Leadership Lessons Learned from Dutch Bros Coffee

Dedicated to the famous and amazing Dutchie, Branson!  The best barista EVER! RIP my friend!


Coffee isn’t something I used to drink.  I just didn’t like it.  My hometown didn’t have a Starbucks (until just a few years ago) and my morning routine never included a cup.   My coffee cravings changed dramatically when I moved to Arizona.  This is when I discovered the joys of a designer, drive-thru coffee!  I immediately feel in love with the tremendous variety of coffee concoctions and the convenience of getting a caffinated beverage at one of the 100 coffee stops along the way to work!  And over the past seven years, coffee has been my friend…through many trials and tribulations of management and a few extreme projects which begged extra hours and brain-cells.

Today I love finding reasons to enjoy iced, non-fat, yummies with caramel or macadamia nut (and Yes! I know I could have probably paid off something with the small fortune I’ve spent, but it’s been worth every penny!).

My affection for a good cup of Joe isn’t the topic of today’s blog.  Rather it is linked to my affection for the service and leadership lessons learned during my coffee consuming EXPERIENCES!  Although Starbucks has written books about their brand of service (and I’ve hired their past employees because they rock), today my vote for service excellence is for Dutch Bros Coffee!

Most would agree that world-class service (and leadership) is all about creating an “experience.”  People want to feel something warm and gooey as they pony up their dough for your goods (or pour their heart and soul into your big project).  Dutch Bros. has the secret sauce and here’s what I’ve learned from them:

1.  People:  Hire the Smile, Train the Skill!  (I heard this phrase at a service workshop about ten years ago and loved it!)

No news flash here.  People are the most valuable assets.  NEVER EVER settle when hiring.  Pick good ones and develop them.  Great PEOPLE make the Dutch Bros. experience worth writing home (or a blogging) about.

I’m certain the job interview at Dutch Bros. isn’t weighted heavily on the key techniques for making the best espresso.  Rather it’s likely geared toward finding rock stars who can describe or show you how to engage people in fun conversation and deal effectively with high-pressure situations.   You can teach most people how to make coffee (or how to run a teller window, sell an insurance policy, build a widget, etc.), but you CAN’T train an outgoing personality or attitude of servitude.  Look for the four People “Ps” (these can be applied to good leaders too!).  People who are:  Proactive, Professional, Positive and Phun (ok, I realize I’m trying really hard on this one…lol!).  I miss my Arizona Dutchies not just because they were fast, accurate, and made great coffee.  It’s because they are fun PEOPLE who shared positive, fun experiences with me.

2.  FUN:  Have as much of it as possible.  (You can see I’m on the fun kick today…)

This one echoes the FISH! philosophy… make work PLAY!  I’d always leave Dutch Brothers with a big smile along with my Iced, Non-fat, Annihilator.  Why?  Staff would be focused on their coffee making tasks AND joking and laughing, while jamming to upbeat music.  It always looked like fun to work at Dutch Bros. and it spilled out of the drive-thru window, even when the line was 10 cars deep.

My all-time favorite Dutchie, was Branson.  He was the best at letting the fun roll out of the drive-thru window and into my truck.  I’ll never forget the day he attempted to “Teach me how to Dougie!” while ringing up my order. He often shared hilarious stories about pranking his co-workers and shared outrageous hiking and biking adventures and he always had a great big toothy smile on his face.   His passion for living and sharing a vivacious life rubbed off on others and he helped to create a world-class service experience at Dutch Brothers.  Why did I take extra time each day to drive out of my way to pay more for coffee?  I needed a little sunshine to start my day and I knew Dutch Brothers would always deliver.  Consistent fun and great coffee!  A perfect combo!

Don’t silence the child within too much leaders!  It’s a fatal mistake.  I challenge you to peg your fun meter!

3.  Love Loyalty:  provide added value to those who are devoted. 

Dutch Bros. shows the Dutchie love all the time.  They have a coffee punch card.  Every time you buy coffee, get a punch (go on Tuesday and get two punches).  When you fill the card, get free coffee!  Added value baby!   Sign up for their texts or like them on Facebook and get special deals for coffee discounts!  Show them the love and they will do the same!

There were many times Kelsey and the gang showed me the Dutchie love.  Sometimes it would be an awesome Dutch Bros. sticker (my fav has a horseshoe on it!) and other days my drink would be waiting for me when I pulled up (I LOVED this!).  Other days it was more unexpected like the day my Husker loving hubby and I left for Kauai to get married.  We stopped by to grab some Joe before heading to the airport and the gang wouldn’t let us pay.  When we left AZ for the Colorado Rockies, Dutch Bros. was our last stop out of town.  They bid us goodbye, and again wouldn’t let us pay.

Consumers have so many choices today for where to spend their dollar and it is nice to be recognized and rewarded for loyalty.   Employees feels the same way, right?  Many say it’s hard to find a job in today’s market, great employees rarely find it challenging to find new positions.  As a leader, what have you done to recognize and reward your hard-working, loyal employees?  Do they like coffee?  A small gesture can go a long way and can add up to big rewards.

As we drove away from Dutch Bros. the day we left AZ, I had tears in my eyes.  I couldn’t believe I was sad to be leaving a coffee house!  I was even a little embarrassed!  Coffee?  Making me all teary eyed??  What the…I guess being surrounded by good people, who are fun and aren’t afraid to show the love fit my needs just right.

It was quite an EXPERIENCE being a customer of Arizona Dutch Bros. and I wait (not so patiently) for the day they come to Denver.  For now I will just have to take trips to the Springs when I need a Dutch Bros. fix. (and YES!  The people there are awesome too!)


What are you doing to create extraordinary experiences with your customers and teams?  Leave a comment and share YOUR secret sauce.

Thanks for stopping by!


One thought on “Leadership Lessons Learned from Dutch Bros Coffee

  1. Pingback: You Don’t Have to Shovel Sunshine | The Lead Mare

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