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How to create the ultimate cafe experience: In conversation with Attendant

How to create the ultimate cafe experience: In conversation with Attendant inploi Team | 30.04.2018

“This lady came in one day and she was absolutely soaking wet from the rain. And you could tell she was just having the worst day. She asked for a flat white, and just said, ‘I really need this coffee right now.’ I said to her, ‘Don’t worry, that’s on us today’, and her face – that joy she found – that’s what really is Attendant.” - Ryan, co-founder of Attendant.

Attendant’s co-founders, Ryan and Bosh, didn’t just want to create another standard high street coffee shop with standardised food options and push-button coffee. With their first site situated in a quirky, disused Victorian toilet in Fitzrovia, “the magic really was in the experience.” As Ryan explains, “It’s not in the food and coffee. The food and coffee are a bonus. So what Attendant does is the experience.” People in London were looking for a space to detach themselves from their regular 9-5 (or in some cases, much longer hours). Having worked in finance and events management respectively, Ryan and Bosh understood Londoners need for somewhere to rest and repair, “Somewhere that provoked a sense of, *sigh* I’m gonna be taken care of here”.

As Mat, one of Attendant’s Cafe Managers iterates, “It’s not just about giving great coffee and great food. It’s about putting a smile on peoples’ faces.” And as the company has grown from one to three sites (Attendant Shoreditch opened in 2014, followed by their Clerkenwell site in 2017), Attendant has continued to attract people who enjoy that level of customer interaction - people who love to break the fourth wall beyond the coffee machine. “We’ve been trusted to do that,” Mat explains, “We all enjoy making peoples’ days happier. One thing that I stick by is that hospitality is a Latin word and when you translate it, it means ‘For the love of strangers’. Now that’s one thing you’ve got to have in you.” From the management to floor staff, it’s a sentiment that pervades throughout the Attendant team.

And it seems this attitude pays off. As Ryan explains, “Our regulars don’t just come once a day. They come three, four times a day. And they don’t come here for the food and coffee. They come here to talk to our teams.” If you were a cynic you could call it a strategy, but as far as Ryan and Bosh are concerned, they’re not only creating an environment that their guests want to visit, but also a work environment where their staff are trusted to be themselves, supported to look after their customers, and consistently learn. “We don’t want any stagnation,” says Ryan, “Because no one really develops in that way. We want to cultivate leaders.” 

One particular team member stands out as someone who has really developed and honed her craft as a member of the Attendant team. Maiya, the company’s Head of Coffee, started out as a Head Barista with Attendant before taking on her current role. As with all small businesses, the senior team at Attendant often wear multiple hats. In addition to visiting each Attendant site to train their Barista teams, Maiya spends a good portion of her time roasting coffee beans at the company’s own roastery at the Tate Britain. “We source our coffee from single estate farmers where it’s an open supply chain” Ryan says. “We know what lot, which farm, which washing station – down to each minute detail.”

This ethos is all part of Ryan and Bosh’s original vision: vertical integration, owning your supply chain, where the food quality is as high as the coffee quality; and where everything is based on provenance, sustainability and ethical sourcing. Beyond these specifications, setting up a cafe is not an easy feat, (particularly when you have no prior experience in the sector, as Ryan and Bosh soon discovered). But the specialty coffee industry is growing fast, and back in 2012 specialty coffee was the fastest growing sector in the coffee market. With the UK coffee shop market being valued at £9.6 billion in 2017 (Project Cafe2018 Report), and the specialty coffee market taking an ever-increasing slice of that, it’s easy to see that there’s room for expansion. Having now laid their foundations, Ryan and Bosh are eyeing up opening another 19 sites across London in the forthcoming years. 

In the first few years, Ryan and Bosh proved that they could turn around cafe businesses bought as ‘going concerns’, and are subsequently confident that they can continue their track record for growth. The co-founders have gone from prepping food in the back kitchen of their Fitzrovia site (much to the confusion of the original employees), to envisioning a London-wide specialty coffee group. “Next month is our first birthday,” says Ryan, “And now we’re looking at 2 more sites. It’s our opportunity to take our knowledge from the last four years and put it into an evolved product.” The real challenge will be to make specialty coffee an accessible, fast-streamed product. As Mat, Maiya, Ryan and Bosh are all too aware, brewing specialty coffee takes time (and not the sort of time that a customer grabbing a take-away coffee in London can afford). “It [will be] a bit of a hybrid between an Attendant now and a Blue Bottle Coffee in New York, with the backhouse operations of LEON.” Ryan explains. The whole process by default has to be streamlined. Keeping the essence of Attendant’s great customer service and consistency, but with more speed.

Attendant’s rapid growth also presents interesting and unique opportunities for their team. For Maiya, who puts great focus on the workflow of the store as a crucial pillar for maintaining their synergy and functionality, her challenge will be to multiply her methods, whilst still encouraging a diverse group of employees to be passionate in their own way. And for Mat as a Cafe Manager, he will be looking forward to the challenges presented by near-immediate growth. “It’s still very much a small business.” He explains. “You can talk to anyone and we’re all learning our steps. It’s the baby steps towards being an adult. It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s a bit smaller, and grow with people who have the real drive, and the real passion.”

It hasn’t been an easy road to date, but it has certainly been a rewarding one. London’s specialty coffee scene is thriving, presenting all the more space for conversation (and friendly competition), no matter what level of the business you sit at. From Barista competitions, to city-wide expansion, each team member will need to have to the motivation and determination to take Attendant to the next level. “We understand that for us to motivate our guys it’s important that they get behind what we are doing,” say Ryan, “If everyone is engaged, we can really achieve our goals.”

If you're interested in joining the team at Attendant or want to find out more, visit the Attendant company page here!