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Business/Economy

I hired a barista and she’s an amazing employee. Problem is, her ‘attitude’ seems to be driving away customers.

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | The Workplace
  • Updated: August 27
  • Published August 27

I own a successful coffee shop. I have one employee, a talented barista, who does everything I ask of her. She arrives on time, works extra shifts and is clean and polite to customers.

I want to grow my business, but unless I'm personally working, my revenue dramatically drops. The problem is my customers don't come in for coffee when they know my employee will be working. I don't know why. A few customers have said "your barista has an attitude," but she never shows a problem attitude with or in front of me.

My employee can be a bit awkward and I wonder if customers misunderstand her and take offense when none is meant. Since I never witness any problems, how can I find out if she treats customers poorly?

Or is the fault mine? Have I created this problem by not doing more to help my employee gain a personal rapport with my best customers? If so, how do I change this?

More importantly, how do I keep customers coming back even when I'm not working? I would love to hire another employee and eventually open a second location, but not at the sake of losing revenue and regular customers.

A: If you want to find out what happens when you're not present, ask your customers, particularly the ones who report that your barista has an "attitude." It might only take a simple, "oh my goodness, please let me know what happened so I'll know what to fix by giving her more training."

You can also ask your employee. You might say, "A customer mentioned that you and she had a problem yesterday. Could you let me know what happened?" If your employee asks, "What do you mean?" you can add, "A customer said you had an attitude and I figured something had happened and wanted to learn what happened from your point of view."

Alternatively, you can send in a "mystery shopper" who poses as a customer, patronizes your coffee stand, and lets you know how your barista handles her.

Next, look at what you provide customers that your barista doesn't. If you're warm, friendly and interact with your customers on a personal basis, some of them will time many of their coffee fixes to days and times when they know you're available.

What can you do? Let your barista know that she sells more than coffee, she sells service and "experience" in the form of personal attention. Teach her to remember customer names. Let her know it's OK to occasionally say, "Hi, great to see you again." She can learn this most easily if you work alongside your barista so she can watch you. You can also introduce her to your favorite customers and initiate brief, friendly three-way conversations.

You mentioned her awkwardness. Does your barista know how to respond if her behavior makes a customer react to her? If not, a customer might "push her button" and as a result, a situation your barista could handle smoothly might instead escalate into "reaction meets attitude."

While nothing in your question directly surfaced this possibility and your employee may be 100 percent honest, you oversee a cash business. Is it possible your dramatic revenue drop results from cash sales that never hit the cash register? You may be able to assess whether this has occurred by noticing whether the number of sales match the inventory change that occurs during your shift and hers. Alternatively, a regular mystery shopper can often identify barista theft.

Next, you have made many right calls as a business owner. You plan to fix things with your first employee and in your first store before you hire a second employee or expand. Many business owners expand first and then have to scramble to fix things. Second, you question whether you play a part in your employee's problem, and that shows your heart and head are in the right place.

Finally, you may ultimately decide that your barista excels at making coffee and work ethic, but lacks the ability to help you increase your customer base. If so, while clean, prompt, polite, hardworking employees bring value, you may want to limit her shifts to less critical times involving fewer customers. Further, when you hire your next employee look specifically for one who can help you pull in and bring back repeat customers.

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