Last Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:08 pm by TRUiC Team

How to Make Your Coffee Shop More Inclusive

Most people have some familiarity with inclusivity — the practice of including people who might otherwise feel excluded or marginalized. In the workplace, this practice can lead to happier staff and safer spaces for employees to excel in their jobs. It also can encourage a more diverse work environment. If you’re a coffee shop manager or business owner, read on for more information about inclusivity and several tips to help you make your workplace more inclusive.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing a POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.

How Inclusive Is the Industry Already?

Like many other industries, the food service industry continues to struggle with diversification. While people of color now represent 45 percent of the U.S. food service workforce, these workers — as well as women — have lower representation in the higher-paid jobs known as “tier I” or “front-of-house” positions.

The discussion of inclusivity in the coffee world started more recently because third wave coffee remains a fairly new market. Yet, as in the overall food service industry, Caucasian men hold many of the upper-level positions in coffee companies and cafes.

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What’s the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity involves creating a work environment that welcomes a range of different types of people and accepts their unique perspectives. A diverse workplace not only benefits employees, but also business owners and managers because it often provides fresh ideas and points of view they may not otherwise receive.

While diversity makes a great starting point, it’s nothing without inclusion. Inclusion takes all of those different perspectives and gives them the space to feel accepted, valued, and heard. Successful businesses need both diversity and inclusion to empower employees to reach their full potential while they participate in a safe, positive work environment.

Tips for Fostering Inclusivity in the Workplace

So how can you create a more inclusive workplace? Implement these best practices to foster inclusivity within your cafe:

  • Set Expectations Upfront. Clearly communicate your expectations for inclusivity — and zero tolerance for discrimination — to every employee. Highlighting this expectation during your interviews with job candidates as well as upon hiring new staff will cement your company’s values early on.

    Include this policy in your employee handbook and require every new employee to read it and sign a document that confirms they understand your expectations. This approach also creates a document to which employees and managers can refer if they need more information or a guide to sort through internal conflicts.

  • Communicate Openly With Employees. Communicate with your entire staff about business ideas to expand your perspective. Allow employees of all backgrounds the space to express ideas and concerns that can diversify your business and make it more inviting for staff and customers from all walks of life.

    Importantly, leave the lines of communication about diversity open for all employees to ask questions, seek support, and share suggestions. This can represent a learning experience for some staff members. However, a key part of any manager’s job includes working to implement more inclusive business practices that teach and inform their employees.

  • Remove Gendered Language From the Workplace. Eliminate words like “ladies” and “guys” from your workplace and instead encourage employees to use “folks,” “friends,” or another gender-neutral term. A work environment without gendered language will allow employees of all gender identities to feel safe and understood.

    To implement this, work with your staff to identify the types of gendered language used during daily operations. This might include phrases like “man the station” or “lady boss.” Then, engage your employees in developing gender-neutral alternatives that will make everyone feel supported.

  • Provide Diversity Training. Maybe you feel like you need a little backup to fully implement and teach inclusive business practices to your team. Diversity training can give you and your employees the tools required to create a more inclusive workplace. Whether you offer training in person or online, these sessions provide a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about how to make their business practices more diverse and inclusive.

    For small businesses that may not have the resources to offer training for every employee, try to provide this training for your entire management team. This will ensure managers understand what constitutes discrimination and how to handle internal conflicts around such situations.

  • Create a Safe Space. Providing a safe space to report any discrimination without fear of retaliation represents one of the best ways to create a positive, inclusive workplace. For example, make yourself — as a member of management — accessible for such discussions by holding office hours, conducting regular team check-in meetings, and reserving one-on-one time, as needed, for individual employees.

    In addition, consider providing conflict resolution training for your management team. These workshops teach the skills necessary to resolve conflicts among staff members in order to maintain a positive work environment. They also can give managers the tools needed to address discrimination in a way that creates a safer space for your entire workforce.

  • Build Ladders to Success. Build a ladder for every hardworking employee interested in growing within your company to reach higher positions. A few ways to do this include encouraging employees to express their desire to move up in your company, recognizing employees who work hard, and rewarding good habits or behaviors.

    Establishing incentives for employees based on their job performance and time spent with the company makes it possible for any staff member to work toward a higher position. These incentives also can help boost employee productivity and promote a more positive workplace.

  • Share Your Knowledge. Try to recruit baristas interested in developing their skills and learning from your coffee expertise. Making a great cup of coffee should be a skill anyone can master if they want to do so. By hiring new or inexperienced baristas with a desire to learn, you allow people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the coffee community a place to begin building their skills. The opposite of this is a practice called gatekeeping — a term often used in association with inclusivity. In this context, it relates to the barring of knowledge from people interested in becoming coffee professionals in an attempt to keep them from moving up the hypothetical ladder.

    Another way to share your knowledge involves hosting coffee education and cupping seminars in your shop. This type of event can attract a diverse set of interested people to learn more about your business and the coffee world, in general.

Making your workplace more inclusive requires you to consider many factors and implement new practices. Remember to talk with your employees about these changes and discuss what they’d like to see in their workplace in terms of inclusivity. This opens the lines of communication for all staff members while ensuring you create a positive environment for your employees and your business.

For more information about operating your own coffee shop, check out these additional guides.