Customer Service – Speed of Service


I get dragged into this conversation a lot with my fellow Australian coffee friends, and the conversation seems to revolve around two different types of bar service (for the moment I am excluding table service).

One is the more common way of service;

Guy walks into a espresso bar, Guy heads straight over to the till, Guy orders milky beverage from POS staff, Guy pays, steps away or sits down and waits for his coffee…

The second scenario is what I like to call classic bar service;

Guy walks into a espresso bar, barista engages Guy, Guy orders straight from the barista, Guy hangs at bar and waits for his beverage to be prepared, has an opportunity to chat with barista, Guy receives beverage with a nod, Guy pays and walks away.

There are pros and cons with both styles of service some pros for scenario one is;

  1. Speed of service?
  2. High turnover
  3. More consistent (though I don’t believe that as I type it, i want to delete it but don’t because the twittersphere is communicating that)


  1. Little interaction with Barista if any
  2. No daily recommendations from the barista who is dialling in coffees (what a shame)
  3. As money is exchanged already customer is trapped in cafe until beverage is served
  4. If coffee is taking its time to be made, the dynamic in the cafe changes as people get angry when in a rush and can’t leave
  5. Grumpy customers = grumpy staff = grumpy customers
  6. Baristas = coffee robots

Senario two;


  1. Speed of service?
  2. High turnover (believe me I’ve seen the numbers)
  3. Interaction with Barista
  4. Customer is in a rush, feels empowered to leave
  5. Barista is control of his/ her environment = more positive attitude toward work (I hope)
  6. Customer feels just a little bit more happy with customised, personal service


  1. Customer is empowered to leave if service is slow
  2. Loss of sales if slow

So it is pretty easy to see where I am leaning on this topic and even as I type this I am engaged in a conversation on twitter about it.

The thing is, we are all going to have to wait for the coffee to be served to us, do we want to wait in a line and get served by the Barista or do we want to wait in a line, pay at the POS then sit down and wait for the coffee. To me it is all waiting.

I have seen it to many times when you are in a cafe and it is getting slammed, there are people getting angry because they have to leave but they don’t have there coffee yet and they’ve paid for it! For the most part people will not go back up to the POS and ask for their money back. They will sit and wait full of tension biding time and we all know how tension is contagious, right?  Will that person come back? Most likely not with the thought of, “I paid $$$ for this coffee then sat there for 25 minuets before the coffee actually came out to me”!

I like the idea of empowering the customer. Customer walks by and sees a huge line, looks at his watch and says;

“You know, I am in to much of a rush for this today, I will try again later”.


“I have been here for 15 minuets already and the line is not moving, next time”…

I will finish in saying it was rare to see irate customers in the cafes that provide that type of classic bar service, it is more common to see angry customers in the first scenario, and I’ve seen it affect the whole mood of the cafe.

One more thing, if you were to walk up to a bar and order a beer at a POS, you paid your money then had to stand back and wait for that beer to be yelled at you, wouldn’t that make you feel weird? I would hate that, so I don’t know why we do it in coffee…

Feel free to comment.




  1. I think the second way would have to be a lot slower. Firstly the barista is taking orders, time not spent making coffee. You could add more espresso machines, but is that really viable for most cafes?

    Plus if they have dialed in the coffee then it would be harder for anyone to just jump in a pull a shot. Anyone can pour a beer and its lots quicker than making a coffee.

  2. also – I would prefer the 2nd in most cafes. We are having trouble keeping up on weekends at the moment with the first model. To many orders come at once. We could slow it down with table service but that means adding staff and retraining customers.

    I’m also currently adding a second bar and espresso machine at the back of the shop so people who want to engage more with the barista can. Hopefully this gives the best of both, although I don’t think I’ll make much money from the back bar.

  3. I tried following a little bit of your twitter conversation to get some perspective on the discussion happening, and I couldn’t really find any cases being made for what you’re calling the “common service” model, just some anecdotal cases of breakdowns in the “classic bar” model.

    I imagine I could probably write a thesis-length (though not necessarily thesis-quality) paper on this topic, but the “Pro” for the “classic bar” case that really does it for me, is the upside you get in the experience when you are served by a barista that is truly world-class, which in my book, means excellence in coffee brewing, beverage building, service, and workflow. How to strike a balance between efficiency and experience is where it gets tricky.

    Your beer analogy made me think of my most recent cocktail experience, which unfolded as follows: Walked up to the bar, watched the bartender finish making 6 drinks in relatively short order, placed my order directly with him(both orders were fairly open ended “bartender’s choices”), watched him make 4 more drinks before mine, watched him make my drinks, as the bartender served my drinks (I was there with a date) he presented the drinks by name and ingredients, I drank my “Fancy Free” and it was delicious, happily slid the bartender 24 dollars for the two drinks plus another 10 dollar as a tip (well-deserved, in my estimation) and went on my way…it was a great experience in all facets.

    It was such a great experience that I almost, almost, didn’t think about the fact that as I watched him build my drink, I made conservative estimates as to the wholesale cost of the spirits, bitters, and liqueurs (hell, I’ll even count the house-made bartender’s ice) used to make my drink, and I can say with certainty, that the total cost is less than half that of the ingredients utilized in the creation of the $4 latte I make a few-hundred times a week. The realities that drive this market discrepancy make up a huge part of the reason that it is so difficult to have a similar experience (worth noting that my bartender on this evening is one of the most revered in his profession) with coffee.

  4. Bar 1 rules, Bar 2 sucks balls.

    Why is it that the POS person can’t talk through the coffees? Are they not a barista? Why is it the case that they can’t recommend coffees because they haven’t dialled them in? How inconsistent are the coffees then, that they need to be dialled in to be able to be recommended? Also, what is stopping the customer talking to the barista? – they aren’t taking orders, so they have plenty of time to chat. The barista in bar 1 isn’t in a cone of silence.

    Trapped customers? Not sure why i would be ok to wait longer, just so that i am not trapped. On the whole people don’t go to a bar for a longer wait so they can talk to the barista – they go to get a coffee. And option 1, doesn’t mean you don’t get engaged service and barista interaction and it certainly doesn’t mean the quality or consistency is better or worse.

    There is no difference between grumpy customers who wait pre or post ordering and paying. Waiting is waiting. At least with bar 1, you might feel like there is some sort of progress.

    I’m not sure why we would even entertain the idea that it is ok for a customer to have the empowering option of being able to “come back later” or “been here for 15 minutes”. Both are really bad scenarios.

    Can’t wait to churn through this in person Deatz in NYC.

    The only good thing about Bar 2, is that you have plenty of time to “pull a deatz”

    • Been reading through the reply’s, it’s 1.21am, I’m jet lagged and I just HAVE to answer you first before trying to sleep, ya bogan!

      Ok, more often then not the person on the till, at least in my experience, is an apprentice of sorts. Sure they can recommend coffees, taste and “has the passions” but who is going to put a barista on the till who is earning 25 bucks per hour? Not me.

      When I go to a cocktail bar (thanks Tyler) do I want to order from the till or do I want to be guided through the scenario by the mixologist?

      In most cases when money is exchanged first you loose an opportunity to converse with the customer even further, because for the most part they will step back and wait. If money has not exchanged, people will tend to hang near the bar, like at a pub.

      Tell me you dial in your coffees when you start your shift of open new batches of coffees!

      I bet you when a cafe is slamming in both scenarios the customer will end up waiting around the same time be it 2, 3 or 30mins, one waits before, the other after. Plus I see scenario two, working well at trade shows. At shows like the SCAE or SCAA I will always order from the Barista who is pulling the shots. It just works!

      Your comments on “trapped customers” is obvious, I am merely making worst case scenarios (sorry I should of stated that). I will say though, go to most cafes in Australia (bar the top 0.2%) and the barista is a robot stuck in the corner just slugging it out and hating it. Probably can say that for most countries.

      Disagree on the point of “grumpy customer is a grumpy customer”, in one scenario one walks out, the other, he will probably antagonise the staff and agitate customers by his presence.

      Lastly, how bout you stop being so 1990, you grumpy old fashioned poopster you ;-0

      Bring on NYC!

  5. I reckon bar two can be quick, i mean, in the service process, we have 1 person serving, and 2 on the machine. Potentially, all three could be engaged on the machine (or 2) taking turns w the customers, and staying w 1 customer beginning to end.

    But mentally i think people like to place an order and relax, knowing they have paid, and at our bar, we ALWAYS take the coffee to them. And we are busy. We know them. We talk to them. But its their choice if they want to chill on their own. Communication is a good start to breaking down the us and them thing.

    Prefer Bar 1 for flexibility and user friendliness (for them), although it would be an interesting experiment to trial Bar 2.

    BTW, 25 min for a coffee is unthinkable. we cap it at 10 and even then, im filthy.


  6. Our espresso bar is run with 3 of us on per shift. And we rotate: shots, milk, register. All three of us engage in conversation, and make an attempt to include all customers so everyone there feels included. Result: our customers now know eachother, and the espresso bar is a warm familiar environment for everyone. We’re not as fast as some other places but that’s not what we’re about. If you want fast, go somewhere else. But if you want relatively quick, quality coffee where customer service/coffee education is prevalent, we got that covered.
    When i go to other cafes on my days off, i look for places where interaction with the barista and other staff is awesome 🙂

  7. Deaton, you know I am biased. I also feel like many who will argue for option 1 and against option 2 are also biased… and, more often than not, scared of change. To me, option 1 is the ‘classic bar’. It’s the model most projected by chain coffees bars in the States… That for me is reason enough not to go that route. Why setup a cafe the way that Starbucks does when you could immediately shift a customers preconceived notions by presenting them with an immediately different model.

    Here’s my big thing… I’ve been in many awkward situations where I don’t know the barista, the staff isn’t all too outgoing, and what ends up happening is this… I order my coffee, I pay. Then I stand around, looking for a seat or twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my coffee before it’s finally called out, “Espresso!” I walk up to the bar, stretch out my hand, and “Doh!” some other dude grabs my drink…

    Also, most of the time when I see option 1, the bar is constructed in a manner where it’s far too easy for the barista to hide behind the machine…

    I’ve worked coffee bars with both options, and I much prefer option 2. I believe that it is FASTER! Especially if you work with multiple people… With a barista pulling espresso (Also taking orders and communicating them) and a second barista doing milk (prepping, drinks, steaming milk, and pouring), the two are constantly talking, not only to customers, but to each other… Great bar banter is often more entertaining to your customers than if they have to talk to you pre-coffee. The big thing is that by talking through the line of customers and drinks, you notice if something is not done correctly sooner… You don’t have to wait until you call out “Vanilla latte!” to just find out that it was supposed to by sugar-free… Actually… The best part is you don’t call out at all. You look the customer in the eye and hand them the drink right there.

    I do have to add… Neither option should ever give anyone behind the bar a reason to not know the coffee. Then again, sometimes I feel like setting up a great coffee bar is not about how you use your experienced barista, but how you give your rookie experience and where you can best place them in your process.

  8. >>One more thing, if you were to walk up to a bar and order a beer at a POS, you paid your money then had to stand back and wait for that beer to be yelled at you, wouldn’t that make you feel weird? I would hate that, so I don’t know why we do it in coffee…

    one angle on answering this:

    pint of beer price – $4. gross profit – ~$3.50
    average ticket – ~$14-22
    customer in a hurry? – not at all.

    latte price – $3.50. gross profit – ~$2
    average ticket – ~$6
    customer in a hurry? – in peak hours, most certainly yes.

    we’re in a tough business. it rarely works without volume. you either need to draw and crank a line or radically downscale your overhead and cultivate a lucrative niche. I advocate exploring radical new service models, but the underlying flow still has to be brutally efficient.

    some great discussion here btw.

  9. I wanted to reply to everyone individually but I would be just repeating the same old stuff. The thing is I have seen both systems work great and I have seen both systems fail.

    We can all agree that speed of service is key in our industry, how we get there is up to interpretation.

    It is interesting to see that the people who have worked in this “classic (pub like) bar” service are really passionate about it, does it not make you wonder why?

    Thanks to all for dropping a line!

  10. We’re splitting in house and to-go service on different machines/ locations soon within in our new-ish 60sq M location.

    Don’t know if it;ll be permanent but it has to be tried.


    Idro and Roburs near door – exposed no counter seperation.
    Inhouse in #1 traditional set up with orders direct with barista or from/ with Maitre D type service/ host.

  11. oops.


    Plan (cont)

    Idros and Roburs for to go service. Order with barista hand near or out the door. Pay with change or exact money. A coffee hound will run your coffee out if you’re past the door. Loose and brings our business out onto the street (it rarely – never – rains here). We don’t have and alfresco out side.

    In house on Hydra Robur E and Doser.

    In this set up there’s increased 1 on 1 with baristas to engage or watch and more natural interaction and opportunities for communication.
    More resources spread and separation of styles of drinks will hopefully reduce pressure and stress during peak times and make it more pleasant, natural and open to communication and engagement.

    At the end of the day we’ll learn a lot ourselves and importantly also from our customers.

    Pour over etc in a middle area in between the two on end of in house counter towards door.

    A mud map would help!


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