A thought occurred to me today as I was working our Clovers and making delicious brewed coffee… The clover brewers are behind the machine and in a place where, if you want, you can just listen to all the interactions between other baristas and customers. Now, understand that, or better, Intelligentsia as a whole, is a customer friendly company, and the people who make the important decisions lose sleep over unhappy customer situations. When preparing for our Silverlake store to open, we spent a lot of time tearing into each other over how we spoke to customers, looking down on negative sounding tones and reactions to questions. We put a lot of time into handling customers in the best and most humble manner possible. Over all, I think we’re doing a good job.

In my travels, I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out in coffee bars of all sorts. I’ve seen places with many different focuses and many different view points. Some places caring solely on coffee quality, others caring most about customers being happy (even if it meant compromising the quality).

My conclusion is simple. It is not human nature for a Barista to be 100% completely non condescending to customers 100% of the time. Don’t worry, I know I’m being a bit extreme here, but I really don’t think it comes naturally for almost anyone. I can think of a handful of baristas who this may not apply to. However, I think that the more time goes on and the longer you are behind a bar, there’s a part of you that wants to fight for good coffee, and sometimes, as in any battle, bullets stray.

I say this all to remind myself and anyone else that may be weary at times that to stay approachable (and to really impact a customer) it takes a proactive attitude and a teachable mindset. Hopefully, we can all remember this and keep each other in check as to slowly change the majority mindset on what coffee can be.

I also think that much of this comes from what type of personalities make up a lot of coffee people. To be a barista, especially a career barista, you have to care… Mostly because if you don’t, the money isn’t often good enough to keep you around. Leaving the rest of us who are manning coffee bars to be somewhat crazed and psyched to the extreme about this whole coffee bug. And as many of us are radicals, it gets easy to wish our passion too much onto our customers, and sometimes we lose hold of the tether that keeps us sane and connected to elements our customers understand.

In brighter and easier to digest news, someone from Olympia Coffee Roasters stopped by a few days back and dropped of a bag of their Big Truck Espresso blend. Today, we threw the stuff in our third hopper and rocked shots for all the staff that were hanging out. We should have probably done this sooner, but whatever… The shots had a beautiful silky mouth feel and a delicate and delicious sweetness. Thanks to all you Olympia kids for the beautiful coffee. Keep up the rad work! I really need to get up and see that shop sometime…


3 thoughts on “Condescention.

  1. I agree with you, but the problem lies on both sides of the counter. The barista, at least in the US, is an unappreciated career. In fact, it might not even be a viable long-term career (although Intelli does treat their baristi relatively well, as do a few others). So you have the baristi on one side looking for some cred, and the customer on the other side thinking that the baristi are just some ordinary P’sBTC. Plus, take the fact that our society perpetuates the idea that the customer knows all and add it to the equation along with an actually knowledgeable barista, and you have the potential for some fireworks.

    As a barista one has to be polite and know the best way to react, but it’s not very easy when the initial situation is so unfavorable.

    I think there’s even more involved in it, like store layout, but then I’d be writing more than is appropriate for a comment.

  2. Agree 100%- I try to remain cool, friendly and approachable but quickly turn up the dial when someone seems into what we’re doing. My current tactic is to give new customers a quick run down of what we’re about before they have a chance to say something rude or tell me how to make their drink for them because that’s how they get it everywhere else. It’s like a preemptive strike. People can still get me off my game, though.

    The customer is not always right because in some cases they have never experienced something truly good. We’ve been down the road of trying to please everyone- it’s painful for the barista and the customer. We are who we are, happy to serve what we feel are good drinks, and it feels good to go to work in that kind of environment. Customers who get it keep coming in, and customers that don’t get it either are won over slowly or go away… and sometimes that’s what’s best for all involved.

    Just the other day I watched a customer in our shop take a Clover of the #2 Nicaragua CoE… in a paper cup… and then to my horror put splenda and cream in it before trying it. I just shook my head because it was a waste of good coffee on a customer that doesn’t appreciate it and a waste of $7 by the customer who should have just had something from the airpot. I just took a deep breath and let it out.

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