Clean is Clean. Dirty is not Clean.
When I first teach Baristas about bar cleanliness I use an expression: “clean is clean. Dirty is not clean.” First reaction? Everyone laughs. Clearly I’m stating the obvious right? However, as we keep going through our practice time and students begin to become more and more excited as they learn and develop more skill, I begin to point out how their cleanliness has begun to slip and slide.
Suddenly what was once a cherished and pristine steam pitcher now has become a milky sad mess that’s thrown aside carelessly after using after pouring a subpar latte art design. The focus suddenly turns to nothing but the end product that goes out to a customer. The look and feel of the space behind the counter slinks into the background and into obscurity – and if I don’t address it quickly – into a hot mess.
Then I remind them – “clean is clean, dirty is not clean.”
We won’t look at the quality of milk foam (and certainly no one will start latte art pours) until steam wands get wiped. Every time. Students don’t finish their turn making espresso until they’ve checked your portafilters are empty, clean, and dry. This is the very start of a long list of tiny repetitive habits that always keep a barista’s station clean.
Gretchen Rueben, an author about health and happiness, uses a turn of phrase: “outer order brings inner calm.” I agree with that sentiment most when I look at a pristine espresso bar, clean and fully stocked, ready for continuous use. A clean bar is a space where magic can happen – where the process feels streamlined, smooth, and easy.
A messy bar, on the other hand, begins to accumulate stress triggers that a barista may not be aware of or realize. On top of that, many baristas who don’t have ongoing cleanliness drilled into them by floor managers or other leaders on the team may only might only build up more and more accumulated detritus as they go. They think cleaning will slow them down – not realizing that ongoing cleanliness actually increases their speed an efficiency.
Even in cafés where I was the primary trainer, I’ve seen situations where baristas simply forget or misunderstand what the standards are in terms of cleanliness. So even if you think you’ve gone over it 1000 times, your team may not feel that way at all. Take some time to focus and review. Who knows? Perhaps there are new ways that you can keep your space cleaner than ever.
Here are some examples.
- First, check that every barista knows how to backflush an espresso machine. Ask everyone you work with to perform a full end of day backflush in front of you so you can confirm their work. People forget, get out of the habit, or may only pretend that they learned in the first place. Confirm their skill here will never, ever hurt. You may be surprised what your baristas do instead of correct cleaning – and this is an excellent opportunity to retrain and confirm their cleanliness.
- Make sure that the workstation is organized and that all pieces and tools of the workstation are clean and in the right place. Glass tools should be clear and dry (not frosted, or drippy, or cracked), metal tool should be shiny with no visible smudges marks or scratches, brushes should be clean and empty of any dust or debris, all counters and visible services should be wiped clean and dry, and dedicated work towels should be in dedicated areas.
- Visit the workstation from 360 degrees of perspective, and take special note of what is in the customer line of sight. You may think your machine looks great if you only look at the production side of it, and don’t notice that, say, the lions on your GB5 corners are covered in dust for all your customers to admire. Or there’s a puddle of almond milk you didn’t see near the milk side. So take a look, check, and check again.
These are the places to start. Almost any barista, I think, believes that they have mastered this area, their cleanliness, and how best to use their station. But my challenge to those of you is to revisit your station and see where there’s opportunity to improve. It might take having a friend look at what you have set up to point out things that you may not have noticed. Another trick is to spend the day using your non-dominant hand. When you work with that as your primary hand, does your body come up with new solutions that may help you, even when you return to using your dominant hand?
And finally, don’t fall into the old “I’m too busy to clean” trap. It gets busy, sure, but don’t use busy as an excuse not to be clean. If you’re in a rush, and you have a two person bar routine, you can keep producing drinks while simultaneously cleaning your station. Be sure to communicate and always prioritize the drinks you make for your guests over the next round of backflushes or swapping out your smallwares. But don’t wait to swap them in the name of customer satisfaction! I know for sure that your customer would rather have the first clean drink than an intolerably dirty one. Find the balance of time, speed and “clean is clean, dirty is not clean.” Trust me, your customers will thank you.