This blog really wants to stand at a bar and drink his espresso.

Archive for August 2008

The customer is always almost never right

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I expect the immediate reaction to the title to be one of outrage (or at least one of immediate dismissal). Even disregarding the fact that it was said by a businessman who happened to run a large department store, and thus had nothing to lose by saying it and everything to gain, any actual critical thought about the statement “The customer is always right” should at least lead to the conclusion that it’s ridiculously simplistic.

The base assumption of the statement is that the customer knows exactly what he/she wants. If that is actually the case, then sure, the statement is true. One of today’s orders: Medium skim decaf cappuccino, two splendas, lots of foam, not too hot. I made it exactly to order, customer delighted, barista happy. You win, Mr. Field (or Mr. Selfridge). This implies that the customer has actually had the experience of getting something that wasn’t quite perfect, that they experimented, and eventually came up with something that pleased them perfectly. Not everyone does this.

Especially considering my previous post, how reasonable is it to expect that the customer is actually getting the thing that would please them most when a significant portion of the menu is an unknown? And what’s the point of having well trained, knowledgeable baristi if one assumes that the customer is always right and knows exactly what they want? Isn’t the whole idea behind specialized labor to shift the burden of doing something onto people who are really good at it, thus relieving everyone else of work? The desires of the customer should certainly be respected, and it is the goal of a barista (salesperson, whatever) to fulfill those desires as best they can, but the method of fulfilling those desires should be left up to the person who knows more: the specialist.

How thrilling and elegant would it be to go up to a bar, tell the barista what you have a taste for, and get it, without exerting any mental effort at all?


Written by Nick

13 August, 2008 at 5:25 am

Posted in Coffee

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Doug Zell keeps stealing my ideas/Menu item overload

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Doug Zell isn’t really stealing my ideas, he just happens to address issues the same way I would; he also actually has a successful business in which to implement them, and I do not. Today I was in the Millennium Park Intelli and noticed that the menu boards had been taken down, and replaced with a simple, small, framed menu next to the register.

I was immediately delighted, and simultaneously started seething with jealousy. At this pace Intelli will soon be a place where baristi function like bartenders (which is what the word actually means), and I won’t be involved. Sooooo completely envious.

Why is this a good thing? Well, it’s incredibly naive to think that customers can scout the entire menu during their stand in line, and whenever someone comes in not knowing what they want, they invariably go with a ‘safe’ drink, which usually means a latte or a mocha. And when a customer does read the entire menu, they are so overwhelmed with choices that they go for the middle, and maybe add a flavor on a whim because they saw it. None of this ensures that the customer will get the best possible drink, and when a customer does find something that they like, they will stick with it and ignore the rest of the menu, because coffee is definitely an everyday comfort for most people. Why risk having a bad drink when you know what you like?

Making all of this worse is the fact that almost no one actually knows what the hell they are drinking. I prepped an iced latte, and the customer commented, “So it’s really just a glass of milk?” Yes, of course. Do you not look at what you are drinking? Why do you think your coffee is so lightly colored, and so thick in texture? Latte means “milk” in Italian, and the fact that “Caffe e” has been dropped from the drink name is perfectly indicative of what it has become: mostly milk.

Another customer: “I’m new to this whole coffee shop thing. I need a minute to check out the menu.” I managed to explain that they were all just extremely concentrated coffee diluted with milk, but he still got a mocha. Safe. To get back to the point, the menu eliminates the barista from the situation, at least partially, as a source of knowledge. If there’s no menu, the barista is immediately positioned as that source of knowledge (and also gains the responsibility of ensuring that the experience is a good one). End result: more informed and happier customers, and more fulfilled and happier baristi (and maybe more tips, too).

Written by Nick

13 August, 2008 at 5:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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