One of the UK's biggest contract caterers to business and industry has developed a beverage training scheme which will involve 1,500 staff going through a barista course presented by a former world champion barista - and among the trainees are the company's two founding partners.
BaxterStorey serves beverages at 500 customer sites, and according to chief executive Alastair Storey, the concept of ‘elevating the role of barista' in his business is a major tactic in making workforces see their contract caterer as a serious alternative to leaving the premises for food and drink.
"We certainly don't want to see people walking in holding Starbucks cups!" says BaxterStorey's training manager, Graham Eveleigh.
In the kind of effusive PR-speak used by companies in these situations, BaxterStorey has talked of its aim of creating 'passionate' baristas, who will make 'fantastic' drinks. In practice, says Graham Eveleigh, the target for the contract caterer is in achieving the kind of consistency of drink quality which has been the hallmark of the big-name high street coffee chains.
"Hand on heart, the idea of elevating the role of the barista is a very serious business aim. The theory is that someone who understands the product, takes ownership of doing it well. The big challenge for any serious beverage operation is consistently high quality - that's the reason that people go to Starbucks. To aim for that consistency in an in-house contract catering coffee bar is a big challenge, because we have more things to think of than Costa or Caffe Nero - so, if not 'fantastic' drinks every time, the target of 'a very good serving every time' is a very fair aim to have."
A surprise choice of barista trainer is one of the UK's recent world-champion baristas, James Hoffmann of Square Mile Roasters in London. Why did BaxterStorey aim so high?
"We have wanted to do this for a while - but we wanted to do it properly. We didn't take an existing off-the-peg course, and we took three days just to decide how to structure the training.
"One major decision was that it would not be done in a classroom, and that we would start off with a lecture on the history of the coffee bean. We hired James because we find him approachable - certainly, he's a coffee geek, but he can communicate with people in straightforward language, and he doesn't make people feel awkward. He doesn't start with sitting people down in a classroom, he starts by making them a coffee!
"As a result, we are capturing interest, and I've rarely seen people so excited after a day's training."
The training began right at the top, with the two founders, directors and all operations teams going through the sessions first. Crucially, says Graham Eveleigh, every single site manager was trained - because there is no point in having counter staff working the best way they have been taught, if their immediate supervisor doesn't understand the requirements of how they have to work.
It is also essential to keep interest high, he says, and so BaxterStorey has created an in-house Barista Club. It is likely that the company will run internal barista championships, and if members of staff show an aptitude which suggests they can compete in the UK Barista Championships, then the company will support them.
The company has recently launched the BaxterStorey Foundation, and will give one penny from every cup of coffee sold to charitable causes.
By Ian Boughton