Photo LA 2009


This year’s Photo LA was a little different from Art LA that I worked last year and it was not just the name nor the art work that made it so.

‘How was it so?’  I hear you ask..

Well, this year all the profits from the event went to the folk that worked it. That’s right; all money raised after expenses filled our own pockets.

Because of this I watched an interesting spectacle (myself included): all that worked the show were really there to work hard. When we were busy, we were happy as we saw that cash box getting full.  When it was quiet, we were left pacing and worrying about when that next sale might come in. Like little entrepreneurs we became hungry, very hungry for the dollar.

This for me was the first real insight to what it might be like to run and own my own business and I have to say I loved it! I loved the feeling that all that money was going to wind up in my bank and not in someone else’s pocket.

It got me thinking at the same time about staff motivation and work ethics. I’ll be the first to admit that I am at times guilty of silently loving the quiet times. When that rush hour has passed and there is time to take it slow–forgive me when I say this– on occasion, slow is what I’ve taken, especially when I was younger (not the case anymore Doug, trust me!). Last weekend we wanted less staff to man the station and not once did we have to call someone out for not pulling their weight, we were all working for our own profits and we wanted more.

Lets take tips out of the conversation at this point (as its really only America that has a good tipping culture) so I will ask, is incentive-based pay the only real way to motivate staff?  Do trips to coffee conferences, origin or the promise of more training really work in getting that line through the door? I believe that if baristas could earn more money by working faster and harder then that is what would happen.

What would be the ripple effect in the cafe? The lines would move quicker, customer service would be better to ensure repeat business and the baristas wages would get fatter. That, to me,  sounds like a sustainable relationship where everyone wins. The barista would make better judgments on staffing and what shifts yield better income and more people would jump at the chance to work those busy weekends and holidays. I have to imagine that the business as whole would be better looked after in the long run.

All I can say now is that  I can’t wait to work the next one!

Photo LA 2009Photo LA 2009Photo LA 2009John @ Photo LA 2009

Johny Machiato pulls a celebrity shift.


  1. I know some places where they don’t tip, or don’t expect tips, and the service and coffee chatter is excellent. Baristas behind the bar, loving their job, and happy to be working, quickly and efficiently. The barista wage is high. (This isn’t coffee specific – it extends beyond the barista wage and into other service sectors.) There’s something to this. As a cafe owner, I agree with you. Baristas sometimes lose sight of the big picture, and are focused on “what’s in the tip jar” which is a short-sighted approach. Employees who feel taken care of and engaged in the process/industry/success of the business are more likely to be committed and connected to their jobs.

    Forgive me for stating the obvious. Its something I’ve been thinking about/asking about lately. Nice post.

    I’m going over to Mecca to get some coffee now.

    • Thanks Brent, say hi to the Mecca boys for us!

      In my post I said “Do trips to coffee conferences, origin or the promise of more training really work in getting that line through the door?”. I believe that the promise of these things help keep a high level of job satisfaction throughout the year but does it help in the hour to hour speed of operations?

      The faster you work the more sales you make the more your base wage increases, all this could lead to harder working employees I know it did for me last weekend at the show.

  2. I think that job bonuses like trips to origin, conference, competitions, etc. have a dual purpose: 1) to provide incentive for the employee and 2) to increase the understanding and knowledge of the employee. If you’re investing that much into them, then hopefully they are gaining a passion for the “big picture” of coffee. In turn, if they are passionate about their craft, then they would want to produce that for as many people as possible – just as a musician wants their music to be heard. At least in theory.

    Now, if you don’t have access to a labor pool where people are, or can become, that passionate about the product then you have to motivate in a different manner; in which case tips can be very motivational. The more people that make it through the line, the more tips you are going to get. Unfortunately most tip jars are by the register, so the decision on whether or not to tip is not based on the quality of product. But now I’m getting OT.

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