Cafe Identity: Why it Matters and How to Get it Right
Updated: Jan 20
A big part of my week is spent inside a cafe. Whether it be catching up on work, reading a book, home schooling (or in this case, café schooling) my son, or just having long fruitful discussions with my wife. I do have my habits and happen to frequent only a few. So how do I pick a café? It goes back to what attracts me most, EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE. I like having very good coffee, but I could live with mediocre coffee, as long as I know I’d be treated well by the staff. Not all the cafes I frequent have good coffee (based on my taste of course), but one thing remains consistent, I leave the cafe happier than when I went in.
We have different preferences when picking our go to café. Some prefer excellent coffee. Some prefer super fast Internet. Some prefer the famous international café. We decide based on what we value most. This is why I believe a café needs to define its identity. Be clear at what it values most and what it wants to be. Here are a few guide questions a café owner/leadership team can use when defining an identity for a start-up or existing cafe.
1. What is it that I or We value the most?
Do we want to be a customer-focused café? Do we want to be a specialty café that serves the perfect cup of Joe? Do we want to be an office extension for the Corporate/Free Lance crowd that provides fast Internet, huge tables, and beautiful ambiance that inspire and nourish the creative soul? I’ve talked to a lot of café owners over the years. Most of them want to be all of it, and end up achieving none. It just creates confusion with the staff, and worst, conflict within the leadership team. Be clear with your priorities. Set at least two or three core values that you can build your café around and get the whole leadership team to commit to it.
2. How do we conduct ourselves?
Once values are defined, and commitment from leadership is established, it becomes clear how a café should behave. It also tends to attract people with the same set of values, and filter out those who don’t. I once interviewed a barista who was very good at latte art. I made it clear that what we value most is customer engagement. I asked him if this is something he was comfortable with, and I got a reluctant YES. I told him to think about it. Before his final interview, he sent a message telling me he doesn’t fit the job. I respect his decision because there are other job opportunities that would better fit his skill set. We should hire people that embody the core values we establish, with no compromise.
3. How do we execute?
This is a good time for the owners/leaders to evaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are. Identify habits and behavior that don’t align with the cafes core values, and be able to confront and correct each other. A healthy team can keep each other in check and hold each other accountable. If the leadership team can be accountable for their actions, then they can hold their staff accountable as well. Having clear guidelines of the primary do’s and don’ts can guide the team. I once talked to a café owner that named one of their core values “Professional Confidence”. It means that the staff should show professional courtesy, be confident in speech, fluent in English, and doesn’t use “Po” and “Opo” when addressing customers. He consistently kept everyone in check, even some of the partners. After a few months, I saw tremendous improvement in how the staff behaved, and they even added new team members that were aligned with the core value. To execute the core values, we need consistency and accountability.
These three questions can jump start the path towards achieving your café identity. Know who you are. Know what you can do. See if it fits the location/concept of your café. Find the right people. Be consistent. Good luck and see you at your café!
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