Costa Coffee

How did we help Costa Coffee?

We know building a productive business relies on an understanding of the finer details.

It’s about clocking the seconds spent. Spotting the bottlenecks. Counting the beans. So when the UK’s favourite coffee shop asked us to take a close look at their organisation, we were able to kick-start improvements in their efficiency.

If you’ve got 3,000 stores and 20,000 employees, how do you make sure you have the right number of people, serving the right number of customers at the right time?

It’s a question that Costa had to ask when their parent company, Whitbread, brought in a new workforce management system to deal with staff scheduling.

Until then, they’d never really stopped to look at how efficient their business is – and how they could improve. They needed to build a picture of productivity across their stores and find the opportunities behind the facts and figures. That’s where we came in.

What did we do?

Once we’d listened carefully to understand Costa’s needs, we set up camp in 15 stores for five days. As an independent company, we could integrate with the teams and dip below the surface of everyday store life.

  • We used several different study methods
  • We accurately timed tasks, watched and listened
  • We quantified time spent serving customers
  • We spent a day in the life of managers
Costa Coffee | Business Process Improvement Success Story

We measured how long it took Costa’s people to complete in-store tasks, from brewing a chocolate orange mocha to cleaning sandwich grills. Then we produced average figures. These Standard Minute Values (SMVs) help companies build labour budgets so they can set sales targets, understand how many work hours they actually need, and analyse variance across their people, stores and sites.

We looked at how baristas split their time across different types of activity and grouped them into three categories; 1. Tasks that directly served customers – like making drinks and taking payments, 2. Tasks that indirectly supported customers, like cleaning or restocking, 3. Time spent not working – such as taking breaks or waiting for customers. We measured over the course of the trading day and across the whole week, using a method called Rated Activity Sampling. It illustrates the pace of work in different stores, and it’s a chance to compare benchmark percentages against other companies.

We followed in the footsteps of four store managers and three assistant managers over a seven-hour shift, to understand the split of their work responsibilities. How long did they spend serving customers and how much time did they dedicate to guiding colleagues?

We made anecdotal observations about things like layout, equipment and communication.

How did it help?

Because we’ve spent time on the client’s side, we know how important it is to be given practical next steps, to not only have in-depth data, but also clear advice on quick wins and longer-term strategy.

We gave Costa the information they needed to build an effective budget model. For the first time, they could accurately estimate how much to spend in stores to meet forecasted sales – and give customers a better experience.

We showed them how they could align their employee schedules with customer demand. We gave them new insights into their business. And we suggested actions they could take to improve performance. Here are just some of the ways we’ve helped set the wheels in motion:


We found the layout of the counters was causing bottlenecks and long queues. So Costa are trialling a new design, including a customer waiting area.


We highlighted that, in drive-through stores, food took much longer to prepare than coffee, which meant customers had to park. Now they’ve introduced a new, faster panini press. Customers no longer have to wait and baristas don’t lose time walking to the car park.


We showed that having more than one floor has a big impact on the time it takes to complete tasks. As a next step, Costa invited us back to carry out a data survey across all their UK stores. With the information we’ve given them, they can more equitably allocate salary funding and measure performance.


We reported that communication with colleagues wasn’t always consistent, so it was difficult to keep them up to speed about new offers. Following our study, Costa have ramped up the use of mobile phones and iPads to engage their people.

What our clients say

“ReThink tailored their approach to exactly match our business needs. Their work formed a vital part of our project to optimise labour across our Costa stores, and we valued how flexible they were as the project’s scope changed and developed.”

Tony Sanders, Manager at Whitbread, Costa’s parent company