Training Tips To Sell More Coffee
The success of a new or upgraded coffee program hinges on solid employee training.
By Sherry A. Hatlestad with Andrew Hetzel

The equipment is better, the beans are better, the cups are better. You have successfully introduced a better brew, and your customers love it. Now, customers expect that same quality cup of coffee no matter what time it is or which employee is making it. To ensure that the next coffee served is as good as the last takes just one thing: training.

It is ridiculous to think that the training program of a quick-service restaurant chain would be the same as that of a coffee specialist—but in actuality the challenges, benefits and goals are not that different. Each restaurant must focus its approach based on what the company wants to achieve from its employee to keep the customers coming back.

Once Upon a QSR

Take, for example, Lake Forest, Calif.-based Del Taco, the third largest Mexican limited-service chain in the United States with about 500 units and 2006 systemwide sales of $534.2 million. In March 2006, the company saw breakfast as an increasingly important daypart and wanted to upgrade its morning beverage option accordingly. Del Taco raised the quality of the coffee to a premium Macho Roast, the name consistent with its Macho tacos, burritos and other hearty menu items. It introduced new cups, lids and sleeves as well, but the equipment remained the same.

Since introducing the new beverage, coffee sales have tripled, with little additional cost to the company.

The program’s success relied more on marketing than on training. “Del Taco had been selling coffee before, so staff knew how to make it, and we already had the equipment,” says Sharon Fogg, senior vice president of marketing.

Learning from the Pros

However, a coffee chain’s stock in trade is coffee, and training is crucial to its success. There are stricter standards to adhere to, set both by the company and by the consumer. A solid training program ensures those standards are upheld. Restaurant chains of all kinds can learn from and implement similar practices.

CC’s Coffee House, a 38-unit division of New Orleans-based Community Coffee Company, developed a fun and effective training program, which is trademarked “The Roadmap to Baristaville.” All employees are required to complete the program, whether they are cashiers or baristas. Its main focus is preparing new employees to be a certified barista.

Danny Hebert, director of the Community Coffee House division, says CC’s uses a blended approach of classroom instruction, on-the-job training and self study. It recently began to use online “webinars” as a quick, easy and cost-effective approach to training that young employees can relate to.

At the end of training, employees must pass both written and oral tests, as well as hands-on demonstrations of drink-making skills, use of all equipment, and food safety and sanitation behaviors.

“We know coffee,” boasts Hebert. “Our customers expect us to be experts.”

Training for the Long Term

Beyond selling more coffee, an effective training program helps employees do their job safely, while providing customers great quality products and service. In addition, a solid training program helps a company attract employees and keep them longer.

“The goal of all good training programs is to improve performance,” says Andrew Hetzel, president of Hawaii-based Cafemakers, a specialty coffee retail consultancy. “Contrary to the popular saying ‘knowledge is power,’ it is not. Were this the case, the world’s power would be amassed in our libraries. …The best programs pull trainees out of the classroom lectures and have them learn in the real world environment of a restaurant or coffee bar.”

Hetzel recommends that operators provide trainees with job aids to help remember critical recipes, tasks and procedures, and provide ongoing role models who can demonstrate specific techniques.

“The best programs are modular written and spread over a sufficient time period to allow the trainee to practice what they have learned through the training materials or classroom environment,” Hebert says. “It also incorporates a tracking and recognition process to ensure all employees are trained and rewarded for successfully completing.”

Not Without Struggle

The biggest challenge any operator faces in establishing a training program is knowing how and where to start. Hebert’s advice: “Write down the behaviors you want your employees to demonstrate. In your own words, write how you would describe success. Regardless of the way your training program is delivered, you must first identify your standards and the behaviors you want from your employees. Once this is done, it can be incorporated into any vehicle used for delivering your training program.”

According to Hetzel, “Corporate culture is the leading obstacle in establishing a successful training program. Upper management at most large businesses is dominated by finance, marketing and legal executives that look at training as a cost item rather than an investment; return on that human investment is difficult to measure and often dismissed as unnecessary.”

He says many companies choose to mechanize rather than bolster training efforts. “With such historically low unemployment rates, such directives may be necessary for large-scale operators in order to gain access to a large pool of potential employees,” he adds.

End Game

The ultimate goal of any training program is happy employees and satisfied customers who come back and bring more customers.

Hetzel takes that one step further: “Every training program should be designed with the intent of increasing employee performance; specifically, increasing speed and output, minimizing ingredient waste and ensuring the consistent production of specialty coffee beverages that meet company standards.” He adds that a coffee-training program should include customer-service skills, which are often overlooked.

“Remember, the person serving the coffee to your customers is the face of your company.” Hetzel says.

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