The Importance of “The Between”

What is it?

B“The Between” is the varying and frequent lengths of time a barista has between customers and shift changes. “The Between” can be anywhere from five seconds to fifteen minutes. Any amount of time less than five seconds can potentially result in activity that is too frenetic and error prone to be of significant value. The amount of time between customers can also trend one way or the other as the day goes on, depending on your customer base and location. It is also an operational philosophy that is more beneficial to the smaller, independent coffee shop. You might offset the importance of “The Between” with four to six employees working at the same time, but few independents can afford such a luxury.
Since every coffee shop has differences in menu, service, drink preparation protocols, restocking needs, technology and customer frequency, I am not going to spend any time in this article listing examples of daily barista duties. You would know those things better than I would. I am only proposing a few guidelines that I believe, if implemented, will make your business more efficient and better received by your customer base as well as the community you operate in.
Most coffee businesses feel forced to make an agonizing choice between excellent customer service, drink quality, and stellar productivity. “The Between” is simply a way of working which, if intelligently implemented, can result in these three goals not being so mutually exclusive.

Tasks versus Projects

One thing we need to be clear about in order to work effectively in “The Between” is the fundamental difference between a task and a project.
A task is an activity that can be started and finished within five to forty-five seconds. By keeping your tasks as defined by the five to forty-five second rule, you can complete a number of them if the duration between customers is wide enough. A task is a routine activity that is not related to or contingent upon another task. A task should allow a barista to remain ready at all times to address the needs of a new customer without ever making them stand and wait.
A project is an activity that would require anywhere from one to fifteen minutes to complete. A project can be a series of interrelated tasks or an isolated but more time-intensive activity. Projects need to be planned. They need to be inserted into your workday based on typical or historical traffic patterns. Take a look at a few months’ worth of sales records. What are your heaviest traffic days? What are your lightest sales days? What is your busiest and second busiest shift? Are there lulls in the shift that would be a likely time to schedule a daily or weekly project? I say a likely time because, even though historically you might normally have the lull during a specific time, on any given day that might not be the case.
Lay out your tasks and your projects based on the reality of your business. Operational systems are very important, but running a business is about taking those systems and using them to the greatest advantage of your business on each shift. Do not abandon your operational systems; tweak them so that they benefit the customer. Use “The Between” to your advantage and not as a spur-of-the-moment activity. Spontaneity is of tremendous value to a business both relationally and conversationally. Operationally, however, spontaneity is as dependable as a narcoleptic cab driver. You might get to your business destination or you might be reduced to a crimson stain on the turnpike of profitability.
The reality is that you can accomplish all of your productivity, quality, and your customer service goals if you plan ahead. For every shift get to know the types of drinks and frequency you do the most and on what days. Stock, clean, prep and serve according to statistics, not a whim, routine, or happenstance. Tasks and projects are vital in the operation of a coffee shop. However, if they are done at the behest of a pre-ordained or regimented system, and not for the benefit of the customer experience, they cease to be the value they were intended to be.
Coffee is personal to the people that buy it. It is not about you. It is a product that draws out the noblest expressions of community and communication. It is a conduit for relationships of every kind. If your coffee shop does not provide a compatible environment to efficiently foster these realities, it will cease to be relevant to those it serves. Slow service, a cluttered or dirty environment, dispassionate customer interaction, or mediocre products are the silent, relentless leaches that will suck the life out of your business dreams.

What’s the point?

The motivation here is simple – place more value on your customer than you do on your own agenda. Your products and environment should be an extension of the value you place on your customers’ comfort. It needs to reflect a core understanding of what is required of your business so that you can most effectively serve them. Anything less will be at odds with the reasons that people frequent your shop or even buy coffee in the first place.
The progression is also quite simple. A clean, well-stocked barista or point of purchase area is a more professional and efficient environment. Greater efficiency results in more customers being served quickly and competently. Quicker service in tandem with drink competency fosters greater consumer loyalty. Greater consumer loyalty generates repeat business (and not just during your shift). And repeat business from satisfied customers is the catalyst for longevity and business prosperity.
The coffee business is relational at its very core. Do not lose sight of that reality while taking full advantage of “The Between.” The result is that your shop will prosper, tips increase, and the entire organization takes on a self-perpetuating persona of excellence. “The Between” is more than a moment in time – it’s your time to shine.

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