Workplace systems and information recall

A system that develops in a café that deals with a certain area of the business is a lifesaver, if absorbed, accepted, and consistently implemented by the staff. It allows for a fluid flow and reduces the static movement that stresses staff, annoys customers, and inhibits business development – both reputational and monetary. Simply put, productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization, both mentally and real world.

There are hundreds of sub-topics we can talk about here, but there is one approach that I’d like to focus on here, and that is information recall.

The neurons in your brain are constantly firing. You are bombarded with information all day, every day. Our brains ability to process information is wired the same as it was 50,000 years ago, that is – one thing at a time, done well. Our brains developed as we got down out of the trees (500,000 years ago) and began to search for different foods, types of shelter, and began networking. We also began to look out for new and different forms of danger, and this new and exciting time forged our brains to form new pathways. We began taking in a lot more information and processing it.

If you’re speaking to someone and someone else tries to start talking to you, what do you do? You focus on one and ignore the other, not because you’re rude but because you literally can’t process these two sources of information simultaneously (I believe that the same applies to baristas talking to customers and making coffee at the same time, but we’ll get to that later) as our brains are not developed enough yet. Try it. Try and talk to someone (with engagement) while you are also trying to compute 34 x 16 in your head.

Your subconscious brain is constantly processing information and deciding what is ‘important’ or ‘what has changed?’ and deciding what information to send to your conscious brain based on these two things. This is why your ears stand up when you hear certain words said in a large group of people. Someone swears in a sentence at a table next to you and your attention is diverted to what they’re talking to now doesn’t it? Your brain may have processed this information as ‘important’ and attached it to a fear or curiosity memory and alas, you’re engaged.

In a café a waiter is constantly engaging with people. Greeting people, seating people, recommending items off the menu, taking orders, listening to dietary needs, listening for the kitchen bell, listening to the barista say what this coffee is, and where it’s going, and a million other things that require their concentration, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills. This is all the while literally draining their daily quota of informational processing ability.. Yep, the brain has a limit. How are they supposed to engage in effective and correct decision making, or hold a meaningful conversation when they are literally trying to stay alert enough to get everything done?

The answer?

Creating a framework of systems that do not change frequently within the business will ease the staffs need to constantly processes information that is either irrelevant or unimportant, and thus allow the business to maintain a sense of focus – focus on what’s really important. They have freedom within a framework. This framework is a system, and the entire team of people must trust in and abide by the system, because hospitality is a team sport and everyone’s in it together.

It’s as simple as putting things back where they live. A pair of scissors, a knife, cutlery, spare parts, and the list goes off infinitely. When things are put back in place after use there is minimal mental energy that goes into getting them, as it’s muscle memory and requires no concentration, searching, or problem solving. This may seem obvious, but it is the first small marginal gain that could set you and your team apart – advantageous speed, and additional cerebral freedom  said, leading to faster response times, less stress, better service, and a better business.

Now, to the baristas part… There’s a great saying – ‘If you’re going to bake a cake, bake a fucking nice cake’, by the notoriously hungover comic Dylan Moran. If you’re going to make coffee, make it to the best of your ability. With that being said, if you’re going to engage with a customer in a dialogue you’d best do that to the best of your ability too, otherwise it’s hollow and the receiver notices that. Contrary to what most coffee people think I very much believe that the baristas should not engage in open conversation with customers while they’re making coffee that comes with a price tag much higher than that of the average commodity coffee found in most cafes or bakeries. Why? Because I want them to focus on what they’re doing and create a coffee that does both the farmer of that coffee, and also the price tag justice. You can’t talk when you’re overtaking a truck on a two lane road as it requires concentration, and the human brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If you’re going to talk, then talk with intent. If you’re going to make coffee, then focus and make coffee. If you need to do both, then understand that if you try to do them together one is not going to be great, or if you do them separately it shouldn’t be called espresso as it was probably made pretty slow.

Systems and the way we all deal with our work fascinates me, and I am going to delve into this a lot more in the not too distant future..


Thank you for reading.