He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
(Maori proverb)

When I get asked what is the biggest challenge to running a café, my response is always the same: finding and keeping the best staff.

In the ever increasing tech age, cafes sit in a reasonably cushy spot. While retail is being thrown on its head with online shopping becoming the norm, as a lot of our other daily services are becoming automated and digitalised, the act of sharing a flat white with a friend can’t really be replaced. You can certainly chat via Skype, but nothing beats the in-person, good ol chin wag.

A lot of office workers actually like to take a break away from technology and visit the café to not only rest their eyes but also their minds. Cafes are an ingrained part of the Kiwi psyche.

With this in mind, café staff can make or break a café.

This is not to say that having the best staff means you can ignore all the other things. You still need to get the basics right: your food has to be fresh, varied and delicious; coffee needs to be hot, tasty and amazing; your atmosphere warm, inviting and friendly.

Great staff live and breathe hospitality. They know regulars like old friends; they know what they drink, what they like and what they don’t like. They can end a conversation and pick it straight back up again days later when that customer drops back in again.

As an owner, identifying great people like this is hard, real hard. Even after four years, every time I do an interview I learn something new, I challenge a misconception I’ve had, and I cross my fingers that I’ve made the right decision.

The one constant thing I do notice is the very best staff interview the worst. They struggle to sell themselves, and they aren’t comfortable being put in the spotlight. They really shine when they are behind the counter and in front of our customers, doing what they do best.

If a staff member leaves, whose fault is it? Mine. It is only natural to seek out the best deal for oneself, so it is up to me as the owner to create an fun environment and pay well that staff don’t want to leave. A customer once told me that high staff retention is a sign of a healthy business.

On average our staff stay with us for two years, which is a long time in the very transient hospitality industry. This is probably one of the café stats I’m most proud of.