Baristas’ role needs to evolve to become more interactive to meet future challenges
Is the customers’ experience enhanced when the server is free to interact with them? This was a question posed by Martin Heger, global account manager at Schaerer at European Coffee Expo last week, where the debate over skilled baristas versus automated machines remained a hot topic across various sessions last week.
Heger was speaking alongside Nicki Gadd, head of ‘proud to serve’ at Costa, which offers a coffee solution to operators whose core business is not coffee, with clients including Beefeater, Odeon and HSBC.
“It’s hard to get highly skilled staff, so this equipment [semi- and fully-automated machines] provides the answer when an operator doesn’t have access to very well-trained baristas. They also give ‘back office’ control over the quality and delivery of drinks served within the shop,” said Heger.
“The machines can even look like traditional machines, but only need five minutes for staff to learn how to do it well. It means the coffee you serve is of a consistently high quality,” he said.
Gadd added that along with “making staff training quite easy”, it was quicker to serve with less waste. Most importantly, it avoided the ‘bad’ day, as the machine curates a perfect espresso all day long.
Speaking to Coffee Business World, Kamal Bengougam, chief commercial officer at Eversys, agreed, and went further by saying baristas needed to evolve to ensure survival of profitable, speciality coffee shops.
“When you go into a restaurant, you do not see the chefs preparing your food. With coffee, you see the barista make the product, but does it enhance the customers’ experience? Often they don’t even talk to you!”
To survive, he continued, the speciality coffee offer needed to be more focused on profits. “Look at the number of coffee shops opening and shutting - it’s about the same. Few are able to survive because they don’t have critical mass. To be profitable you need to increase customer engagement and productivity - and all coffee shops need to think about how they can differentiate themselves.”
He continued: “What does the barista actually do? They don’t grind or brew the coffee, the machine does that, what they do is make the squiggle at the end to personalise the product. What they should be doing is engaging with the customer in the same way that a sommelier in a restaurant does.”
Automation, he said, was not killing the barista, but allowing them to evolve and become more engaged with the customer to share knowledge and passion about coffee.