Harden’s Insider book extract: The Instant Coffee Shop by Darcy Millar

Darcy Millar is the London-born founder of Darcys Kaffe (darcyskaffe.dk), a successful coffee shop and events caterer in Copenhagen. In this excerpt, he outlines his approach to recruiting staff and creating a business’s culture. (The Instant Coffee Shop is published by Palazzo Editions at £14.99, ISBN 9781786751287))


When hiring staff for general roles at Darcy’s Kaffe, I am not primarily interested in the experience candidates already have under their belt, so long as they can make a decent cup of coffee. Naturally, I welcome any new skills and good ideas that recruits can introduce to our business from their previous jobs, but these tend to be extras that I don’t plan for except when hiring specialists.

The following is a run-on of what I am looking for.


Positive, upbeat, gregarious.

Not necessarily an extrovert, but the sort of person who likes to stay inside their own private bubble will not be suitable (there’s a whole vast tech industry out there for them to work in).

Likes people.

We all like our friends, but good hospitality staff have positive feelings towards humanity in general. They are not wary of strangers; they are interested in all our guests, whatever their foibles, and strive to meet their demands and put them at ease.

Likes children and animals.

A surprising number of adults with children of all ages and dogs of every description visit coffee shops. All are welcome (except the badly behaved) and catered for (bowls of water outside for dogs in warm weather – which also encourages them to stay outside, which is usually for the best).

Liking children and animals is also a good litmus test of character. Nobody these days will admit, perhaps even to themselves, that they are uncomfortable with disability or racial and cultural difference, but in my experience if a candidate admits that they don’t like babies or dogs, it might be a warning sign of deeper-seated prejudice.

Open-minded, quick learner

I find myself using the expression ‘dialling in’ probably too much. In the world of coffee it has a specific meaning, where it refers to calibrating the espresso machine to the correct levels for a particular brew recipe. But I also use it with an older metaphorical meaning that harks back to pre-digital days, when listeners would tune their radio to certain frequencies in search of their favourite radio stations.

In terms of coffee shop staff, this means being somebody who will quickly adapt to the culture of Darcy’s Kaffe – tune themselves in, as it were. In the best candidates and most successful hires, this will be a partly conscious, partly instinctive process of acculturation, involving listening, observation and imitation in order to fit in as seamlessly as possible.

Some cafés produce a booklet that is given to all new recruits, with a detailed rundown of tasks required and how to conduct themselves at all times. We don’t, in part because I think this sends out a corporate-style message that can be over-interpreted so staff concentrate more on following the rules than on looking after customers.

I believe I make clear what is expected of staff both in conversation and through leading by example – with manager-level staff also showing the way. And by leaving the individual to find their own way to ‘dial in’ to our culture, they will do so while retaining their own personality – and may well expend our culture through their own unique contribution.


Creating the right culture is absolutely key to lasting success, particularly as your business expands. To me, this culture boils down to one simple phrase: make the effort. It may sound simple, but it can be difficult to execute consistently, and it applies across the board. It is also tremendously powerful: if you make the effort to interact on an individual basis with every single customer, they will notice and appreciate it. If you make the effort to keep the coffee shop spick and span, that effort will show and be rewarded. So this culture of making the effort should be a red thread that guides you through every aspect of planning and running your coffee shop.

If you have established this culture of making the effort and you recruit receptive staff, they will internalise the culture and the standards expected of them and will therefore behave in the correct way for their own reasons – and not simply because they are frightened of being ticked off by the boss.

I also believe that the individual culture you can offer as an independent owner-operator is quite different to anything the chains can manage – even the smaller, more specialist groups. Their managers simply won’t care as much as you do. Even if you have the money to operate a full staff from the outset and you lack barista skills yourself, it’s a good idea to find a way to work alongside your team rather than running the operation from a table out front or an office elsewhere. By doing so, you can lead by example and really set the tone for how the business should operate.

At Darcy’s Kaffe, I set the culture by having specific standards I want to adhere to. I make no claim that is it necessarily ‘better’ than the culture somewhere else. It developed from the earliest days of the business, when I was operating alone. But as the business and the team grew, I made sure that I stayed on the bar, serving guests and making coffee, making sure that the new hires got to experience at first hand the culture of service I wanted.

It is also worth noting that the culture of a café is something that develops organically, whether you think about it or not. It can be a negative force: a survival culture of cutting corners, of getting away with minimum effort and engagement. This can take hold and may well strangle the business – so make sure you create a strong, positive culture.

Share this article: