A Lesson in Being a Professional : How (and why) to Love your People
As a reminder, this sentiment comes from a person who used to work as a barista and who now owns a coffee shop, and appeals to baristas who think they want to own a coffee shop. This is not in reference to anyone specific. The best part of this blog is that I’ve promised myself I’d be honest and not spare any details, and that comes with a certain understanding that not everyone will jive with what I have to say.
There is a soon-to-come post from a person who is a barista to other people who are also baristas that will be just as brutal and honest. Stay tuned.
We work in an industry where people are going to quit potentially more often than other industries. They are going to move on to other things (not bigger nor better, necessarily, just ‘other) and we, as business owners, need to not only be okay with that, we need to be graceful and loving about that. If you are not those things, you’re boring and you’re holding us back. Stop doing that.
The most common question I get asked about owning a coffee shop is ‘what was the hardest thing that you didn’t expect to be so hard?’ Staffing. Always staffing. I’ve managed shops where people left under both good terms and not-so-good terms, but it has never felt so brutal as it does now.
Luckily, no one has left Amethyst under not-so-good terms (though the day will come, I have no doubt), so I don’t have any advice for that. What I do have advice for is when people tell you they’re leaving under only the best of circumstances. People have left Amethyst for love, for their dream job, and to focus on themselves and redirect their passions. I cannot fault them for any of that, but you know what?
It still sucks.
It still feels like I’ve been simultaneously broken up with, punched in the stomach, and like my heart is breaking inside of my chest. Yeah, sure, the logistics suck, but you can’t always think in terms of logistics. You have to let your people be people, and you have to love them fully and truly, and that’s why you chose them in the first place. You believed in them, and you still believe in them, that’s not something you’re allowed to forget just because you feel hurt.
Do not confuse ‘hurt’ and ‘anger’. Do not take out your frustrations on your person who is no longer your person. Use the gap you need to fill as a way for other staff members to step up into positions of leadership, or allow them to take on more responsibilities. If you’ve built the team you want, the hit will be absorbed and everyone will rise to the occasion. Then, you’ll find someone new. No one is replaceable, but holes certainly need to be filled when you run a business that depends on having people in a physical space.
The people working behind your bar, in your kitchen, on your retail floor, etc. are not robots, they are people. Those are the people making your dream come true. They are the ones who keep guests coming back day after day after day. They are the ones building and maintaining your reputation. If you’ve done it right, your people are the best thing you have going for you. Any dingus can get behind an espresso machine, pull a shot, and pour a pretty drink. My dinguses, however, will always be the best at that, and other things, in my eyes. That’s why I hired them, because I will always believe they are the best people for the job.
I never have to question my staff’s decisions for anything other than to facilitate conversation. I hired them because I trust them to operate on a certain level and maintain a stated set of values. I am open about what I want, what I need, and what kind of space I want Amethyst to be. I trust that my staff wants that, too. I sometimes get pushy about them working on their self-awareness, emotional awareness, and emotional intelligence; which were words I never heard from any service industry professional until recently. I feel like I can push my staff to think about those things because I think about them daily. As much as I need my staff to be emotionally stable at work, I feel the need to be doubly emotionally stable so that when they come to me and tell me something went horribly wrong I don’t lose my shit. It’s just not that fun when I lose my shit.
I never expect my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do. I mop floors, I clean floor drains, I clean bathrooms, I stay after hours to work on skills that I know I don’t quite have down. I may be naive, but I like to think that I will always do those things, and I will certainly never be above doing those things. I know that members of my staff have passions in different areas than I do, and I do my best to facilitate and support those passions. Otherwise, they will get bored. It undoubtedly will happen. I push them to be better, and they make me want to be better. It’s a great relationship.
I like my job because I have fun doing it. I like to surround myself with people who know how to be professional and who also know how to have fun while being a professional. Anyone who has thus far been a part of Amethyst has made my life better and has helped me create a space that I love to be in, that serves great coffee, and has been a second home and safe space for a lot of people. I am eternally grateful for them. Thanks, friends.
p.s.- i know this is a much bigger conversation in the industry right now, but freakin' just pay your people. pay them what you can, and then when they get better and you get busier, pay them more. just freakin' do it. there's always a way to make it work, so make it work.