Defurious

A Critical Coffee Community: An open letter to specialty cafes

Posted in Uncategorized by defurious on June 1, 2011

Over the last week there has been much discussion over the blog post by Kevin Knox taking the “3rd wave” community to task for what he believes is a damaging  system of both brewing and purchasing coffee. I personally disagree with much of what was said. Yet it makes me pause to think…do we come off as “narcissistic” or “elitist” to the customer? To me it all begs the question, are we as a community open to criticism? Do we pursue it or do we run from it?

There is a tendency for us to  judge  a cafe based almost entirely on two things…

1. The impressiveness of the bars  design and build out: lets face it…if a bar opened in NYC, PDX, or where ever… and it had a Strada, with 3 Roburs, a pour over bar serving the best roasted coffee around AND had a USBC regional champ working some shifts…we would almost immediately assume that they are doing a great job with little thought to what the customer may experience. Truth is…we have no clue until we are a regular customer there.

2. The quality of the roasted coffee: this one is tricky because the raw product is so important…yet we focus so much on a false humility stance of…”getting out out of the coffee’s way” (which in some sense is true) it creates a sort of  “mission accomplished”  attitude even before we brew it.

What is missing here?

The quality and consistency of the bars staff and the brewed product as experienced by the customer. Also how it translates to an over all friendly and valuable exchange and experience that breeds loyalty.—-This we do not put much value on when rendering judgments about which cafes are best.

Problem is that we in the “third wave” coffee community have no system of critique by which we can objectively judge the quality of the bars that we tout as being the best. Mine included.  It is a dangerous blind spot.  Now, individually we all say that we want to know if there is a problem…but as an industry we have only systems that reward or critique individuals or roasters but not cafes. These matter very little to a customer. Mainly because we have all been to a bar where a star barista was employed using award winning coffee and were served a drink that was pretty bad and with a side of attitude. But we blow it off because we are so tuned into the hype that it warps what sense of urgency such an experience should elicit. The customer however does not have such a pair of rose colored glasses…they see our bar much more clearly than we do…but they have the least say in determining which cafes we should be held up as examples. I believe that the central issue that the Knox post brings up for me is that of perceived value and value delivered.

Customers will not suffer an increase in prices etc. if we do not also drastically increase the standards to which we hold ourselves at the cafe level. Though I have had a myriad of great experiences in famous trail blazing shops…I have also had many many bad drinks and fantastically poor service from the same reportedly great shops.  Shops that we tell people to go to when we find out they are traveling close by. Imagine if the Micheline Guide suggested restaurants in such a way…you would arrive and the food would be spotty at best, service apathetic and after the whole ordeal was done you would not only have lost faith in the Guide…you would also have a sullied impression of the type of food which was served there. Now whether or not that is fair is beside the point. This is the reality of our current situation. With all the energy we put into competition and traveling to this event and that event …we would do well to put an equal or greater amount of energy into bringing our “A” game at home instead of being so concerned about looking good in the eyes of our peers.

The reality is that we are way better at roasting quality coffee than we are at running quality cafes… and that will be the nail in our collective coffin if we do not start really getting honest , stop being so sensitive to critique, and start seeking out honest criticism. I hope that anyone who comes to my shop will tell me honestly what they think. How else can we improve if the only voice we ever hear is our own? Is it possible that what we have surrounded ourselves with are “Yes Men” and sycophants ?

How many of our most beloved shops ever use customer comment cards? How many of us ask the customer “how was the coffee?” and mean it?  How concerned are we about honest feedback..even if it hurts? Would you tell a famous cafes staff or management about your disappointing experience? Or would you just assume that you are the one that needs to change because after all this is
“______ cafe” or “______ roasters”?   I know it is hard for me. If a customer tells me that they hate a certain coffee I love…I feel something resembling indignation rise up in me. Something I have to fight…and then work at finding a coffee that they will love.  The degree to which we are gracious and non hostile toward customers with “ignorant” questions or who ” just want coffee” is the degree to which we have successfully integrated empathy into our service mindset.

All this so ask, who is keeping our cafes accountable? We have to start innovating systems of reward and critique. It has to be industry wide and collectively accepted.

One small step we can take in the direction of building a system of cafe accountability is to make a commitment to not just sit on a disappointing experience and hold our tongue but every time but to constructively relay the experience to the appropriate people in charge. Also we must commit to relaying the positive experiences.  I think if we all start getting honest with each other we will start to see a healthy community emerge. One that can be frank but do it out of genuine good intention in the best interest of the cafe. I have heard it said that:  “The one who loves you the most, tells you the most truth ”  ….The sooner we start really holding each other accountable the sooner the customer will reap the rewards of a greater over all experience forged by a collective concern for excellence in all areas, especially when it concerns our customers experience in our cafes.

It is not enough to just be a coffee community…we must be a critical coffee community.

 

Please note: Much of this is simply a working out of a relatively ambiguous idea.  I would love input and thoughts on this subject as I do believe it is integral to our progress as a quality conscious community. These are just one baristas thoughts.

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17 Responses

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  1. Paul Yates aka PaulCoffeeFreak said, on June 1, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Yes. Yes. Yes! One of the things my boss did was have us read Truett Cathy’s book, “How Did You Do It, Truett?” He paid each of us $100 bonus for reading it. The idea was that he wanted Truett’s business principles to be ours. Most of us have eaten at a Chik-Fil-A. We know how they do things. And it doesn’t matter where you find one…you know what to expect. That’s the kind of training program they have. That’s the kind of commitment to customer service and satisfaction they have. And guess what? People don’t care that they don’t open on Sunday, something I approve heartily, incidentally. People just like Chik-Fil-A.

  2. Eric said, on June 1, 2011 at 3:15 am

    I am a coffee customer. I don’t work in the industry. And, I think most people agree with what you’ve written here. But what you’ve written is not reflective of what Knox wrote. As a consumer who visits elite specialty shops around the country, I almost never feel condescended to in these shops.

    For a barista to explain that they are only offering an in season coffee, and then explain why, is not condescending. Yet, Knox implies that it is. Most people who dismiss Knox’s argument aren’t dismissing his words about narcissism or elitism. Hoffman already did a great job of addressing those issues regarding customer service at his Symposium speech in Houston and in his great pod casts. Rather, we all know that the industry is dismissing his suggestions about coffee offerings throughout the year and they are dismissing his rejection of promoting seasonality in coffee.

    One thing I’m curious about is whether Knox was being critical of offerings in shops or offerings on roasters’ websites. We have all (rightly) already dismissed his argument about throwing seasonality out the window with regard to offerings on roasters’ websites. But he was directing his criticism straight at Intelli and as someone who has visited lots of shops around the country, I usually find that the more coffees that are offered in a shop, (as Knox proposes) the less baristas are able to control quality. See my critique of Chicago coffee and rotating roasters here: http://www.eldopa.org/2011/05/a-visitor’s-assessment-of-the-chicago-coffee-scene-april-2011/

    I would hate to go into a shop that is offering four different coffees manually brewed every day, because most likely the baristas can NOT consistently represent those coffees well. I’ve been in those shops, and I can vouch for that personally. On the other hand, I appreciated my retail experience in Intelli where focus was placed on only one coffee being manually brewed per day, and it was consistently good there because with one coffee per day, quality can be better controlled and parameters maintained.

    Finally, I agree with you about insiders being honest with each other about shop experiences. But MOST importantly, it’s your great point about asking the customers to be honest with us that matters more. Shop owners usually don’t get a real fly on the wall experience of watching how a competing shop interacts with its customers so that we can all sit around and talk about it afterwards. Although that might not be a bad idea.

    • defurious said, on June 1, 2011 at 3:32 am

      Thanks for the great comments guys!

  3. dan mueller said, on June 1, 2011 at 3:55 am

    I reckon on many counts you are noble in your intentions, sir. At the same time, I believe rather strongly that the so-labelled third-wave establishments that you believe should be honestly asking their customers how their coffee turned out should just as readily ask their children how their tax-filing technique has progressed over the years.

    Those shops you’re talking about have staff that have dedicated their being to their craft in a way similar to mozart or to michaelangelo. You reckon either of them put a whole lot of stock in what their commissiong patrons thought of their work, other than whether they cared for it enough to let the check pass? And more to the point, do you reckon those patrons would have given those artists the time of day had they catered to every whim unquestioningly?

    The answer is a most resounding “NO!”

    Shops such as those above are frequented because they are expert authorities on craft. A given customer frequents a shop of this ilk BECAUSE they know what the flavor profile of their fresh-crop Tegu Mill Nyeri is and have gone to great pains to replicate it over and over using methods that lend themselves to inherent inconsistancies. We recognize the moving target and yet we continue to shoot at it because those shots are INHERENTLY VALUABLE to the basic tennants of progress and product differentiation.

    This isn’t emotion. Its basic economic theory. If we weren’t assholes, we wouldn’t have market share to demand and none of us would have work because everyone would be buying Folgers. That isn’t terribly difficult to see, is it?

    By beckoning your fellow baristi to lay off the attitude or to make things that much more accessible to the public is, in a way, compromising the lifestyle and the drive that we live for. Its asking us to put down our tamps and don bunny costumes and dance for our tips.

    I’m saying right now that you’ve insulted the hard work that I’ve put into my craft. Yes, it is your opinion as you so redundantly stated at the end of your post, but your opinion basically pooped on the work of the past 5 years of my life.

    Its been a second since I’ve regularly been behind a bar, but I remember the priority at the time being creating a beverage of utmost quality. This isn’t a sentiment solely from my own ambitions, but it was prerequisite of my employers.

    Customers that frequent these shops frequent them with the understanding that we aren’t there to hawk run-of-the-mill shit. If they want that, dunkin donuts is right down the street. And they find this to be truth the moment they order a beverage. No one is keeping them in the establishment whatsoever, and it remains now and forever more the establishments right to serve.

    There are lots of customers that will end up reading this, I hope, amd I’m not disillusioned that some will take initial offense to my remarks, but dammit you guys come to our “elitist” and “inaccessible” shops because we serve coffee better than the next guy.

    Its the elitist attitude that spawns competition that spawns a better product for those patrons. So, sure, no one like to be looked at sideways when they order their beverage, but at the same time the customer should recognize where their money and they patronage is going and re-allocate accordingly. Have some respect for the time and the dedication that the guys behind the bar are putting into their craft and don’t get your espresso to go. Don’t adulterate the gorgeous kenyan that our roasters are paying DOUBLE what they paid a year ago for by dumping a bunch of shit into it. That isn’t why we travel halfway around the world to source those coffees!

    It needs to be understood once more, as it has been in the past, that we are who we are and we do what we do because we CHOOSE not to compromise our ideals for the masses who prefer their drinks with flavored syrups and flavored attitudes.

    Anyone else catch my meaning?

    So let me wrap this up with a few points:

    If Farrari got bought up by ford, do you really think you’d hold it in the same esteem (look out Jaguar, that one’s directed at you).

    Finally, I love the customers of these shops with all my heart. They come to me for coffee because they seek out something a cut above the norm, and they keep me accountable every single time I serve them. When I ask these customers how their coffee is, it is only when I believe they have the authority to answer me in a way that is beneficial to us both. THAT is honesty, and I believe that is where fierce loyalty and respect are bred.

    I will never compromise my work because, where we are in this crazy world, compromise is tantamount to defeat. And Ill be damned if I let dunkin win this war.

    Now, discuss amongst yourselves…

    • defurious said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:05 am

      Love the passion here , Dan. I am struggling to see where I endorsed compromising quality though. Consider the message one of refinement and not one of redefining.
      Thanks for all your hard work in the industry.

    • Jeremy said, on June 2, 2011 at 1:19 am

      it’s just simple algebra!

  4. Justin said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:21 am

    Dan devotes his life to coffee. Deferio devotes his life to people, via coffee. I’ll take Deferio’s coffee in a heartbeat, even if it’s a buck more expensive and not quite as good. And my palate might not be the richer for it, but my existence certainly will be.

    Don’t get me wrong — I like seeing someone try to serve the best possible product they can. But that comment about not asking the customer if they like it, until you think they have the *authority*? Seems to me you’re already compromising: if you can tell whether they have the authority to appreciate it just by looking, why not refuse their money entirely and send them out the door without a product? Seems to me that Deferio’s (and mine, just so happens) business model is more sustainable, and a heck of a lot more fun.

    • defurious said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:28 am

      “people via coffee” I like that! The goal is to have just as amazingly and expertly prepared coffee from amazingly friendly and accessible people. To make this an either people…or coffee…is to create a false dichotomy
      that is indeed unsustainable. Keep having fun and serving the best, Justin.

    • Eric said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:45 am

      I feel a lot of what you are saying here, Justin. But Dan has a point. When I was a customer first getting into coffee, I had no clue what was good and what wasn’t until I had more experiences where I tasted lots of delicious and lots of badly brewed coffees. I see both sides here.

  5. Maria said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:39 am

    The issue with elitism rings all too true with my personal experience, sad to say.

    The first cafe I managed was where I began a bit of a love affair with coffee. I loved learning about the art of preparing great coffee from roasting to serving, and I worked hard to instill that love into my staff and customers. As our standards for excellence were raised higher as we continued to learn and develop our craft, I could see it would be easy to develop a bit of snobbery/elitism behind the bar that would separate us from our customers. Thankfully we knew deep down that we had a lot of growing to do and it kept us humble and real. We could serve our loveliest espresso with the same smile and love as we served our house blend, educating as much as we could here and there when our customers were open to it.

    My first owner sold and moved cross-country, and a new owner (a non-coffee drinker) took over. The longer he was in ownership, the more elitist and distant he became with our customers. He started removing items/coffees from our menu that people came in DAILY for, raising prices and insisting that customers will just follow along whether they liked it or not. The understanding behind it was to make our offerings better (which is a good thing), but it was done in a way that alienated our daily customer base. Quite a few of our regulars stopped coming, and me and my staff eventually left. Morale dropped, consistency dissapeared and what was once a busy, growing place became a ghost town.

    A few months later I remember going in to what was a shadow of what used to be my home (it really was!) and seeing the owner behind the counter, on his own. I asked him, “Was it all worth it? What happened?” And he said, “If I had known that customers were happy with ‘just the basics’ I never would have gotten into this business”. He finally sold for a fraction of what he paid about a month after that. All because he chose to ignore a good portion of our paying customers. No, we didn’t convert all of our “regular joe” regulars in to ristretto sipping folks, nor should we have tried (although many WERE open to education and adventure!). But what we DID offer, we did it honestly, consistently and to the highest standards we knew how, even our house blend! I think we were appreciated for that. And now… it’s all gone. It KILLS me even now.

    The thing I learned from all this (for when I can finally open a shop of my own?) Set your standards high, yes. Educate your customers, YES. But keep humble and LISTEN to them. Tailor your presentation to who you’re speaking to if you have to. Because as great as whatever you’re serving is, it’s not worth it to alienate the people who keep you in business.

  6. Eric said, on June 1, 2011 at 5:15 am

    I don’t travel far out of my way, passing up bad shops to get to the amazing one, to enrich my “existence.” I go to taste amazing coffees. As long the baristas at this shop are approachable, friendly, and help me to understand what I’m tasting and provide me with more specifics on why I’m thinking it’s better…I’m going there. I don’t really care if they ask me what I think. A great chef doesn’t come out and say, “how can I cook this differently so you’ll like it better?” Burger King does that. Rather, he presents his best work, explains why he thinks it’s wonderful, and tries to bring the customer along in the most friendly way possible. Now, if he’s an outright dick, that’s a whole different story. We have some of those, too in coffee. But Dan isn’t one of them.

  7. Stephen S. Wade said, on June 1, 2011 at 5:23 am

    As someone who has been involved, both in back of house and front of house in SCAA member companies, there’s a couple of things here — and we agree a lot with the ambiguous framework you’re working with here :-).

    There’s two components I’ll make light of here. Both deal with mindset.

    1) The reaction to the Knox piece, esp via Twitter, revealed a general response of “WTF this shouldn’t be dignified with a response” from many professionals in and around the coffee community (including James himself). While I don’t agree with the Knox piece, and think he horribly took James’ SCAA piece out of context, the reaction reflected an unwillingness/seeming unwant to really explain why specialty coffee roasters/shops do what they do, and how they do it. Examples relevant to the Knox piece: small lots, limited availability, the “seasonality” debate, and blending and talking about resource issues for small roaster/importers working directly, forecasting lots and their timetables to consumers. We have to get better about explaining ourselves in language that is accessable and speaks with & empowers customers, — something that when I was at Barefoot I referred to as Coffee 2.0, taking from the web2.0 principles.

    2. We don’t hire for hospitality, period. Hell, most shops don’t hire for conviviality or ability to speak in most cases. Nobody has read the Danny Meyer playbook, or seems to understand that you can train almost anyone to be a line barista, to pull a decent shot or make pretty rosettas while wearing bad jeans and a waistcoat. Almost no one can talk coffee beyond stock phrasing, or reiterating branded talking points, or speaking/engaging customers in a way that makes them appear and feel disinclined to help and speaking down to customers. Taking from James’ SCAA Symposia speech, reading customer wants is part of the solution — the other half is knowing how to engage them and how to speak mindful of WHAT it is they’re asking for. The infamous “we don’t carry French roast” example bears here, but also: Ex: Almost no shop with a pour-over bar offers their customers a sniff of dry aroma — while seeming precious, there are elements to that act that can draw a connection to tasting notes, or invite them to discuss it. These sorts of interactions not only can create a bond with customers, but also engender positive feelings (and understandings, empathy) for the types of issues we have (when it comes to 20 bucks for a 12oz bag of coffee understanding sourcing, or why only one size is avaialble for beverages).

    Sorry if this appears somewhat muddled — a bit late here and perhaps a bit too much wine with dinner, but felt compelled to respond, and want there to be a serious discussion about how we communicate and interact with customers as an industry.

  8. Rich W said, on June 1, 2011 at 10:43 am

    We’ve gone from exclusively using coffees from top 3W roasters to mostly DIY. We wouldn’t exist without the huge amount of info out there from Cho, Hoffmann, Watts, Guiliano, et.al. that allows us to copy, experiment and interpret techniques, whether sourcing, roasting or brewing.

    We’re pretty good, but as each passing year goes by, we realize how much more we don’t know and how silly it is to pretend we have the one true path. And as the guy who has to find, roast, serve and train, yeah, I want as much feedback as I can get, both from the people we’ve already converted and those who aren’t there yet (and may never be).

    We’ll never stop learning about coffee or service, nor will we ever try to shut ourselves off from learning.

  9. Jason Haeger said, on June 1, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Pre: The discussion to this point has left too many points to comment on to be able to fit into a typed comment response, so this will be incomplete.

    In order to understand Chris’s approach, we need to first have a clear understanding of what is important and why. Without customers to drink our coffee, there is no industry. Our motivation is to improve the coffee standard. The industry is driven by customers. In order to raise the standard, we need to get more customers drinking better coffee more often. How do we accomplish this?

    RE: Dan
    I have to ask, what is this “lifestyle” that you are referring to? I am married, haven’t moved to work for a “3rd wave” company, and yet here I am. I avoid latte art events and barista parties intentionally. Whatever this “lifestyle” is, I’m not so convinced that that’s really what it’s all about. I am, have always been, and will continue to be all about the coffee. Coffee doesn’t respond to attitudes, ego, elitism, or excellent service.
    Those who grow and process the coffee don’t take part in latte art events, barista parties, or care whether or not your shop thinks it’s the coolest thing since the resurgence of plaid and the moustache. They care about how much they’re being paid and how it impacts their quality of life. Our little tiny niche of the industry is trying to help them meet those needs by proposing a mutually beneficial relationship: you give us better coffee, we give you more money.
    Our job, then, is to make this better coffee somehow publicly accessible. We work in this industry because we love what it stands for, and because we love coffee. Do you care much about the latest in telecommunications engineering technology? How about combine attachments to make cotton farming more efficient? No? I didn’t think so. Let’s be honest: most people don’t care that much for the things that WE find so fascinating. Let’s do them a favor and not cram it down their throats.
    In regards to your analogy with a chef: It’s inaccurate. My job as a roaster is to get the coffee just right. The job of the barista is to not screw it up and to provide an excellent experience for the customer. The chef’s job is to get the food just right. The job of the line cooks is to not screw it up. The job of the water is to provide an excellent experience for the customer.
    I have been to restaurants where the food was excellent, but the service was awful. I did not return. I have been to restaurants where the food was good, but the service was excellent. I’ve returned many times. I have been a restaurant where the food was consistently excellent, and the service was also consistently excellent. I can’t seem to stop singing its praises and wishing It wasn’t in a city requiring a 2.5hr. flight to get to so that I could go back.
    We are in it because we love coffee. At its heart, the job exists to serve our customers. We can improve the quality of the products that we serve, but the job is still one primarily of service. Let’s not lose sight of that fact in our obsession with the product being served. After all, without the people, it literally is “just coffee.”/RE:Dan

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a shop and been disappointed. Good, reputable shops. I can say the same about roasters and their coffee. Everyone has off days from time to time, and this is understandable, however, there is a problem when inconsistency is the average. I’m always telling shop owners that their baristas should all be on the same page. Everyone should know what the espresso should taste like, and should know how to get there. Everyone should have an internalized understanding of how the coffees they are serving should taste, and does taste (for describing it to customers). This takes work, but it’s easy. There’s no trick to it.

    Service, on the other hand, is a fine art that is often overlooked and rarely mastered. Far be it from me to ever think that I have come close to getting it right, let alone its mastery. However, I have seen it and I recognize it when I see it.

    Why is service in the US so bad? I believe it is a pride thing. We all allow ourselves to be influenced by the culture in which we live. Our culture says that service jobs are for part time non-professionals who can’t get a “real” job because they don’t have the education or drive. In an attempt to fight against that, we hide behind our passion for coffee and wave it as a banner. We try to use it as wool and pull it over the eyes of our customers and think that seriousness and diligence = professionalism. Many of us don’t have the education, and many of us never had the drive until we found that we had a passion for coffee.

    Personally, I have both the education and the drive, and my heart is still firmly planted behind the specialty coffee retail counter, even though I now spend most of my days alone with the roaster. If I love retail so much, why am I not a full-time barista? For the same reasons why Chris IS a full-time barista. I feel like I can have more of a positive impact in a position of influence rather than as a barista constantly fighting an up-hill battle. I’ve done it. It’s exhausting, usually unfruitful, and while I’ve never gotten tired of it, I do get tired of working hard and having nothing to show for it outside of my own personal gain.

    My favorite baristas are the ones who not only have a passion for coffee, but who practice the same excellence in regards to customer service. Excellence is a broad, sweeping term that a lot of people throw around, but that few people exhibit on a consistent basis. (myself included)

    We want to be called “professional”, but we are unwilling to BE professionals. (Do I sound like Jay Caragay yet?)

    The issue isn’t quality or whether or not we should care. The issue is the motivation for quality. Quality for the sake of our customers is a good path to start on. I call it the “respect” factor, but more honestly, it’s out of love. If you love a person, you will only want to serve them the best quality possible, even if it’s a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.

    You cannot have one without the other and live up to the title. Our wages are not paid by coffee. Our wages are paid by customers. Let’s serve them first.

  10. Paul Yates aka PaulCoffeeFreak said, on June 2, 2011 at 2:39 am

    “Why is service in the US so bad? I believe it is a pride thing. We all allow ourselves to be influenced by the culture in which we live. Our culture says that service jobs are for part time non-professionals who can’t get a “real” job because they don’t have the education or drive. In an attempt to fight against that, we hide behind our passion for coffee and wave it as a banner. We try to use it as wool and pull it over the eyes of our customers and think that seriousness and diligence = professionalism.”

    I know I have…I still have family that refuse to really accept that serving coffee can be a “real job”.

    “The issue isn’t quality or whether or not we should care. The issue is the motivation for quality. Quality for the sake of our customers is a good path to start on. I call it the “respect” factor, but more honestly, it’s out of love. If you love a person, you will only want to serve them the best quality possible, even if it’s a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.”

    If excellent coffee is our only foundation, then we are doomed should the world have an ecological disaster and great coffees be ruined. However, if our business is successful in great service, then a poorer product won’t necessarily derail our customer base.

  11. Cassie said, on June 3, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I’ve spent several days mulling over a reply to this post.

    I’m “only” a customer, but one who has spent a lot of time reading about coffee, and seriously trying to educate my palate to appreciate nuance and taste. I’m essentially on the outside of things from an industry perspective, which is why I feel like I have to say something here.

    I make drastic detours in my daily routine to have good coffee. I’m in NYC and we have several really good cafés here now. I’ve been to most of them, and what really strikes me is the quality of service. Admittedly, I come from a family that has a small, customer-oriented retail business, so perhaps I’m biased. I’m not saying that the quality of the espresso is irrelevant, just that what stands out in my memory is always the quality of service.

    The bars where I feel the most comfortable, regardless of the level of “star-power” behind the counter, are those where there’s a direct interaction with the barista. It may sound trite, but a simple and direct ‘thank you’ goes a long way. I will say honestly, I’ve never had a barista ask me “How was the coffee?”. But I’d probably be more than willing to engage with them if I was asked.

    What I’m looking for is respect for my choice to frequent an independent cafe, response to my inquiries, and a sense of service in the whole experience. I respect the craft in the brewing, and dedication and commitment to small/craft roasters, more than I’ve ever audibly expressed as a consumer. Most of the time, I receive that commitment of quality and service from whomever is pulling the shot . But what really keeps me coming back is the little things. The eye contact and thank you’s .

    I want two things, essentially. A fabulous espresso and a little bit of personal attention, if the shop isn’t full of people. My hours are out of sync with most people, so I’m often at a cafe at an odd hour. If someone takes my order and pulls my shot while barely lifting their glance from their Blackberry, I get annoyed. If there’s attention paid to the preparation, the customer, and the end result (satisfaction hopefully), at the receiving end I feel well-served and rewarded for my patronage.

    What I’ve often wondered is how the cafe staff can possibly bridge the gap between a run-of-the-mill order for a drink and someone who is really interested in all of the details. Locale, roast, seasonality, brewing method etc….I’ve studiously avoided any mention of the shops I like in NYC. Unless and until you become a regular customer, I suppose it’s hard to gauge that kind of interest from an average order.

    I’d like to say, though – I/we are out there. We care, we appreciate the attention paid to the details. Now, keep me coming back.

  12. [...] The only two posts he’s written this year are worth their bandwidth in gold. Read ‘em, here and here. (By the way… he’s writing about me in that second [...]


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