Coffee Love? Or Love for Coffee?

by laura everage on October 3, 2012 · 2 comments

One former barista talks about customer service and how all she wants is a great cup of coffee and a bit of human interaction.

By Manda Worthington

Having been in the coffee industry for the past 6 years, and getting to be part of its expansive growth in the U.S., I’ve come to notice what seems to be an evolving trend inside of an evolving trend. One that has made me ask myself a very serious, and perhaps very sensible, question: When did we start sacrificing the love FROM our coffee in order to have love FOR our coffee?

Coffee started out as a rare and unknown commodity in our world, venturing through places such as Ethiopia and Northern Africa in the early thirteenth century. In fact, the word “coffee” didn’t even enter the English language for another 200 years, in 1598. So it is no wonder that those who serve it to us get to have an “I’m doing you a favor” attitude…right?

Wrong.

There are a lot of people who don’t buy coffee because they NEED the caffeine, but rather because they NEED the human interaction. After all, isn’t it said that baristas are the a.m. equivalent to a bartender?

So, we (the baristas) have this seemingly, weighty responsibility to be the first friendly face you see in your long day of meetings, typing, filing and research. As consumers, you DESERVE great coffee given to you with an exceptional attitude. After all, you are the one paying premium for this heavenly product and experience, aren’t you? So why is this combination becoming increasingly harder to find?

These days, when I walk into a café, or drive through a coffee kiosk, one of two scenarios takes place. First, I may encounter a blank stare that is a result of me not responding and ordering within seconds of coming face to face with the barista. This is then met with a hesitant “What would you like?”  (Read: “You’re wasting my time by taking so long to order. Spit it out. I have phenomenal coffee to make.”) At which point I blurt out what I want as fast as I can so I’m not trampled — or better still — shooed away.

I get it; your coffee is amazing and I’m lucky that I didn’t have to beat the crowd away with a stick to take part in it. But I’m sure a smile wouldn’t completely break your inflated demeanor . . . or would it?

The second scenario is: A friendly and personable smile with some early morning chit-chat and a “Have a great day” to send me on my way. But wait . . . something just isn’t right. “Can I get an extra scoop of caramel in there so I don’t have to taste the bitterness so much?”

Either way, it seems as if it is a sacrifice. Why do we need to give up quality coffee for quality service or vice versa? Why can’t the consumer get a friendly face in ADDITION to incredible coffee? When did the coffee industry decide they had the right to turn into a “better than” community?

Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. This is not about a barista’s ability to serve. After all, I’ve been a barista for 6 years and have been behind BOTH the prestigious and the mediocre counters. Is it possible that business owners allow their employees to lose the core values of customer service in the process of brewing and serving this hard-to-live-without product? This issue is no more minute in the fast food drive-thru, clothing stores or car dealerships. The difference is that the majority of great cafés project the feeling that it is THEY who are doing YOU a favor by caffeinating you. Instead of the initial and very obvious fact that is the CONSUMER that is paying the rent.

So is it possible to serve devotion to a coffee shop that will not only serve me the best but also treat me the best? At what price would this come? And if every café in town realized the small fact we THRIVE on relationships…would they know what to do with the success?

Tell us what you think about the state of customer service you encounter at your favorite coffee shop.

Manda Worthington is the productions coordinator at Bellissimo Coffee Advisors/The American Barista and Coffee School. She started out in the coffee industry as a barista in her hometown of Gresham/Troutdale, Ore., and worked nights for a little over a year before moving on to a more prestigious coffeehouse, Silk Espresso. After working there, and managing a location for another 18 months, she moved on to Portland where she managed one of the busiest locations of a wildly growing chain of customer service-based coffee-drive-thrus. After three years, she decided to experience the production and business side of the coffee industry. Which is where she finds herself now.

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