I’ve read some interesting articles recently focusing on a baristas customer service roll. Sometimes it’s quite polarised. If you’re interested, they’re well worth a read. There was this post entitled Coffee Shop Rules of Engagement by Ben Leventhal of Eater.com which brought on a reply from Serenity Sage. And then there was an article by Shane Barnes on The Village Voice entitled How Not to Order Espresso, which brought a response from the guys at sprudge.com suggesting he get work elsewhere, which consequently brought another response from Shane Barnes this time entitled When Coffee Snobs Attack.
It all makes for entertaining reading, albeit a little close to home maybe for those who work in the industry. For me it brought to the fore thoughts I had about working as a Barista. Not being in the US, maybe my working life experiences are a little different to my fellow colleagues. Nevertheless its all been interesting for me.
I’ll start with a short anecdote that really changed how I viewed my work, c/o contrast.ie
I was 16 years old, working in a gas station and had just received my first bollocking from my manager. I was disgusted.
What do you mean “improve”? I charged him correctly, didn’t I?
My manager looked at me, disappointed…
Yes, Des, you charged him correctly. But a fucking vending machine does that! And they show up on time; they’re more accurate; I don’t pay them by the hour; and they’re never hungover. Your job is to do something that a vending machine can’t do. Your job is to make our customers happy; to give them a good experience; to bring them back here again. Get it?
When I first read this, reflected on my own work, I felt shocked. There was no doubt about it, 90% of what I do could be done by a machine. Perspectives changed.
However, I realised that most of the Barista jobs out there are exactly that: Barista jobs. When you are employed as a barista, you are employed to make coffee. There isn’t really much discussion about what “customer service” requires in that business. Yes we should be nice to the customers, but that’s just because you should be nice to people in general, no? But “being nice to people” isn’t customer service. Customer service is ensuring that each customer we serve has a memorable experience; assisting where we can, directing if required, all the time understanding that we are a representation of the business, embodying it’s ethos and are that customers connection to it.
We, as servers, are not invisible, free to do whatever as long as drinks are served. We just need to look at a review website to see how important service is to an experience. But I think it is the employers responsibility to ensure every employee understands what the business is, and stands for, and also that they are being paid to serve the customer not just make drinks.
The above posts signal to me that there is some kind of disconnect happening in the “expectation” department. But what we need to remember, as a server, is that facilitating a great experience for a customer, being part of someone enjoying that brief time they are in in your shop, is really rewarding and uplifting. Maybe if we saw our jobs (like a spin off the old saying) as “to ensure that each customer leaves this place feeling better than when they arrived”, would this lead to a better experience for everyone?