everyone's an expert

being a relatively new coffee house, i get unsolicited bits of advice all the time from customers.
it can range from small suggestions: "get a prettier tip jar so people will want to toss their change in" to comfort requests: "you should put some tables and chairs outside, that way we can hang out with our dogs while we drink your coffee".
and sometimes they're a little too specific: "you should organize your flavored syrups alphabetically".

but yesterday i had the most bizarre suggestions from a woman i'd never seen before, and wouldn't mind not seeing ever again.

she was in her mid-50s, very well put together, and by her accent i'm assuming she originally hailed from eastern europe. she opened my front door and totally ignored me when i greeted her, instead standing in the doorway and scanning my coffee house like the borg.
"you make food?" she asked without making eye contact, her head still turning on a swivel.
"no, we make coffee and espresso drinks." i told her.
"but i'm hungry!" she rolled the last syllable into a whine befitting a toddler.
"there's a restaurant just on the corner." i pointed to the small cafe in our strip mall.
she waved her hand to shut me up and shook her head, again whining "but i want organic."
i could only shrug, since we clearly are not a restaurant.

at this point she decided to come inside my coffee house and have a proper look around. she checked out the condiment bar, our community corner where our customers display their business cards and show announcements, and she tried to peek inside our backroom.

"you don't make food?" she asked in disbelief.
"nope, just coffee." i reiterated.
"just coffee?" she was incredulous. "but how do you expect to survive just making coffee?"
again, my only response was to shrug. considering coffee houses originated much closer to her part of the world than mine, i was kind of shocked she had such little faith in them being successful enterprises.
"you should make food." she emphasized by pointing her finger at me.

i was a bit surprised when she actually bought a loaf slice, a doppio espresso, and complimented me on the taste. but her happiness was fleeting because she then proceeded to harangue me again about serving food.

"i have no space to put cooking equipment in." i told her, hoping this would be an irrefutable statement.
"get rid of these!" she pointed the comfy chairs and tables. "you know what else? you should offer yoga classes. everyone can get their coffee then do yoga!"

maybe i should take it as a compliment that she wants me to be successful, but i mostly think she was pretty clueless.

so no - the brat will not be serving food or leading yoga classes.
somehow i think we will still survive.


super massive black holes of emotional need

i've been stuck on this blog post, editing and re-editing it for two days. i'm trying to find a balance between professional coffee house owner and the down to earth brat you've always known. i'm trying to be diplomatic when it comes to the things i need to vent about, and i'm also trying to keep my identity veiled as i am now really, REALLY concerned about people reading what i write and realizing they're the ones i'm ranting about!

oi. i need to quit telling my customers about "this little blog i used to do", and i definitely need to quit accepting facebook friend requests from them! i'm at the point where i'm worried i will have no space of my own to unload, be stupid or make comments without one of my regulars coming in the next day to ask about a song lyric i posted, or which one of my attractive friends is single.
as i'm typing i realize i've brought this upon myself. but like i said, now it's a matter of finding that balance.
yes, i want to gripe about a customer whose negativity was so heavy last week, it put me into a funk that lasted a couple days, but i also want to keep this person as a regular customer because most of the time i enjoy our conversations.

this is an issue i honestly did not anticipate. being a small independent coffee house means your customers have more access to you. in a way, you are the coffee house. they come to see you specifically, in addition to buying your beverages. i always knew baristas were part time therapists and counselors, but with a select few of my customers it feels like a full time job. maybe some of them weren't hugged enough as children. maybe some of them are genuinely angry every waking moment. maybe my coffee house is the one place they feel comfortable enough to unload without fear of repercussion.
if the latter is true, then i definitely don't want to do anything to jeopardize that. i like being someone's bright spot. i enjoy feeling like i've made a positive difference in someone's life. but i am not loving the darkspace i go to after a lengthy visit from a volatile and emotionally needy patron. it seriously felt like all the light and positivity had been sucked out of me, and i needed a refill.

and unfortunately, i ended up doing what was done to me to another one of my regulars (yeah, this sentence is convoluted and awkward but i haven't the energy to clean it up).
complaining customer was still in the store, spewing negativity, when upbeat customer came to order an espresso. i verbally latched onto upbeat customer, wanting to keep engaged with him as long as possible because i knew once he was gone, the lightness would leave my coffee house and i'd be stuck with complaining customer again.
i'm sure my desperation was obvious and repelling, but i couldn't help myself. i needed to hold onto a lifesaver to drag me out of the putrid pond i was sinking in. poor upbeat customer had no clue what he was in for, and it was painful for me to watch him try and gently ease himself out of my store. and although i knew i was chasing him away with my desperation, i couldn't help myself.

in a weird way this experience has helped me identify with my complaining customer and empathise with him/her. perhaps this might help keep me from being affected so deeply his/her negativity.
one can hope, right?


the more things stay the same, the more they change

well, i've been back to the barista grind for 6 months now, and i have to say i really, really love what i do.
i'm still the hard working barista who actually cares about making a quality beverage while making a customer connection.
every month my business grows and every week i have new regulars who can't get enough of our coffee. i can't tell you how gratifying it is to hear on a daily basis how much better our beverages are than those of coffee bean and starbucks. in fact, i've only ever had one complaint, and it was a really odd one, in my opinion.

one of our regular customers has a wife who is very picky about her espresso drinks. she ordered a small mocha from me, and returned the next morning to complain about it.

"do you make your mochas with coffee or espresso?" she asked.
"uh, we use espresso for our bar drinks," i informed her, puzzled by her question.
"oh, because it tastes like you used coffee." she replied.

knowing most customers will be accustomed to corporate chain drinks, i explained that my beans are not over-roasted, nor are they acidic or bitter, which might explain why she felt her beverage wasn't "strong" enough in flavor. i offered to make it again and double pull the espresso shot for her (yes, i have a traditional manual bar like every coffee house should) so it would have a fuller espresso flavor, that way she wouldn't have to pay for an extra shot of espresso.

she was willing to try a double pulled shot but made sure to tell me, "yeah, it's better but it still tastes like coffee and not espresso."

all i could do is shrug.
my espresso will NEVER taste like bux espresso, and my regulars are thankful for that. i have worked VERY closely with my roaster to create a unique blend especially for my coffee house. i will never brew coffee that tastes burnt or bitter. even when i worked for bux, i was all about quality made beverages and now i have the pleasure to ensure even my beans are of the highest quality (and organic, mind you).

but it's not JUST the coffee that keeps my regulars coming back. it's the all around experience of my place. when you love what you do, and you love interacting with customers, they love supporting you. it's as simple as that.

so, this blog is clearly going to have a change in tone. i don't have to deal with idiot bigwigs in seattle. i don't (not yet, at least) have to put up with entitled and prissy customers. and i don't have to deal with lazy baristas since we are a total mom and pop shop at the moment, which means no more rants!

i understand if having less things to bitch about means a decrease in readership, and honestly i'm ok with that. i hope those of you still following this blog will be ok with the more upbeat attitude :)