My phone buzzes. It's a notification from Yelp that a user gave my cafe a two-star rating. In a few days, they'll be dead.
I have been Head Barista at Three Group Coffee for ten months. I provide consistent and outstanding customer service. Have you ever read “Setting The Table” by Danny Meyer? I read a chapter every night before bed. I have read the book, in total, seven hundred and thirty-two times.
Surprising and delighting deserving guests is one of my specialties. Last month, I carefully snuck into a regular's home and left a bottle of our limited edition cold brew coffee with a note that read, “I appreciate your business.” People love our cold brew—there's just something about it that tastes special.
When my coworkers deliver service that is below my standards I remedy the matter by going above and beyond to ensure there is, at the very least, a balance to the overall customer experience. I always correct my colleagues verbally in front of the patrons to show them that at my cafe, our guests are paramount.
On the other hand, guests who don't appreciate our level of service need to be corrected, too. If someone leaves a bad Yelp review for Three Group, it's because the reviewer is bad. The reviewer doesn't belong on Yelp and should delete their account entirely. It's important in my position to find these reviewers and correct them. It's not my fault they don't understand my high-concept culinary craftsmanship.
It takes three minutes for someone to word vomit a poor Yelp review. It takes me hundreds of hours to create thoughtful and balanced signature beverages, travel to origin to cup and hand select nano-lots for my curated list of pour-over coffees, not to mention the countless hours I spend ensuring my coffee roasting partner is dialed in properly and following my roast profile specifications (I can always tell when they deviate). Even off the clock I’m spending hours upon hours rehearsing my barista competition routine.
Just three minutes to write a baseless, uniformed review that throws off a shop’s rating and threatens their existence and livelihood. What qualifications do they have to critique us? There are no certifications, no verifications, no oversight. Do we live in a world without consequences?
I have eighteen Yelp accounts, each with different names, ages, and profile photos. I've spent the last eight years keeping them up to date with reviews and engagements with other reviewers. See, I use these accounts to message, befriend, and eventually coerce the reviewers who cross me. “Meet me at Three Group,” I’ll message. Sometimes it takes several weeks to gain their trust. I once spent four months messaging one bad Yelp reviewer before I finally got them to meet up. I always ask them to meet me for a late night coffee. It’s the perfect time to get an expertly crafted experience—just around closing. That's when the Head Barista works solo and can really curate each interaction.
When the bad Yelp reviewer comes in, the Head Barista greets them and invites them to sit at the slow bar. “I'm waiting on a friend,” they say. They're waiting for me, but what they don't know is that I'm already there, behind the bar, the trusted Head Barista. I brew a masterful cup of coffee while they wait and shed light on the provenance of the bean and the Scott Rao brewing methods that accentuate the clarity in the cup. I leave out the part about the cocktail of undetectable poisons I add to the freshly ground coffee. If the bad Yelp reviewer doesn't make their way to the bathroom before falling unconscious I sometimes have to drag them there before closing up the cafe.
The Head Barista always closes with the expedience the ownership expects.
Once the front door is locked, it's only the matter of unlocking their phone, scrubbing their Yelp account, and hoisting their dismembered body into our 230 gallon cold brew coffee system. People say there's just something special about our cold brew, with compliments to the Head Barista. What they're tasting is simply my correction.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.