According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly 10 percent of workers in the United States are employed by restaurants, and nearly 90 percent of those restaurant workers do not get paid sick leave. This means workers often face the choice of losing pay or going in to work and endangering the health of others.
It begs the question, why would anyone want to work in foodservice at all? Well, some small café owners are providing employees with healthcare and other compelling incentives.
For Jared Truby, co-owner of Cat & Cloud Coffee in Santa Cruz, California, providing for employees was paramount in deciding to start a new business.
“Our mission is to make people happier than they were before they interacted with us,” he explains. “Owning a business isn’t so much about providing for us owners—it’s about making a big pie for everyone to get a slice of.”
When starting their business, Truby and his partners, Chris Baca and Charles Jack, thought deeply about their motivations for doing so, asking themselves questions such as “How can someone at least consider retiring with us?” and “How could someone earn a true living with us?”
Ultimately, these questions led them to create a compensation package that goes above and beyond what’s typically offered. Baristas at Cat & Cloud enjoy perks such as medical benefits, four weeks of paid vacation, a weekly $20 gift card to buy drinks for themselves and their friends, as well as a split 10 percent share of the company’s profits.
“We set aside a generous portion of our company equity to share with the team, provided they achieve benchmarks,” Truby says. “This will provide those who invest in us to be invested and provided for in the long haul. I am most proud of this.”
Beyond monetary incentives, Cat & Cloud offers opportunities for professional development. For example, every staff member receives a trip to a coffee producing origin country within the first three years of employment. When the owners attend industry events, they select a few employees at random to accompany them.
Despite being only a few months old, Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington, has already gained a reputation for its commitment to retaining and engaging café employees.
“We believe that our guests can’t be served well without our staff believing in the work they’re doing,” says founder and co-owner Maxwell Mooney.
Mooney acknowledges the struggles a small business can experience when trying to balance a tight budget with a desire to provide for its team. “As a brand-new small business, we may face some monetary constraints in serving our staff, but we are working really hard to make up for those constraints by offering opportunities to grow with our business,” Mooney says. “We start at a baseline of ensuring our staff are compensated as fairly against market rates as we can.”
Staff at Narrative earn $1 an hour above minimum wage. Paid sick leave is offered to part-time and full-time employees. Narrative also sponsors employees to attend barista competitions and other educational opportunities.
Offering these types of benefits is economically challenging, but Mooney has found other ways to encourage his staff to feel invested—without breaking the bank—such as the café’s in-house signature drink competition.
Each quarter, baristas can present an idea for a drink to be featured on the café’s seasonal menu. Their proposal must include everything from a recipe to a breakdown of cost of goods. Two winners are selected, with five percent of the net sales of those drinks going to its creators.
In these ways, employees feel valued. When staff feels empowered and provided for, they are happier and more productive.
When café owners see a return on their investment in cultivating higher qualities of life for their staff, the specialty tea and coffee industry can become a driving force for these positive changes within the foodservice industry.