We spend a lot of time judging coffee shops by their roasts and pulls and machinery. I’d like to suggest another, equally as important criteria: morning service.
Other than live-in family and, in some cases, overnight guests, those who do not brew coffee at home on the regular also communicate with a coffee shop staffer of some kind post-wake, pre-caffination. It is a delicate window of time for us. I am fragile. So, service is hugely important. Here are a modest few rules of engagement for coffee shop personnel to adopt for the AM rush. The best places do all of this and more, and that’s why they’re great. Here we go.
1. Remember my order before you remember my name. If you can only remember one of the two, please make it my order. See #2, as I am deeply invested in you knowing my order. The best job anyone has ever done with this is at the Starbucks at the entrance to 30 Rock from the subway (there are a few Starbuckses in the Rockefeller Center concourse, and all but this one are total garbage, so I want to be clear). The AM manager knows names and orders and calls them into the baristas as his customers walk in. It took him six days to get my name and order down. The in-store experience is so painless that I was willing to drink Starbucks coffee just to get it.
2. The goal is for you to create a situation for me wherein
I can say as few words as possible if I don’t want to chit-chat I shouldn’t be made to feel like a dick for that. When all I have to say is, “Yes, thanks,” you, sweet person behind the counter, are crushing it.
3. If you really, really know what you’re doing, maybe I don’t even have to say that? I used to live a block from Joe on Waverly. When lines got long, Jonathan would scan the line for regulars, cup their drinks and bring them out on the house. Though certainly above and beyond the call, this is how to breed loyalty.
4. As a barista, you, too, can know my drink and help a brother out. They’re very good at this at Blue Bottle in Chelsea, where it’s a Yes, Thanks situation because the baristas tell the cashiers what to ring up as they’re getting it ready for me.
5. Please, God, don’t be annoying. This is a big one. At Le Pain Quotidien, there’s a server, Michaelangelo, who asks me what my name is every time he rings me up. This morning, he also had to pour my coffee twice because he spilled the first one. While bagging another customer’s croissant he warned, “be careful where you throw out that plastic bag, because the animals are in danger.” Worst case scenario all around.
6. Keep in mind that the less time I spend handling coffee shop ops the better. It’s not because I don’t love the shop — I do love the shop — it’s because I’m not equipped to deal with people before I’ve had my coffee (many would argue I’m generally ill-equipped to deal with people) and I may be running late, too. Don’t let the line slow down, don’t wait for a credit card to run before taking the next person’s order, don’t run out of lids for the coffee cups, don’t have a sidebar with someone else behind the counter about what you did last night and how you’re hungover.
UPDATE: Cole McBride makes the To Each His Own point: ”@benleventhal I know many customers that want this same experience as you in the morning but I also know that that’s not for everyone.” I agree, but would add that staffers should read customers and let them dictate, not the other way around. I tip well and am cordial and in exchange if I want to talk less that should be ok. Also I would emphasize these are suggestions for the morning rush, which we could define as opening until 9:45 AM, if that makes anyone more comfortable.
UPDATE 2: A particular morning provoked me into putting pen to paper on this topic, but let me add that I mostly have great experiences with specialty coffee shops and that my issue is mainly with places like most Starbucks and Le Pain Quotidiens, such as the one on Lexington and 64th that currently has me by the balls. Joe, Blue Bottle, Jack’s, and Mud Truck have all been regular stops for me over the years and staffers at those places are invariably a pleasure. xo, BL