Editorial: Daniel Young’s Getting A Little Old

The hot question burning our lips this morning: when confronted by the demands and degradations of the coffee paparazzi, what’s a barista to do? It’s been the topic of heated conversation for your Sprudge editors over the last week or so, all because of this recent feature from London-based writer Daniel Young, on his food / event / cult of personality blog Young & Foodish.

The post in question is entitled “The Insider’s Iced Coffee Even The Insider’s Don’t About”, and it begins with Mr. Young dashing across New York City and into the Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters location in Chelsea (15th Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue) for an off-menu iced coffee offering called, unfortunately, “the zinger“:

The story behind the zinger was the third big coffee exclusive entrusted to me by James Freeman, a coffee lunatic from Oakland, California who’s progressed from disaffected freelance musician to bi-coastal super-roaster of international renown. I don’t know what it is. I’ve never met Freeman face-to-face. I call him and he tells me things: The origin of the Gibraltar, San Francisco’s cult coffee. The inspiration behind the SG-120, a coffee in a glass of its own. The what, how and why of the zinger.

Having firmly established to the reader that he knows James Freeman – “I call him and he tells me things” – Mr. Young goes on to explain his zinger needs to the thoroughly baffled Blue Bottle Chelsea staff, whose puzzlement results from the fact that this concoction, the zinger, was popularized and is only ever commonly ordered at the Blue Bottle kiosk in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.

The feature continues:

I boasted that I had learned of the zinger from none other [sic] Freeman, the boss of his boss. The increasingly skeptical barista made eye contact with a colleague to check my story. The second barista made a face. It wasn’t a sympathetic face. He too knew nothing of the mysterious iced coffee.

Let’s recap the barista’s conundrum thus far. It’s a drink they’ve never heard of before, demanded of them by someone waggling a DSLR and claiming to know their boss’s boss. Oof. The baristas soldier on and make a version of “the zinger” for Mr. Young, but at this point we are really rolling downhill…

I took 73 photos of my zinger from several angles and then savoured the drink in a prolonged series of increasingly noisy sips. I needn’t have bothered. The baristas didn’t so much as look my way.

Off-menu concoctions are nothing new, and they’re a lot of fun to read about, but confidential to food blogger types (especially the famous ones): there’s simply no need to walk in somewhere and be so confrontational, especially when it comes to name dropping the higher-ups. How dreadful.

But on the other hand, the baristas working that day at Blue Bottle Chelsea inadvertently did something that self-absorbed food writers invariably get off on: they acted disinterested and aloof. Mr. Young’s efforts for attention with his impromptu photo shoot, followed by his “prolonged series of increasingly noisy sips”, failed to produce an ego-pleasing dialogue with the baristas in question. Daniel wanted to be engaged; he wanted them to ask what his blog was called, the new journalism equivalent of mother’s milk. Instead he was sent back out into the big city, cold and alone, his ego in desperate need of stroking, and that’s why the whole experience wound up as vitriolic copy. This sort of thing ought to be the providence of your garden variety Yelp Superstar, but it unfortunately happens just the same with the famous and erudite.

So to the working baristas out there, fighting the good fight in the trenches, we offer some advice: when confronted by attention-seeking “72 photos of your off-menu drink” food blogger types, we wholeheartedly recommend disarming him or her with a strategy we call the “H.U.N.T.Y.  Theory of Confronted Customer Service”. H.U.N.T.Y. stands for  “Helpful * Understanding * Nice * Talkative * Yes!“, because situations like this one must be met with a little huntiness if you don’t want to wind up in some ghastly blog post.

So we asked some our industry’s foremost experts on hunty hospitality on how best to handle pushy, name-dropping, “I know your boss” blog-types – and they revealed a few tried-and-true phrases for surviving blogger backlash whilst behind the bar. Use them sparingly.

These phrases and others like them can help diffuse unpleasant interactions, and serve to disarm the confrontational guest. And as a good tip for interacting with any guest, feel free to ask “how was everything?” before he or she packs up their DSLR. It’s a broad, general question that will gauge overall satisfaction before they sashay away into the darkness. When your shift is over and the coast is clear, essential bylaws in the H.U.N.T.Y. code require that you vent, get these terrible interactions off your chest, and regain the part of yourself lost dealing with all that shade.

Are WE the ones being a little hunty? Sound off in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m with KJ on the “disinterested and aloof” critique: Not acceptable. Still, there’s no need to fawn over folks like Mr. Young. Mr. Young should leave his mirrored room and discover such places instead of traipsing around trying to show how superior he is to other people. What sorts of insecurities drive such behavior?

    While I don’t know what a Zinger is, it is a very cool thing that a Blue Bottle staff in Hayes Valley has the freedom to be creative. It’s places like Hayes Valley where good stuff comes from.

  2. says

    Well, to be honest, the best way to disarm a rude customer is to just be nice to and show interest in everyone, not just them. I’ve never understood how “acting disinterested and aloof” is acceptable customer service behavior under any but the most trying circumstances. My favorite go-to coffee places are those staffed by pleasant AND talented baristas.

    Maybe it’s different in New York, I dunno.

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