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Barista Careers: How to Make Drinks Recommendations

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Making a recommendation is one of the hardest and most important things about being an excellent barista. We’re not just order takers. We’re order-creators, even if the customer hasn’t asked for a recommendation. (Yes, you read that right.) But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do it well.

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As coffee experts, we’re in the best position to help customers find the perfect coffee for them. We need to marry our knowledge of flavour profiles and body to their preferences so that they can take their next step on the coffee journey.

So what do you say when a customer comes in, stares at the menu, and then asks, “So what do you recommend?” Do you suggest your favourite coffee? Your shop’s best-selling coffee? Something you think the customer will like, even if you personally think it isn’t good?

What about if a customer comes in and orders an extra-hot decaf coffee with extra syrup and whipped cream in that squeaky, tentative voice that you know means I-don’t-know-what-I-want? Do you serve it to them or do you suggest a different drink? And if you do suggest something, how do you do it without sounding bossy?

I know you want to suggest the perfect drink, so read on for our 5 step guide to making recommendations that the customer will love, even if they didn’t ask for a suggestion.

1. Find Out Their Mood

Are they desperate for a caffeine pick-me-up before a day of hell at work? Or are they in the mood to sip on something special as they chill out with a book? This will make a big difference to what sort of drink they want.

How do you find out without sounding creepy? Make small talk. How are you doing today? Are you having a good afternoon? Busy day today? Are you enjoying the sunshine? Whether the answer are long or short, you’ll learn a lot AND you’ll make your customer feel appreciated. 

SEE ALSO: 7 Rules to Barista Like a Boss

Barista serving coffee to a customer

Always go the extra mile for the customer. Credit: @gyfivan @manmakecoffee

2. Ask About Their Preferences

Don’t be afraid to ask unsure clients questions. Do you prefer hot or cold drinks? Sweet or savoury? Milky or not? Narrow down the options so you can deduce exactly what they’re looking for.

This is so much better than asking “What do you normally drink?” or even “What do you like?”, because you’ll be able to suggest something unique. We know there are so many wonderful varieties of flavour contributions and brewing methods that your customer might have never considered.

espresso with icecream

Ice cream and espresso—need I say more? Credit: @tylorwolter @manmakecoffee

3. Always Ask Why

Some customers order drinks that, after trying a wide variety of beans, brew methods, and processing/roast styles, they know they really love. Others choose them because they were listed in a magazine under “10 Healthy Coffees”, the name looked interesting, or they saw a giant Starbucks ad for it. The first group of people don’t need a recommendation but the second group would probably benefit from your coffee expertise. You’ll never know which group they belong to until you ask.

So next time someone orders a decaf skinny latte with a spoonful of honey, try asking “By the way, do you always drink this?” or “You know, that’s an unusual order for us. Do you mind if I ask why you chose it?” If they confess that they only chose it because apparently their favourite celeb swears by it, it’s the perfect time to check their coffee preferences and make a recommendation that’s perfect for them. 

aeropress coffee brewing with breakfast

The little but oh-so-important pleasures in life. Credit: @aeropressonly @manmakecoffee

4. Share Your Coffee Knowledge

Heard an interesting coffee farmer’s story recently? Read about a new brew method? Or tried an exciting flavour profile? Tell your customer all about it. Not only will it suggest new ideas to them (that might, in turn, become firm favourites) but it will also remind them of why coffee is so ridiculously exciting.

This is an easy way to make recommendations—because rather than selling drinks, you’re sharing information. It’s a no-pressure, interesting idea that a customer can try this time or next time. 

coffee with cake

Read, eat, drink and enjoy. Credit: @thefactorycafe @manmakecoffee

5. Check If They’re Satisfied

Is a customer’s coffee a “cup of liquid sanity” or a “despair and regret”? Always check—and really check! Ask, “Did you enjoy your coffee?” If they don’t look enthusiastic when they answer, ask “Are you sure? I’ll be happy to give you something different if you’d prefer.”

Don’t panic if a customer isn’t satisfied. If they didn’t like their drink, it’s the perfect opportunity to find out why and make a better suggestion. Not only are you then helping the customer narrow down their perfect drink, but you’re also providing excellent hospitality that will result in increased customer loyalty.

chemex poured in the face

Ultimate satisfaction? Credit: @joshhicksphoto @manmakecoffee

As baristas, we are more than just drones who churn out coffee after coffee. Yes, during the 8:30 am rush it may feel like that, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. At other times, when we can chat to our customers, we can make their coffee experience exceptional.

Love or hate making coffee recommendations? Received a great or terrible recommendation? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

Written by S. Aupiais (@shaunthecoffeeguy) and edited by T. Newton.

Feature Photo Credit: @anggaadi and @manmakecoffee

Perfect Daily Grind.

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