform as a kind of “homing-beacon” to help achieve this fine balance.

Here’s how the Likuid team went in their first week…

Day 1: Taking it all in

All Bets In

First thing in the morning, the team gathered to put in their bets on what the day’s revenue would be. Almost everyone went high and optimistic, as you do when you’re pumped about day 1. My bet was $3,700 for the day – completely emotional and my hunch said it would be nowhere near.

The average bet across the team was $3,200! If they were betting money they would probably have been a little more conservative.

What did they bring in on day 1? Just under $2,000. For the size of the store, its location, passerby foot traffic volume… not bad at all. It’s the first step in a slow and steady climb to healthy revenue. The benchmark has been set.

Likuid Espresso's interior before opening

Gambling Over, Reality Begins

After the first few customers make their orders, the inefficiencies become apparent very quickly. The POS system isn’t printing to the right terminal. Suzie doesn’t have the right permissions to make a change to a customer order, or what have you.

The chef quickly realises he needs a squirt bottle for a sauce he didn’t think he needed. Certain coffee station items could be better placed for easy access and pushing out hot coffees quickly and efficiently. For people on the floor, blind spots become apparent pretty quickly too. Customers sitting behind a pillar can be easily forgotten.

There will always be mistakes and a variety of pitfalls on day 1 of opening a cafe, or any other venture for that matter. As the marketing guy doing the easy job of watching things unfold, I had the luxury of watching how the Likuid team calmly managed all these aspects.

Day 2: Agile Adjustments

The second day of business was very similar to the first. Revenue was up by about $90, so a little better than Monday.

Thanks to the revenue data and roster feedback in the Viability app, Pius made the decision to pull back the hours for some staff members. At this stage of relative uncertainty he decided to do this gradually, over the course of the week, and monitor the effects through Viability.

In order to get staff to understand the cutbacks, Pius used Viability’s Staff Performance graph in conjunction with the software’s revenue forecasting. While employees never like having their hours reduced, everyone on the team was able to understand the cutbacks as part of a sustainable game plan. Getting the culture correct from the beginning is a critical secret to Likuid’s success strategy.

staff productivity graph for Monday and Tuesday

The Foodies Dive In

Being the new kid on the block, Likuid captured the attention of food blogger Lee Lam from Adelaide Food Central. Lee was excited to photograph the food and espresso on offer, and did an expert job of it. You can check out his review of Likuid, complete with beautiful photography in his blog article here.

photo collage of items on Likuid Espresso's food and drinks menu

Image Credit: Adelaide Food Central (Instagram @adelaidefoodcentral)

Lee Lam’s photography and editorial caught the attention of Kelly Noble, owner and editor of Glam Adelaide. Kelly and her team seized the opportunity to be next on the scene to inform the public of Likuid Espresso’s cafe and all it has to offer.

photo of Luke Carmody's coconut yogurt parfait taken by Glam Adelaide

Image Credit: Glam Adelaide

After a lovely chat with Kelly, she went away and wrote this article about Likuid on Glam Adelaide.

Day 3: A Pattern Emerges

Revenue increased slightly for a third day in a row. Sales for Wednesday came in around the mid 2,000’s, almost $500 up from Tuesday.

This is where a few questions start brewing. What quality of staff do I need to sustain this kind of traffic and clientele? How many staff can we afford to keep on if we stay in the mid 2,000’s for a while? These are just thoughts for now, but they help to get the creative thinking started.

Staff start to get an idea of how they need to pace themselves, and get better at predicting the flow of operations.

Day 4: Business Builds

Thursday’s revenue was almost identical to Wednesday. The mid $2,000’s looks like it could be the weekday benchmark to beat for now. For an espresso bar of this size, Likuid will aim to double this as quickly as possible.

One thing that started to become apparent at this early stage, was the time-heavy nature of the kitchen. Despite the fact that every dish came out looking like a masterpiece, the wait times were feeling a little long. When you consider that the store hasn’t even reached half its capacity, this is an obvious concern. But it’s only week 1, so let’s give them a little time to iron out the kinks and create efficiency strategies.

Day 5: Busy Times Reveal Strengths & Weaknesses

Friday, the last day of the Likuid week! As everyone expected, this was the highest revenue day of the week, with people seeing out the week and treating themselves a little. Revenue for Friday came in very close to the $3,000 mark – and with higher revenue comes increased pressure…

fire in a cafe kitchen

Everything and everyone needs to hold up to the standards of the business to ensure customers are eager to return.

Kitchen inefficiencies are inevitable in the first week, and with a menu this ambitious, there was bound to be a trip-up somewhere. There were a couple of instances where the wait times blew out, based on a variety of factors.

But when you’re looking to run a competitive business that offers something more than the mundane, you need to take a strategic, whole-of-business view — and you have to push the limits.

If you don’t make mistakes, you haven’t pushed yourself far enough. Learning from mistakes is what separates winners from losers.

The feedback from customers was overwhelmingly positive. People love the coffee, and the baristas’ meticulous attention to detail in both the quality of espresso, as well as the silky sophistication in the pouring.

Likuid Espresso's perfect coffee extraction

The food received excellent feedback too, and was consistently beautifully presented. Let’s just say Likuid’s made it’s way into more than a few people’s Instagram feeds.

At the end of the week, the Likuid team assembled to refocus, strategise, and create a solid game plan for success.

Reflecting & Refocusing

Even with 20+ years experience in running hospitality businesses, Pius attributes a great deal of his management success to the Viability platform. To quote Pius himself…

…the battle lies yet ahead. Breaking people’s daily patterns one customer at a time, while controlling costs left right and centre… Viability is and will be my greatest support and guidance through what feels like a titan wave of responsibilities washing over my head. Right now I’m in the middle of an underwater current being twisted and turned and maybe, if successful spat out somewhere decent!

The Week’s Wage Percentages

When you look at the following screenshot, taken from the Viability app, things look fairly alarming. In reality, this is completely normal and expected for a cafe that’s just opened up somewhere.

As you can see below, as the level of daily turnover becomes more predictable, the team was able to cut back staff to get closer to a healthier wage percentage. There is a limit to this of course. They can only cut back staff so far. Likuid needs someone who can serve, a chef, and a barista (at the minimum).

As a percentage of revenue, Likuid is aiming for 40-43% wages to begin with. As revenue builds, this becomes more achievable, but hard work nonetheless. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…

Likuid Espresso's roster health for week 1

Addressing Food Service Times

There are a few things that factor into timely service of food items, and I’m going to list them (because everyone loves a list!)…

  • A well-configured POS and docket system
  • Knowing what items are popular, and prepping accordingly
  • Clear communication between service staff and chef
  • Educating customers about expected wait times

The Likuid team has collectively made adjustments that will mitigate timeliness issues. The following are a few of the ways they’ve responded.

The POS system is now configured so that it’s clearer which dishes are for which tables, so that wait times can be consistent for the group of people eating together. Chef Luke has also figured out what items are most popular, and he’s got the “mise en place” geared for speed.

The need for clear communication between service staff and the kitchen has become especially important, and that culture is growing in the team. Let’s face it, sandwiches from the display are always going to come out quicker than a “Salt & Vinegar Squid with Chips and Citrus Aioli”. Service staff have started making that a little clearer to customers who might be hot-to-trot.

Motivation & Accountability

Relating the realities of wage costs to employees and getting them to accept the level of staffing as adequate, is a tough ask. If you can show your team a visual representation their performance, you’ve got a much better chance of engaging with them and getting their emotional buy-in.

Likuid uses Viability’s Staff Performance page to help address overall staff performance with the team. So far so good. Pius’s feedback so far is that this has been instrumental in starting off on the right foot, and establishing the right culture within the staff from day 1.

hospitality staff performance graph from Viability foodservice software platform

Screenshot from Viability app. This graph of Week 1 is used to relate staff productivity to the team.

Focusing on the Basics

The last item for discussion at Likuid’s end-of-week meeting was reiterating the importance of the basics. You can be as fancy and clever as you like, but the first and most important aspects of building a successful cafe are simple. Give people great coffee, delicious food, quickly, served hot, and with a smile — every day.

In Conclusion

All in all it was a good week for Likuid. A bustling start and a window into the weeks to come. The team marches on, determined and resolute as ever.

Stay tuned for part 5…

Also published on Medium.

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