Service with a Smile

Because I believe in a free market economy fueled by healthy competition, I stopped by the new Caribou Coffee in the train station yesterday, thereby making my contribution toward toppling the Starbucks Empire. This being my second visit to the new coffee shop, I have now determined that Caribou’s market positioning must be something akin to, “The Coffee Shop That Cares.” I say this primarily because everyone working there shares the same smurftastic, whistle while you work type attitude.
Now, I’m all for good customer service – far too many establishments lack this crucial skill – but I also like to keep a professional distance between myself and, well… pretty much everyone else. I don’t want to be pals with the barista, I just want her to make me some coffee. I guess really, I like my coffee encounters just the way I like most of my human interactions: quick and anonymous.
So I instantly knew I was in for trouble when the 20-something perky cashier with burgundy hair bounded over to the cash register, and gave me a huge smile as she chirped, “Hi there! How are you doing today? What can I get for you this afternoon?”
I squinted at their menu board to see what they called a medium sized coffee, and was refreshingly surprised to see that they just call it a “medium.” I pulled out some cash and said, “Hi – can I have a decaf medium skim latté, please?”
“You sure can! We’ll get that for you right away! Is there anything else I can interest you in? Maybe some chocolates or some Caribou mints? If you’d like to put $20 on a coffee card, your latté will be free today!”
“No, just the latté is fine, thanks.”
The Stepford cashier rang up my latté, handed me my change, and kept talking to me as I was walking away, her voice slowly drifting off: “Thanks for coming in! Just step right over there, and we’ll get your latté to you in a jiffy! Hope to see you again soon.”
As I waited for my drink, the barista gal had a permagrin on her face, and kept looking over at me while I impatiently flicked a packet of raw sugar between my fingers.
She smiled widely at me, and said, “Hi there! How are you doing today? I’ll have that decaf medium skim latté ready for you in just a second! Will you need a coffee sleeve for that? I’ll get you one just in case.”
I closed my eyes a bit and calmed myself with the soothing image of a sweaty, gold-chained Mr. T smashing through the glass doors of the coffee shop while shouting, “Enough with the jibber-jabber! Give the woman her damn latté, fool, ‘fore I mess you up, real good!”
I was snapped out of my fantasy by the arrival of my piping hot coffee, but the whole experience reminded me of another encounter I had with overly engaged service employees. Several years ago, a friend and I were eating dinner at a local restaurant. Our waiter was a young man, clean-cut, seemed nice enough, but he would not stop smiling and staring at us the entire time he was taking our order. His eyes were fixed intently on mine as I perused the menu, and as I gave him my order, he kept looking directly into my eyes instead of down at his notepad as he scribbled out my order.
The frozen eye contact made me extremely uncomfortable and fidgety. As soon as he walked away, I leaned over to my friend Kim, and said, “Why is it that we always get the crazy waiters? I mean, how totally creepy was that guy?!”
Kim nodded in agreement, and whispered, “No kidding! Hey, Starey McEyeballs – try looking away every now and then, why don’t you!?”
Later in the evening, the waiter came back to see if we were interested in dessert, and as I looked over the menu, I asked him what the cheesecake of the day was. I kept my head fixed firmly on the menu because I didn’t want to look him in the eyes, for fear that he might steal my soul.
This time, he didn’t start writing my order down right away. Instead he stopped, and said to us, “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that – I’m actually a little hard of hearing.”
As he walked away, Kim and I looked at each other with an entirely new perspective on the situation. So as it turned out, our waiter wasn’t a psycho after all – he was just hard of hearing, and had to keep staring at us in order to read our lips. This was one of those experiences that really makes you think twice before passing judgment on people.
We walked out of there with a whole new attitude, having learned a valuable life lesson. I guess that the moral of the story is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – black, white, gay, straight, deaf, hearing. The bottom line is that no matter what your background, it’s still really creepy to hold someone’s gaze for more than ten seconds.

Every Day Is Kid’s Day

After encountering three children in the elevator, and one pre-teen eyeing up the coffee machine at work, I eventually deduced that last Wednesday was “Take Your Child to Work Day.” I’m all for inventing new holidays, particularly if they involve me getting presents, but I’d at least like a little more truth in advertising. With that in mind, I came up with a few more descriptive names for this annual event:
“Get Out Of Paying For Daycare Today Day”
“Flaunt Your Fertility In Front Of Your Single, Childless Co-workers Day”
“Let’s See If We Can Possibly Make Union Station Any More Crowded At Lunchtime Day”
“Prove To Junior That At Least Someone Respects Daddy Day”