Hot take: I genuinely enjoy customer service. I love connecting and forming relationships with regulars, and being able to serve up their coffee with a smile.
Throughout my years as part of the American workforce, I have worked several different jobs that all required me to provide quality customer service.
My very first job was at an old-fashioned Dairy Queen knock-off (the kind where you walk up to a window and order) called The Dairy Delite, which was owned by former Viking player Paul Krause.
I stayed there until my third summer when I quit because the new owners were a mess. I learned my customer service skills there, and I loved working with the other high schoolers whose first job it also was. I even got a few of my friends hired during my second summer there and we made some great memories together as self-proclaimed “professional ice cream artists.”
Since my first job at The Dairy, I have gone on to work part-time at other retailers like Hy-Vee, Hollister, ALDI, Columbia Sportswear, and as a barista at Diamond Dust Bakery & Coffee Shop which is located just off-campus here in St Peter.
All of the good experiences in customer service positions, however, are always balanced out by not-so-good experiences. I don’t know what it is about working in customer service but for some reason, it seems to attract customers who can really only be described as the absolute scourge of humanity. Some adults have never even experienced dealing with awful customers and sometimes it really shows.
All employees are taught special etiquette to follow when dealing with customers, but no one teaches the customers how to act when with an employee. I find this problematic, therefore I have produced the following list of DOs and DON’Ts for you to double-check you aren’t terrorizing your local baristas. There is no arguing with this list, as I am an omniscient God with divine wisdom.
DO NOT: Catch an attitude with the barista
You know that old training line, “The customer is always right”?
Yeah, well, customers are definitely more often wrong than right. It’s especially frustrating when a customer decides to take a power trip and snarkily point out something they think you did wrong. All that does is make me feel criticized and not want to help you. Why not just ask nicely? I would be glad to accommodate the issue if you’re not a complete tool about it.
Once, a woman around her 60s came into Diamond Dust and ordered a small latte. She specified that she wanted it extra hot. We steam our milk at 160°F, so I set it to steam at the next highest temperature. When it was done, I handed it to her and reminded her to be careful with the cup as it was very hot. She proceeded to pick it up without a paper collar, screamed, and dropped it all over the floor. Then followed a good five-minute-long yell/rant about how the cup burned her hand. It was a lot. I think I’m still processing it all.
DO: Ask questions! Interact with us!
I get it, coffee is a confusing subject. Bean water is delicious, yet its various forms can be very confusing to a novice connoisseur. Trust the barista to take care of you– it’s our job! We have the answers to your questions whether it be coffee-related, pastry-related, et cetera.
Plus, I just like to talk! Of course, all baristas are different, but this one is a Chatty Cathy. If your barista is I’ll give you recommendations up the wazoo and can pretty much strike up a conversation about anything.
If you strike up a conversation with your local barista, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I’ve found customers feel much more appreciated when they feel listened to, and it feels really nice that I can give that feeling to someone just by chatting with them.
DO NOT: Be impatient
Most people visit the coffee shop in the morning– the busiest time of day for a barista. Rushes are stressful. I get it. You want to get to work. Hurrying us won’t make us any faster; If anything, it’ll honestly probably make me mess up your order.
Working a shift during rush hours makes me want to hide in the walk-in fridge and cry. They’re hectic for everyone. It’s easiest and least painful for everyone if you just wait the five or ten minutes it takes for us to get to your order. And for the love of God, be compassionate when all the baristas are busy.
DO: Tip! (If you can)
Like most baristas, I am a broke college student. I have felt the emotional mutilation that accompanies an overdraft fee, the frustration when I have a single dollar in my checking out and can’t buy myself some darn McNuggets. I rely on these tips to make my life slightly less sucky and to get through my schoolwork.
So, when I ring someone up for a $25 order and they give nothing for a tip, it’s pretty disheartening. I know that it’s my job, but I work hard to try to make all the customers come in feel taken care of and heard and I think that’s worth at least a quarter or two. Not all baristas see that as part of the job.
All in all, I like being a barista. Even if customers are rude or the shift is brutal, I know that by serving the customers I have accomplished something and that is meaningful to me.
At the risk of sounding self-centered and overly dramatic, I have a philosophy of barista-ing. If a customer is rude or crabby, I find that giving them the benefit of the doubt makes them a lot more human and a lot easier to serve. They might have had a bad morning, or they might be going through a difficult time in their life. Heck, their dog might have died.
The most difficult customers are the ones you want to deal with the least, but also the ones that you could benefit the most. Sometimes people just need a little taste of kindness and that can make their demeanor switch up completely. It makes me feel a little better about myself to know that I’ve done what I can to make their day a little brighter than it was before they walked in. I can go home after a shift knowing that even if nothing good happened to them that day, at least I know that I tried to be a smiling face.