There were a few blog posts that popped up last week presenting baristas in an unfavorable light. Perhaps the most viral (and the most offensive) was this groan-inducing “I hate my job” venting on XOJane.
Features like this, while easy to sell to editors, are terrible for the specialty coffee industry. They make Joe Blow off the street assume that you already hate him the moment he walks into your cafe. They have the power to make a regular customer nervous and fidgety each time they’re about to order, terrified at offending your sense of propriety as a coffee professional. And they remind of this little doozy from that guy who used to write for the Village Voice – remember that one? The one we offered $100 to never work in coffee again, because his coffee writing was so negative and awful?
But seriously, thank the lord for Brian Ludviksen of Counter Culture Coffee. While a post on his personal website may never see the click-thru numbers of an XOJane or a Serious Eats, we think it’s the most important thing anyone’s written about coffee service in a long time, and it serves as a perfect rejoinder to the snarkity snark snark that’s dominated discourse over the last week or so. Here’s an excerpt:
It started when I noticed the vestiges of a beard in a bathroom. It was obvious that someone had used the sink to shave and didn’t do a great job of cleaning up after themselves. Cleaning up that whiskery mess whipped up a batch of indignance and spite in my soul that cooked for days. I wasn’t sure who the culprit was but I kept vigilant watch over the bathrooms on every shift in an effort to catch this vandal red-handed. My vigilance went unrewarded as I was never able to seize the shaving bandit. I gave up on personal confrontation and escalated to public condemnation – I put up a handwritten sign on the mirror that read : NO SHAVING! Within hours of posting my edict, like a modern-day Martin Luther preaching bathroom etiquette reformation, the owner of the shop took it down and chastised me for my actions. Although my immediate, indignant inclination was to cast him off a modern-day Johann Tetzel, nemesis to my pious declaration, I started to hear what the owner was saying.
As manager of the shop, I had let the owner down with my lapse in good customer service. I had singled out an outlying problem, someone shaving in our bathroom, and forced all customers and coworkers to become privy to my inability to reconcile with this nominal and insignificant issue. The owner asked what my overall problem was with someone shaving in our bathroom. I answered that I felt like cleaning up that kind of mess in a bathroom was not in my job description. He retorted that actually cleaning bathrooms was in my job description, it was just that the likelihood of cleaning up someone’s beard trimmings was not detailed. Then he offered something as a compromise. At the time I didn’t appreciate how important this in customer service, actually in any relationship in general. The owner simply said, “What if we made it easier to clean up? What if we put some counter wipes in the bathroom cabinet, available for anyone that may want to use it but most certainly for our staff to clean stuff up like this quick and easy.” Again, at the time I felt slightly reprimanded, not redeemed at all for my efforts.
A few weeks later John was sipping on his usual 99 cent cup of coffee, finishing off dregs at the counter over conversation as he shuffled up for his 25 cent refill. After soliciting an assist on a crossword clue that had something to do with Lollapalooza, John stopped for a beat, looked me in the eye and apologized for shaving in the bathroom. He explained that the hot water was off at his house and his daughter had been in town. He was coming into the shop a bit earlier on weekdays to clean up before meeting her. I felt immediately embarrassed for my actions. The humility of this man and his genuine concern for my concerns cooked my face red and filled me with all of the shame that I had intended for the bandit shaver. I accepted his apology but immediately turned around and explained that it wasn’t necessary. In fact, I added, we had space in our bathroom counter if he needed to store anything there. He smiled and nodded and in that instance all of our grief, all of our humiliation and all of the fuss over this ridiculous, inflated matter just lifted up and disappeared.