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Back to the Floor: Tom Britten

Tom Britten, Business Development Director, recently spent time working with colleagues in Café Library to find out more about what their job involves. Insite caught up with him to find out more about his day.

Why did you want to ‘go back to the floor’?

For a number of reasons. I think it’s really important that managers understand more about what their teams are doing on a daily basis and take the chance to gain new insights into their staff and customers. More than that though, it’s also a great way for staff to get to ‘know the boss’ and raise any areas of concerns or challenges that they’re facing. Of course, this is just one way of doing it – but I think it’s a really valid channel to start some interesting conversations.

What did you learn from the staff you were working with?

There’s a real sense of community in Café Library! Lots of customers arrive and ask for the usual and the team are really committed to helping staff and students get a good start to the day. I also discovered what an incredibly skilled job it is - you have to make customers feel welcome and at the same time be fast making the coffee - something that I struggled with at times! I was also impressed to find out the cafe has a La Marzocco – it’s the Ferrari of coffee machines. Barista, Mirko de Lorenzis, who I was working with, says anyone can make a great cup of coffee – that might be a skill I need to work on! Tony Howard, the Director for Food and Retail Strategy, is often round visiting and testing the coffee to make sure it’s of a high standard – the team certainly delivered on the day I was there.

What issues did the team raise with you? Were you able to address them?

Mirko took the chance to raise some of the challenges of working in Café Library with me, which I really appreciated. For example, during exam season, the Café Library team frequently offer a sympathetic ear to students feeling the pressure – not necessarily something you’d expect them to do – but it makes a real difference and, once exams are over, they often get thank-you cards from students. Something I also fully appreciated in my time there was how under pressure the team can be when a long queue develops – the majority of customers are appreciative of how hard the team are working, but there have been occasions where the team have been spoken to inappropriately. I have said I will offer support when this happens – in any of the outlets around campus. Mirko also raised that there’s a lack of ‘back of house’ space for the team to operate – not something we can address in the short-term, but one for us to keep in mind.

Anything about that particular area of the business that you didn’t know before?

Lots – and this was just in conversation with customers and the team over the morning I was there. Considering I was there outside of term-time, there wasn’t much time for chat – I was kept very busy – but some key interesting facts were:

  • There’s healthy competition between each outlet to raise the standard. Mirko believes he makes the best coffee!
  • Giuseppe Pisanelli, the Manager at Café Library, sets a sales target every week. Staff say they like the challenge!
  • There’s a perception on campus that coffee has to be cheap. But we surveyed our customers and the majority told us that our quality was better than the high street and we know that our prices are comparable - and even cheaper in many cases. If customers do want lower prices we serve an option of fresh brewed coffee
  • During exams, staff are a stress ball for the students. They spend lots of time in the library and often help students relax when they're busy revising
  • After the exams are finished the Cafe Library team often gets thank you cards from students
  • We pay well above the national living wage when many coffee shops often pay national minimum wage
  • There’s a big Italian community on campus who love coffee.
  • Each cup needs 17g of coffee in every cup/basket. Time of extraction is 27-30 seconds for an espresso. Pressure at 9 bar. Temperature is 92.5 degrees
  • The difference between a latte and a cappuccino? The foam: 1cm in a latte. For a cappuccino, 1-2cm of foam

How did you find the whole experience?

Really good - I loved learning a new skill and understanding more about what colleagues do. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to find out more about another area of the University, particularly if you’re in a management role and haven’t spent time with your team like this for a while. It was a really eye-opening experience.

Why should others get involved?

Understandably, we’re a complex community with lots of different things happening, but, by understanding more about what other colleagues do, we can build a stronger sense of community and understanding for the challenges that others face. Within the commercial area of the University, it’s an invaluable opportunity to gain important insights into the day-to-day reality of the business. My top tip? Try to find a quiet time in the day to do this …

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Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library

Tom Britten working in Cafe Library