human touch

sometimes there are occupational hazards to being a barista.
i'm not talking about steam wand burns, box-cutter wounds or pulled muscles from carrying multiple gallons of milk. i'm talking about barista molestation.

now, one of the great things about working as a barista is getting to know our regular customers. they come in daily to joke with us, and tell us about their personal lives - and usually that's the extent of our interaction. but there are some days when talking isn't enough to satisfy a customer.

i have been squeezed, hugged, and petted too many times to count. and these customers are tricky and quick; they always wait until you've turned your attention to something else before they thrust themselves upon you. i've had my hand grabbed and kissed while i was giving someone a pastry, my hair caressed when i was changing a trash can in the lobby and my fingers caught in the paws of an affectionate customer when i took his credit card from him.

the latest incident happened while i was restocking the gums and mints at the register, which required me to leave the safety of my usual spot behind the bar and join the 'civilians' on the other side of the counter. while i put the little tin containers where they belonged, i felt two hands on my shoulders. before i could react i was being massaged by some customer.

"there you go brat, you deserve it." the voice of one of our regulars told me.
"haha, yeah." i answered uncomfortably as i wriggled free of his grip.
"now, i wouldn't do this for just any barista." he raised his eyebrows at me and i ran behind the pastry case so that i would be out of his reach.

"brat, i heard you got the 'special treatment' too." awesomely amazing barista said to me later that day.
"he did it to me as well and i was so conflicted." she wrinkled her nose. "i so didn't want him touching me, but i really needed the massage!"

now, both of us knew this regular didn't mean to come off as creepy, and i'm sure he really was just being nice, but it's difficult for us baristas at times like these. we don't want react harshly with a loud "HANDS OFF!" and get in our fighting stance, especially when previous to the encounter the customer has been princely. nor do we want to seem in any way encouraging. there's a fine art to setting one's boundaries without making the other party feel defensive and unfortunately it seems i'm not very artistic.

partner rant: it's ok to be frustrated. especially when we are understaffed and we have a line out the door. but it is not ok to yell at your fellow baristas. ever. no matter how many drinks you've had to remake or how many customers have asked you for water. respect your fellow baristas, or find someplace else to work.


Moxie said...

Ick ick ICK.

You're right, if you say something to get Mr./Ms. Touchy-Feely to back off, they feel all wrong and then get defensive to make YOU feel wrong because they realize they were an idiot, but they don't want to feel like an idiot. My friend T-Wizzle calls this "passing the wrong baton."

The truth is, though, you can let the wrong baton just drop. It's not like you guys have a problem with the person, it's the behavior that's the issue. Not your fault if they get all bent out of shape for being all handsy.

me said...


I'm not a touchy person. I don't even hug my friends very often. In fact petting is an action that I only give, and to my dog.

Tracy said...

Funny, I never thought I'd see the day when we needed to have a "hands off" sign in bux, like we do in strip clubs!

Johnny Yen said...

No, that's a line you don't cross. He was being creepy.

cheer34 said...

I agree with Johnny. He was being creepy! A man does not touch, put hands on(unless he is hitting you in the forehead and saying "you are healed"),caress, pat,brush up against, put arm around, or hug a woman unless invited. He was being creepy, go with the instinct, gut reaction, whatever you want to call, but listen to the creep-o-meter in your head. Don't pooh-pooh those feelings.

HB said...

forgive me Brat for I have sinned. I went to a Caribou this morning because I was running late and couldn't grab my "Yippie It's Friday I Get to Have My Latte" non-fat vanilla latte at my regular Bux.

I ordered my skim turtle mocha
Chick at the counter takes my money and said You know skim isn't going to make that drink any better for you. You should just order a plain latte if you are going to bother with skim milk.

Me- excuse me? What did you just say? Is your manger here?

Manager walked through as I asked - I am the manager is there a problem?

Me- do you know that Chick here is rather rudely dispensing diet tips with every order?

Chick -I wasn’t being rude, I was just pointing out a fact.

Me - Did I tell you I wanted skim because I want it to be “better for me”?

Chick – well no

Manager - I am sorry this is not how we treat our customers, let me get you a coupon for a free drink

Me – No thank you. I will just go back to my Bux and in your honor I’ll double my tip.

I swear on all that is coffee I will never betray you again.

Anonymous said...

..and this is why at Subway.. we only restock things out away from our counter when no one is the store. However, I doubt that we're anywhere as continunously busy as a Bux. I think you did the right thing. You didn't yell hands off, but you removed yourself from the situation. There are lines customers, even the most regular and most harmless can cross.

Monica said...

dude, i gave you an award.

dysnomia said...

When I'm waitressing I HATE to be touched. I consider it a total invasion of my personal space and privacy. I am not your dog and I do not respond well to being patted or grabbed.

Ugh, I agree, creepy. Though it is terribly difficult to say something and keep the situation calm. Here's to hoping he backs off! If not, I would get into that fighting stance and tell him to, even if he is a good regular.

Do love your writing, by the way.

SkippyMom said...


I always found being pregnant in service made me a prime target for old ladies to fondle my ass, hips or tummy to "let me know" what the sex of my child was.

I became quite astute in grabbing their hands and say "The baby is asleep [in my tummy] would you MIND NOT waking her/him up?" [My mother thought this was rude...um, my Mom can kiss green grass on that]

I can't believe the lengths some people will go to touch a stranger.

Since you aren't pregnant...may I suggest the following:

"Oh that just exacerbates my excema..do you MIND not touching me?"

Looking over you shoulder "Oh HI! Honey! How was you day at [wrestling school, karate, the police academy...etc]"



The last one almost always works. If they want you to bite them...claim communicable disease and run.

Hugs and goodluck Brat. We love and don't touch...giggle

Sharpie said...

Ummm, yeah. I don't understand people who think it's okay to touch strangers.

Being female doesn't help your sitution any, unfortunately. Why do men think it's okay to touch girls they don't know? It makes me want to carry pepper spray in my bra.

Going with skippymom's theme, you could just scream out: "Please don't touch me! My herpes is really acting up and I think I have pink eye!!!"

Manuel said...

I have a very clear policy on touching, "You don't touch me and I don't touch you". Very simple very clear.

Snark Scribe said...

No matter how "princely" he acted before, massaging crosses the line. Either he's a creep, or really clueless.

Elisabethany said...

I once had a regular try to tip me personally, even when I said that she was welcome to put the tip in the tip jar and I'd share it with the others on my shift after close. But she really wanted ME to have the tip, and that's not how we operated at all. Finally after explaining a few times, I thought I had convinced her to leave her tip in the jar, and went to ring in her drink, when she literally jumped up onto the counter so as to place a $5 bill down the collar of my shirt. I was so taken aback that I didn't retrieve it until I was home after close - a funny story, but definitely an invasion of personal space!!

Sling said...

You have a right not to be touched...Period.
Some people think that because you are a "service" person,they can take certain liberties.
How appropriate would it be for you to go to their place of business,say,an insurance office,and start hanging all over them?..

Charlotte said...

I had a couple of touchy feely guys when I worked in food service. The creepiest incident didn't even involve touch, the guy just winked and leered at me the whole time I was taking his order. I know exactly how you feel.

Phone Monkey said...

I know the feeling, it's just creepy no matter how innocent you think it might be, I am lucky enough to work on the phones so it is a lot less 'hands-on' with customers, although I know my customers would rather strangle me instead of give me a back-rub (which is what I need more lol)

Anyway, take it easy and if anyone wants to read a new blog and the exploits of a Phone Monkey like me then go on over to http://callcenterworker.blogspot.com Yeah I know, shameless plug but it's worth the shot :-D

James UK said...

Over here in the UK, I wouldn't hug someone like this unless I knew them very well. Mind you, that may be some of the British "reserve" I suppose!

I'm on good terms though with all the staff at my local Starbucks, and always make a point of saying a simple "Hello / how's things?" etc, and I've dropped off some bags of candy for the staff room a few times.

The other week one of the staff was saying how fed up she gets with customers ignoring her signs that say "please close this door, it effects the air-con" or "please don't put hand towels down the toilet" etc. It reminded me of Passive Agressive Notes so next time I was in there, I dropped off some pages I'd printed off from the blog to give her a laugh.

For me, that was no trouble, but I'd never go so far as to "grab" any of the guys and girls there!



Anna said...

Hiya Brat, long time reader, first time commenter.
I used to work retail, and my method for people who like to sneak up on you for touchy time was to overreact. Let out a tiny shriek, jump a mile (away from them, of course).
"Oh, goodness!" You say as you edge back behind a counter. "You scared me half to death!"
It's a little silly and dramatic but it does get their hands off you post haste.

Beth said...

That's creepy. I guess the regulars come to feel you're a part of their lives, but you shouldn't cross that line. Ugh.

Jen said...

I was a manager for an enormous fast food restaurant for a few years and because I am petite and young looking, I felt like I was always being hit on. One day while working at the drive thru window a regular customer reached a window and handed me a fabric rose. I was like "eeew, you're old enough to be my dad", but I took it and threw it on the counter. A little while later, my much older and wiser supervisor told me exactly what it was. It was a lacy, red thong folded up and stuck on a fake stem (evidently they are found at truck stops). I was horrified. I know that this was really bad, but to get back at him, the next day when he came in, we put the thong inside his bag of food. He never showed his face again! It was about 6 years ago and I am still scarred!!!

moi said...

Brat - My grandpa was once a "hand-kisser" He did it to me since I was 8 mths old, (I'm now 25 lol) He was fine for years, however when his alzheimers and dementia worsened his "filters" left him and he started trying to do it to waitresses and "counter-servers" We did pretty good at preventing it, but sometimes he slipped by one of us - God rest his soul!

slskenyon said...

Yes, I can see how skirting the fine line between setting a boundary and possible encouragement can be a difficult balancing act. However, I do have a hard time understanding people who are lost on the "personal space" rule.

Holden said...


Just stumbled over your Blog... Love it. I almost got hired by them too once. Glad they didn't now...

Dancing With Tears In My Eyes

zoo said...

hello, i'm from malaysai and i used to be a bux barista too. really love your blog, can i link you?

Anonymous said...

Are you still going to blog- or have you quit?

barista brat said...

moxie - ick is right.

me - but your dog is consenting, right? haha!

tracy - it is now a necessity.

johnny yen - i take your word for it!

cheer34 - i am all ears now.

hb - all is forgiven! haha, that was the funniest story i've read all week!

anonymous - i guess so long as no one is asking to touch your 'foot long'!

monica - thanks! that totally made my week!

dysnomia - thanks for stopping by!

skippymom - haha, i can only imagine you snapping the fingers of anyone who dare touch your belly!

sharpie - haha, the herpes line reminds me of a lily allen song.

manuel - nice - but what about those girlies who can't resist your 'stache?

snark scribe - i'm hoping he's clueless.

elisabethany - omg! that was insane! what was she thinking?!?

sling - can i count on your kung fu expertise? haha!

charlotte - yeah, the leering, winking thing can induce nightmares, for sure.

phone monkey - thanks for stopping by. i will check out the new blog.

james uk - customers like you are always cool.

anna - i'm so gonna try that next time. perhaps i should be holding a wet, sopping rag and can 'accidentally' toss it on them during my fright.

beth - that said, you ever grope luke? haha!

jen - seriously, that is the most repulsive and hilarious thing i've heard!

moi - aw, i'm sure he was charming all the while.

slskenyon - yeah, i don't get it either.

holden - thanks for stopping by!

zoo - yes, thanks!

anonymous - still blogging!