A couple recently came into get coffee who were visiting town. They were tired, slightly hung over, and on foot. I said hello as they walked in, they smiled and then stepped just off to the side of the line having a conversation but never committing to the experience. I reached out again asking if they had questions and letting them know I was available while I continued to make drinks. They subtly started moving toward the door and I said "if you want coffee I'll make you the best drink in town, I promise". They said they had forgotten their wallet at the hotel and it was a walk to get back there.
I could tell they wouldn't be back if they left so I just went for it. "Don't worry about your wallet, let me make you the drinks and if they are good enough, come back and pay us later and come back before you leave town". They felt surprised and made sure to ask multiple times if it was ok. I assured them it was better than making them walk and drink coffee elsewhere.
They sat, they drank, and they read the paper.
A few minutes later I check in. How are the drinks? Everything working out? Need anything else? Where you from?
All good. Happy people. From Orange County.
Before they left the gentleman came to the bar. He said he "had another story he could tell now".
This gentleman would always tell the story of how one of the owners of Woodford Reserve Whiskey overheard him order their Product at a bar and paid for it to say thank you for buying a good product.
Now he could tell of this barista who took care of him & his wife when he didn't have too, saved them a trip and how they got to drink some really great coffee.
That memory is there, immortalized in his mind and so is the establishment where this happened.
The point is not to give away coffee to look cool. If you interpreted it like that it's time to mature a bit. This wasn't about me. It was about seeing an opportunity to make someone's day and using Coffee as a catalyst to make a memory. On that day coffee became more than just the thing that these people drink every morning.
The entire point of learning, refining, producing & innovating when it comes to the barista craft is to serve. It is the catalyst & soul reason we even have jobs. It changes people's perception and can change lives. The formula is two fold though, it takes amazing humans and amazing coffee. One without the other will leave anyones experience falling flat.
The moment we all realize that service is not about us is the moment we start making a difference. We become open to a bigger picture in our settings.
It's time for us to look at service like a living breathing thing as Baca said in a tweet last week. To study it and to be quick enough to adapt to the situation AS WELL AS the person we are immediately serving.
Service needs to change with the ebb and flow of business. We need to be good to the person in front of us while being attentive to the people who are waiting for their opportunity for interaction, while not forgetting the people we have already served who are enjoying our establishments.
We are working for the people yet to order as much as we are working for the people who's espresso is dropping right now.
I can't stand service that is tunnel vision service. Even if it's amazing. Service founded on a transaction by transaction model is inadvertently selfish. It leaves out the entire store/retail setting for the soul purpose of impressing one person at a time.
Stores need to feel alive in every aspect, people need to be brought in and they need to know they are a part of the conversation the minute they walk through the doors.
You don't have to engage everyone at the same intensity level either.
Learn to gauge how much people care to talk and deliver on their expectation.
It's important to educate ourselves enough to talk TDS, Extraction, Cultivar etc. BUT we must be ok with, and understand when it's right to answer with "Colombia from Cauca" or "Colombia", maybe even just "thank you".
I know, above all else, that if a team of people are reading and anticipating my needs in a retail setting then I am swooning.
So how could this look?
Besides greetings and reaching out to people behind the bar, this could look like:
-connecting to guests while bussing tables.
-WORKING HARD AND FAST. Show the people watching that you are doing your best to get product out in a timely manner. Show them their time is valuable. Leave no concern of time to drink coffee on the table for guests.
-asking & remembering personal things they have talked about. Give well wishes & mean it.
-offering to get drinks going pre-order
-pulling a chair out for someone who is about to sit down.
-getting those tables bussed ASAP so people don't have to themselves.
-directing traffic to make the entire store feel comfortable
-take names. I am not a short cappuccino or Espresso for here.
I could go on here but there is something more important, an art form to another part of service. Recognize the question and give the appropriate answer.
If someone asks for a caramel macchiato, you know they are asking for a sweet/flavored latte. No need to school here, tell them you will call it out as a "sweet/flavored latte"with their name and assure them you will make them what they are looking for.
If someone asks for dark roasted coffee, find them your single origin espresso and again, don't school them unless they probe deeper.
If someone asks what your favorite anything is, tell the truth and why. Keep it short though.
Our enthusiasm and love is contagious when given in small doses. Giving the myth busters answer for any question with or without coffee involved is like jumping into the "over-sharer". Most conversations following will be short ...or avoided if you overdue it here.
Last thing on this to try and make it relatable and simple for people like me who are saying, "how do I apply":
if you get an industry term in the question then you have a little more freedom to talk geek speak. If you hear specs, brand names, competition, or anything saying these people know some of the things you do, then unload! Maybe you'll give them a nugget they will forever appreciate.
If you get a simpler question, give a simpler answer. People will ask a follow up if they are interested.
At the end of the day we have to get better at service. We have to love and appreciate service and it has to be driven by passion equally as much as the coffee craft itself.
It's time for the world to start recognizing that the best baristas are working really hard. They are utilizing facets of cooking and waiting at the same time. The best are working as hard or maybe harder with bartenders, needing to be fast and accurate without grace, and often without tip. People are far more compliant with waiting for good food and cocktails than they are about coffee, sadly. At the end of the day people don't have to pay more and drink specialty coffee. They can make coffee at home or go to McDonalds if you first and foremost don't serve them.
I find it sad that the industry leaders in coffee aren't trusted as leaders in the same way the world trusts master chefs, or sommeliers, or bartenders. I want us to earn the respect we undoubtedly would give them.
So let's all keep pushing, not because we are entitled assholes but because we respect our craft enough to put in work and earn it.