I haven’t been a big coffee drinker since my days on the engineering mezzanine at Northern Telecom (I never met a bunch of folks that could guzzle joe like Northern’s engineers).
The last decade, though, I easily go a month without drinking some form of coffee; a double bang cappuccino with extra foamy milk being my current favorite.
Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough are blessed with an abundance of decent cafes serving the best in fair-trade brews. When it comes to choosing a place to get my occasional cupped lightning, the three key differentiators, at least for me, are price, quality and service.
Price, with the exception of 3-Cups , is roughly the same between the locally-owned and operated places I’m willing to go.
Quality varies but having grown up on road warrior jitter juice I’m willing to tolerate a broad spectrum of results. As long as the raw bean comes from socially just source, is not priced out-of-line with its ingestability, is reasonably hot and is prepared somewhat hygienically, down it goes.
Which leaves level of service.
Coffee, though I know some folks feel differently, is a discretionary purchase. While I sometimes need, like many of us, an energy boost, I’m not so dependent a draught of “rocket fuel” that I’m willing to forgo courtesy at the cash register.
When I belly up to the bar, I’m happy to get the most minimal of attention and courtesy – a short grunt of acknowledgement and a reasonably fast turn around is all I’m looking for.
I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.
As the local market for good coffee has grown, so, it appears has the spread of boorish baristas.
Look guys, I’m not going to apologize for not seeming hip enough, not slangily ordering the trendiest drink or not paying slavish attention to your choice of clothes/music/politics – I’m here for a simple drink delivered as professionally as possible.
From all of these (plus Lex’s 3-Cups), I have reliably received top tier courteous service from clean and well-kept breweries at a price point that my family is comfortable paying.
There is a reason I don’t go to Driade, Open Eye or a handful of other highly touted caffeine distribution centers anymore.
When I’m shelling out 2+ bucks for cooked bean shards soaked in hot water, I don’t relish the risk of having even one brutish encounter.
When it happens, again and again, I always wonder why owner/operators are willing to put up with such behavior. Are they so disconnected from their business they don’t realize that its harder to acquire a new customer than cultivate and retain a loyal customer?
To be clear, in my experience even the worst of the bunch have employees that care, that deliver the level of quality and service I’m looking for.
But why play the odds, sometimes quite long, that a you will stumble on one of the happy few?
Maybe there is a natural evolution to coffee joints: care and attention slowly giving way to complacency and antagonism followed by a fall only buffered by new customers ignorance, cushioned only by previous credibility before a slide into inevitable failure.
Or maybe there is a cycle of birth and rebirth – even the worst returning from the ashes to the heights they once enjoyed.
Whatever the trajectory, I have no doubt that the rise and tolerance of the snobarista signals the end of the ride.