Bleeding bunnies on bar

Lately I’ve become a little bit obsessed with work flow and efficiency in coffee bars which has been driven by a few factors of various importance. Barista Comps are always a great way to learn about double/triple tasking and saving yourself 30 seconds. Anyone thats competed will know how organising workflow in a routine can help you appear busier, do more, reduce stress and save time. The same logic applies to coffee bars.

An organised bar not only works faster but also gives you a huge advantage in terms of customer service. Yes, the service will be better, that is a no-brainer, but people often overlook something very important about calm, controlled efficient workflow and thats the perception your customers develop of your business.

There’s a rule in the service industry called The Bleeding Bunny rule which is based on the logic that the more distressed you appear the more likely you are to be criticised by your customers. This is true worldwide and is born out of the fact that bleeding bunnies will always be preyed upon before their more able-bodied comrades. If you appear distressed, you are opening yourself up for attack regardless of how much you deserve it.

I’ve worked shifts at both extremes. I’ve had very few orders and been in an absolutely tizzy. Drinks made badly, orders misplaced, orders made twice, customers pissed off. I’ve also worked ridiculously busy shifts in a state of near zen. These occassions often bring with them very little conversation between co-workers. everyone knows where they are, where they’re going and how they’re getting there. The system is clear and there’s no need to discuss it. Customers have waited a long time for orders without even knowing it because everything seems effortless, purposeful and worth it.

In specialty coffee we have for the last few years been caught between a place where we want to impress our customers and the constraints placed upon us by having to deal with said customers. The more people that come the harder it is to wow them, but the less people that come the harder it is to stay open. Pete Williams that works with me at 3FE once quipped wouldn’t it be amazing if we had loads of money and no customers. Think what we could achieve!”

The brew-bar in a modern specialty coffee bar is a great example of this. I’ve seen many set up that were successful from a taste/experience perspective but as the business owner in me becomes more outspoken I can only question the viability of the “brew bar” going forward. I think at 3FE we have just about found a balance but its perhaps been the most difficult aspect of what we do day-to-day.

The brew-bar has become the weapon of choice for specialty coffee shops and although I feel its value should be placed more in the marketing budget than in the Z-read analysis it’s striking that we have very little discussion about how we should make this podium of ours a little more financially viable. Profit is a filthy filthy word in this industry but its one we need to face up to if we’re going to gain the recognition that we so crave and workflow is the key to this in every aspect of finding success.

Carrying on the theme of feedback from last weeks post I thought it pertinent to skip the permission phase and skip straight to the meaty bit by posting some feedback online that sits nicely with this weeks theme of workflow.

I am however trusting that both interested parties, namely Marco (Paul Stack) and Barartza (Joyce Klassen), will forgive me going public on this one as both products do come out rather favourably and I know both as people who have no doubt already copped on to whatever it is I’ve discovered.

A few weeks back Joyce sent me an Essato to tinker with and gather feedback. The Essato for those of you that don’t know is an attachment base for Baratza’s grinders that allows you to set a target weight for ground coffee and then grind that specific amount for you at the touch of a button (there are actually 3 presets). It differs from grind-on-demand grinders I’ve encountered so far in that instead of correlating time and dose and managing the former with fingers crossed, the Essato goes straight to the point and promises you a specific dose every time. Importantly, it consistently delivers on this promise.

The Uber grinder creates the best grind profile I’ve encountered and thus is the tastiest tool to make your filter coffee with. When things aren’t too hectic you can weigh-grind-weigh and create more beautiful coffee than you can ever imagine. Lovely grinder, lovely grind profile, lovely coffee. Simples.

Then real life kicks in and the reality of weigh-grind-weigh (perhaps repeat?) will start to hack away at the time you have to satisfy your customers. The fact that you must stand by the grinder when you do this adds to the time you must commit and thus slows you down. Slowing you down on bar usually leads to you trying to speed yourself up which I guarantee will lead to mistakes, errors and angry customers. Its the twisted logic of the bar, never go as fast as you can, because you can’t.

So, back to the Essato. No, it doesn’t have the amazing grind profile of the Uber but what it does have is smarts. I hit one button and then concentrate on the other things like rinsing papers, arranging cutlery and talking to customers. When I’m ready I pick up the grounds dispenser and dose my filter.

On a busy bar its innovations like this that really contribute to enabling us to achieve real excellence on a consistent basis. In truth I know Marco are working on something to enable similar benefits in workflow but I shall not steal their thunder, this time.

The real point of this post though is a statement that popped into my head as I walked back from the till to my 18g ground dose that was waiting for me on the Esatto.

Workflow will trump grind profile in the vast majority of cups handed out.

I’m not sure everyone will agree with me but I would like to know where you stand on this and what you think;


15 thoughts on “Bleeding bunnies on bar

  1. I stand firm on this believe, consistency is king.
    Clearly I want the tastiest coffee possible but if that cannot be achieve due to the tools Inaccuracies, I’d rather very good, more consistently over that of perfect or what you hope to be perfect occasionly.
    To this day I’ve yet to used a timed grind that can repeat its promise… Thus always counter acting the measured dose. Less is more I’ve discovered, we will always revert back to basics as more often than not this new technology fails us when need most.

  2. Yes. Customers do not wait in line to see baristas weigh beans into tiny jars. Having an extra 10-20 seconds to engage a customer on why they should taste their coffee black, in a friendly & calm environment, is worth the last few percentage points of cup quality. As much time as possible should be spent providing the best experience for the customer. Making coffee, even by the cup, should be simple. Then you can hammer out cup after cup from your efficient & well tuned brew bar.

  3. We preweight all our coffees in the evening into small containers (Intelli style) … this + using Ubergrinder makes for a really quick brew bar.

  4. colinharmon says:

    We use ours the same way but the Essato is considerably quicker I can assure you. Are you sure you’re yielding the correct dose post-grind? I bet not.

  5. Northern Barista says:

    Have you seen this post? Very Similar issue, poses some solutions.

  6. Troy O'Rourke says:

    Good food for thought here Colin, and you hit the nail on the head with “The more people that come the harder it is to wow them, but the less people that come the harder it is to stay open.
    It’s a tough industry to strike the right balance, we’d probably all like to be the greatest speciality coffee bar in town, but unfortunately it’s not always a viable option.

  7. Paul Stack says:

    If we don’t make brew bars viable financially, as an industry, they will be gone just as quickly as they appeared.
    Nice post

  8. Paul says:

    I totally agree: workflow is the key for consistency and a valuable brewbar.
    We also pre weight our coffees and we are of course extremely fast. (in all: 2-3 seconds) It’s the “mis-en-plus” at coffee kitchen you need. post-weight… the variance is about 0,1 g over 100 brews with my old guatemala and it is not that evil. Of course improvable.

    But now first think about that how to use the grinder is only one small part of a valuable workflow at a brewbar.
    And second, I don’t think that our problems are solved with compromises in equipment. Because optimizing workflow does not mean to reduce the quality in the cup. Optimizing workflow means, that you minimize the time you spend for the technical part, to have more time for your customer. More precise: you expand your quality in service.
    A brewbar gives you possibilities that are sometimes hard get. But when your are aware of what you are doing and how you do it, it’s just awesome 🙂

  9. The Essato has helped speed up the brew bar process at Prufrock. We use it for the bulk of our orders, Aeropress, and the Tanzania for other brew methods. The Brew bar at Prufrock has been an invaluable educational experience for staff and given us a space for regular cupping but it has never been a run away financial success.
    I have recently realised Prufrock is a cafe, run along the usual fast food take away model, trying to fit the brew bar into this model has been a struggle (the Essato has helped greatly)

    Conclusion – the brew bar at Prufrock has been an essential part of Prufrock but to achieve what I personally want from a brew bar it has to sit within a different business model

  10. Joyce says:

    Colin, thanks for your thoughtful blog and feedback on your Esatto experience. You and Paul are right on the money that offering specialty coffee on a brew bar has to be viable if it is to be sustainable. We are getting pretty consistent feedback from customers that the ability to grind by weight has made significant improvements to their workflow as well as reduce waste, as you pointed out with the grind-weigh-grind approach. We too will be interested to read what others have to say on the subject! Cheers.

  11. This is a really great post. You seemed to jinx the next coffee bar I went into that was having a classic “bleeding bunnies” experience.

    The whole viability side of things is so interesting to me right now – I must find a way to pick your brains soon!

    Please keep posting lots.

  12. Paul says:

    Great topic Colin, I love having filter coffee on our menu, but there are times I pray someone won’t ask me for one, the middle of lunch service being fine example. Even an Aeropress, quick towards other brew methods but still takes up precious time when customers are queuing up, tapping their feet. Weighing, preheating, rinsing filters and of course brewing, are all time consuming compared to a quick americano.

    In my heart of hearts, every time I’m asked for an americano, I’m gutting to say “well we have a lovely single origin from…….” until I see all the people waiting behind them and instead put the head down and make the americano. Batch brewer’s a solution maybe but not a very sexy one!

    In a cafe where food is the real earner ahead of coffee, its not easy to accommodate filter on the menu and definitely hard to promote it. Anything that makes it faster is a great thing, but it has to be viable too. An Uber boiler would speed things up greatly for us, but no point having a Ferrari in the slow lane. Inexpensive improvements to workflow would definitely be welcomed by many dabblers though, set weighed grind doses certainly qualifies as a good one.
    Cool post thanks

  13. Aoif says:

    Wow my god you had me glued to the screen right until you got to the grinders and I was then lost! I have a huge passion for coffee and although I have been making lattes, cappuccinos, etc for the past few months I am very aware that they are (for want of a better term) ” pure shite”! I am a lucky girl in the sense I graft ad no matter what I am shown I will take to the task at had like a duck to water, consistently perfect, road runner style! Pity my wages do not reflect this!
    I would really appreciate any advice on how the hell I can get myself trained (company cutbacks = no traiing, understaffing etc) good courses in Dublin etc! I make delicious food, I am coeliac but I know what the customer likes and what flavours go with what so I would love to learn how to visually impress, coffee skills from scratch to pro!
    Thank you in advance and I look very much forward to hearing from you AND reading more posts, you’re very funny!

  14. May i ask how your baratza ginders hold up under busy conditions? There amazing grinders but how are they with volume? I’ve found the weight of the Esatto to be off by a gram or more. Is this an isolated experience, or have found anything similar.
    Thank you for posting and asking hard questions. Your writing is quite nice as well!

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