Saturday, January 09, 2010

ph: Trial By Fire Saturdays

Jenny, Jess, Ilenia and Lindsay prepare themselves for the onslaught at hand.

After a couple of weeks of holidays, the tribe has gathered again for another group therapy session.  This time the task is to start putting all of the lessons together and delivering drinks in mock customer sessions.

For project hampden, we're making coffee with seven different brew methods.  Add a mix of six to eight coffees per day and top it off with everything being made to-order, on demand and by-the-cup and you're asking for trouble.  Swirl in a complete menu of espresso drinks made-to-order, hot teas, cold beverages and baked goods and you've got a veritable storm on your hands.

With such a radical change in service, there is no current working model.  The shops I know of stick to one or two main brewing methods, and if they have a setup where additional brewing methods are offered, it's on a very limited basis and not part of their standard operating procedures.  At project hampden, those seven brewing methods will be part of our daily operations.

Team Kimmy considers their menu options.
To facilitate the exercise, I divided the crew into two teams.  The task was simple: prepare yourselves.  Each team would order any drink off the menu while the other team prepared those drinks.  The entire menu from coffee to teas to espresso to cold drinks was up for ordering.  How would each team fare?  Would they be able to handle the load from a sympathetic group of "customers"?

Finding your groove can be a difficult proposition - even when you know your brewing methods.  Working with others in a confined space while trying to prepare a continuous stream of drinks in a timely fashion can be downright grueling.  Quite simply, there is no other way to get a team of people into their grooves than just throwing them into the fire.

Kimmy and Jeremy plan their macchiato strategies.
Each team would prepare three rounds of drinks for the other team.   Espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, latte, vac pot, eva solo, french press, pour over and everything in-between.  Not to mention finding a way to squeeze in the drink orders for the real, revenue-generating customers who happened to stop by for a coffee.

Each drink would have to meet my standards in order to be served.  Bad shots, bad milk or a screw up, and the drink would be rejected to be made again.  The proper cups had to be used, preheated and the service had to be correct: with the proper saucers and spoon positions.  While we would stop or pause to clarify certain aspects of the flow or service, timeliness was of the essence.

Some things went smoothly.  Others went not so smoothly.  While the crew wanted to remain positive, I could tell that they were stressed by the exercise.  What they thought they knew and could handle, they weren't as sure at the end of the day.

But that's to be expected.  We're working without a model and writing the book as we go along.  These exercises are meant to be brutal and difficult to encourage the best performance out of them.  Even with a few hiccups today, I'm very excited to see things as they progress and learn to find their groove together.

Until then, we'll keep at it!