Preventing and Managing Cafe Staff No-Call No-Shows

Thank you to all contributors: The St Ali Group (Australia) for highlighting the issue, the talented and friendly Barista Hustle admin crew (Global) for discussing it, Proud Mary group (Aus/US), Roule Galette (Aus), Everyday Coffee (Aus), EightThirty (NZ), Macchiato (Aus), Trouble Coffee (US), Adam of Dovetail on Overend, Elevator Coffee (US) for their points on a supportive culture, plus some who prefer to stay anonymous.

WIP DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION

This is a document created based on discussion with the above people. As more contribute, I'll update and amend it.

Last updated: September 11 2018

There are few things more vexing for a cafe manager and team than a fellow team member who, without warning, doesn't show up. Yes, there's the 'death by 1,000 cuts' of everyday cafe management, but a no-call no-show causes instant chaos.

There are some unfortunate and valid reasons why a no-call no-show could happen - e.g. an accident or illness - but unfortunately, it's commonly a conscious choice.

When speaking to cafe managers and owners about this I have heard a plethora of preventative measures, management tactics as well as principles for follow-up. I'm logging them here for discussion.

TL;DR: There's no easy answer to this. Hire well. Train well. Look after your people. But there's still a chance it will happen, so have management and post-event processes in place.

Preventing No-Call No-Shows (as best possible)

Screen well

Before even trialling someone, it's important to know that they have the right attitude to work in a high pressure environment. Here are situations to evaluate when interviewing them:

  • Difficult customers - how they managed it, how they asked the customer to leave. Listen for a careful evaluation of a situation and a professional remedy.
  • Relationship with team members/managers - how they approached difficult situations, what steps they took to remedy the situation in a professional way. Listen for cues of being proactive, courteous and clear.
  • Going above and beyond - if they can describe a time they went above the call of duty for a customer or team member. They should have at least one.
  • Time management - techniques and tools they use to maximise productivity and efficiency at work. If they have any at all, it's a good sign.

Screening is all about eliminating red flags, it doesn't mean you'll make a good hire. "People can seem all eager and then poof - they're gone", one manager said.

Hire well

Easy - hire good staff and they'll be respectful and show up! There are many ways to hire, but the best way to hire for in-person retail is to interview on-site, working with them for a couple of hours (paying them for their work), evaluating them and seeing if they'll be a good professional and cultural fit.

A common problem is the staff member who quits on day one. This is usually caused by someone not knowing the site they'll work at, realizing that it's far, that they don't like the environment or people.

Yes, it's important that they know coffee theory and can pour latte art, but more important is their ability to work under pressure, their adaptability to new processes/methods and their communication skills, both with other staff and with team members.

  • How do they cope under pressure?
  • How do they deal with difficult customers?
  • How well do they communicate with other staff?

Pay well

Pay more, keep your people. Seems obvious, but it's also obviously difficult.

It is also highly jurisdictional, but it means

  • Australia: Pay above award wages (even if a dollar or two).
  • USA: Pay a full salary at minimum wage or above, not asking staff members to rely on tips (pool tips and share).

Both of these have been anecdotally mentioned as good examples of how to retain staff (more research is in the works about exact amounts).

Treat staff well.

"We pay well and treat our staff well" was a common refrain of managers who don't experience no-call no-shows.

Treating staff well has a large number of aspects but includes

  • Comprehensive training. This starts with being trained by another team member for a few days actively on the job. A large cause of barista dissatisfaction comes from being thrown in the deep end and expected to swim. This can include providing budget for professional certifications, both offline and online.
  • Opportunities for advancement. This is tougher, but knowing that a staff member can be rotated through jobs around a location and be exposed to management tasks is good motivation for people.
  • Shift options and intelligent scheduling. Baristas/staff members often have specific constraints about when they can work, whether it's weekends, certain weekdays, evenings/mornings, etc. It can be very difficult to manage all the preferences and build a robust, dynamic and fully booked schedule, but a tool like Ximble or Deputy can help tremendously, particularly if you're multi-site. Being able to take into account team member preferences helps retain them (or be aware that they may be dissatisfied).
  • Opportunities for feedback. See below on maintaining constant contact for staff.

Maintain a supportive culture for staff and their careers

Encourage, develop and reinforce respect between coworkers. Unexpected absenteeism, first and foremost, affects the other team members. In a culture of mutual respect and friendship, people are less likely to leave coworkers hanging.

Create an easy process for schedule changes. This only applies if the team member is willing to proactively deal with the conflict. If the process for requesting time off is clear, easy and there is minimal push-back, people will be more likely to use it than just not show up.

Support people moving on. A cafe ma be a stopping point in a longer career journey. Ask for people to give notice before leaving and treat them with respect when they do. Let people know they will be supported if they find a new job and have time to make a graceful transition. Everyone remaining sees how it was handled and is then willing to give notice when they get to that point.

Have managers that are leaders

A cafe manager is more than just a shift scheduler - they are a leader for their teams. Hiring managers with purpose who then convey that purpose to their teams, inspiring them to want to do well, is central to retaining great people.

Have managers that focuses on culture. Good managers span two distinct skill sets: a) operational efficiency and b) team culture. They should have both theory and experience into what makes for a great team and have evidence of putting it into practise.

Provide a high quality work environment

Have a great site that people want to work at. This includes an accessible location (with parking/public transport access), good aesthetics and space. It's easier said than done, but there's a strong correlation between people leaving and the quality of the work environment.

Management should maintain constant contact with staff

There are three ways this should happen.

  1. When working on the same site, make sure there is a regular forum for 1:1 feedback. A week after a new hire joins, and four weeks after, have 20 minutes for two-way communication scheduled. Keep to this schedule monthly (don't move it around - this sends a poor signal to the staff member). Most managers find it convenient to have a few hours blocked out for these 1:1 conversations, though it can be an exhausting day.
  2. When there are remote sites, regional managers should make a point of visiting each site at least once a week on a random day. While staff members can be trustworthy and show up regularly, it is a very encouraging sign for a manager to show up and pay attention to what needs improving, and is directly correlated to retention.
  3. Have a weekly or fortnightly pulse-type survey, asking two simple questions: On a scale of 0-10, how happy have you been at work? Why?. Use software if possible to anonymize this, and make sure you have closed loops to act on the feedback.

Managing No-Call No-Shows

A huge amount of churn is caused when a team member doesn't show up. There isn't a clear way to manage it (hence the problem it causes), but here are some methods that people offered.

Madly text everyone!

Once someone is 15-30 minutes late, standard protocol is to text everyone who may be available. This is especially true at if the person was supposed to be opening the site. It rarely bears any fruit (everyone's asleep at 6am!), but since it does sometimes, it pays to try.

If you use an intelligent staffing solution like Ximble or Deputy, you can contact every staff member using that. But this presents the same problem as text message.

Have an 'on-call' roster of dependable staff

Usually easier in when you have enough staff to have a small amount of redundancy, e.g. in a multi-site business. An on-call person is typically someone who has been at the business for six or more months and you consider dependable. You roster them as 'on-call' outside the standard roster, so it's known to them but not general knowledge (so won't be taken advantage of). They will of course be paid applicable overtime, plus any bonus you consider fair for the situation.

Keep staff cross-trained

For everyone to be able to most effectively cover each other (e.g. baristas, wait staff, cashier), ensure you have a program in place to keep everyone constantly cross-trained. This also ties into a good training program which, in itself, is a good retention measure. To cross-train effectively, it should be regular, so team members can keep up with updated procedures, technology and issues.

It's also a good strategy for solving problems - fresh eyes work well - as long as you have a regular feedback session.

Use an emergency staffing app

In the past, various attempts have been made at emergency barista staffing apps. Unfortunately none of them are currently live in most markets.

NeedABarista is one example. They're in Melbourne, Australia. I don't believe they're in business as I have not seen any evidence of them functioning (if you know differently, let me know and I'll update.)

CoverThatShift is by CUPS, but they're US-based only, and only in four cities. Again, I am not sure if they're in operation (I'm enquiring).

If you want to get ready for emergency coverage, make sure you've contacted those businesses in advance and have set up a relationship to manage expectations.

Get team members to step up

Finally, one team member not showing up is often a chance for others to step up. (This isn't a solution, just an opportunity.)

If a supervisor (e.g. the team lead) hasn't shown up, and one of the regular staff is prepared to step up as supervisor as well as perform their regular duties, then the management team pays attention (if they don't, they should!).

What to do in the aftermath

If they want to come back... they may not be able to.

Consensus is that team members get a maximum of one chance to arrive late to work (be clear with a definition of late vs. no-show - up to one-two hours), and zero chances to no-call no-show (late by more than the defined period, with no up-front warning). While being clear with rules up front may seem draconian, it also prevents conflict later and means you are 100% transparent. Be clear about why the rules are in place - the cost on the business and the burden on other team members, and the fact that there are many others out there who would gladly step up.

With clear rules and definitions, also have clear process. E.g. a warning will be given in the form of an email and states as such.

If they don't want to come back, collect information and act on it

After a team member has not shown up, there's generally a tendency for them to not come to work again (except to collect a final paycheck). While it can be awkward, it's important to gather information about why this happened, to see if it would have been preventable.

This can be done either through an in-person interview, or in a post-exit survey. Large companies use expensive professional survey software like CultureAmp, but there's nothing wrong with using something like Google Forms for a smaller team.

Important information to capture in an exit interview or survey includes

  • Where are they going? (Another cafe, another coffee opportunity, another non-coffee opportunity, education, no fixed destination)
  • Why are they leaving? (Pay, environment, manager, team, shifts, work location)
  • Depending on the above, what would have caused them to stay?

Don't just collect this information - use it, act on it and archive it. If multiple team members resign because of a site condition or team lead, you have a problem with the site condition or team lead that is going to continue cost you. Further, acting on the information will be a positive sign to remaining team members.