Why one barista still loves their job even if rude customers make it challenging

In Opinion
An image of a half-full Starbucks cup on a table.
(Photo Illustration by Gabe Gandara)

Dear fellow baristas,

I know there is outrage over the recent racial profiling scandal at Starbucks in Philadelphia and rightfully so with the way the baristas treated the men involved. I firmly believe there should never be a situation where anyone, regardless of their race, should be kicked out for just spending time in a cafe.

Despite our best intentions though, challenging situations often arise because of difficult customers, and the public doesn’t always understand what we go through.

While I could write an entire novel about how, “The customer is always right” is total nonsense, I’ll instead keep it short and direct: Customers are not always right and they know that. Even though they do have the right to act however they choose to, it doesn’t mean their actions are justified.

One commonality I have come across in my 10 years of working with coffee is that customers often take their frustrations out on the baristas. For whatever reason customers feel they’re entitled to do so.

I feel like many of us have learned to deftly interact and communicate with difficult people who choose to take advantage of friendly customer service, and I must say it isn’t always easy. We all have pride and dignity, but I often have to tell myself not to take it personally.

The truth is, we don’t really know what that person is going through in life. He or she could be suffering through a divorce, the death of a loved one or perhaps even be in bad health. There are so many variables to what people experience on an everyday basis that affects their attitude.

What often becomes lost among all the coffee chaos — the long lines and large orders — is that customers don’t see that many of us love our jobs. The ability to make someone’s day and give them hope that there are still good, kind-hearted people in the world is something that I believe many baristas, including myself, love about the job.

It also must be noted there are many wonderful people who I interact with, making my day and job extremely rewarding. Just because I come across a few disgruntled and rude people doesn’t mean I believe everyone is like that. The reason why I have been able to stay a barista for over 10 years is simply because of the daily interaction with people.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I ask myself, “Why am I here?” especially after a negative experience with a customer at 4 a.m. and a six shot espresso in a tall cup with two pumps of chocolate, two inches of steamed nonfat milk at 190 degrees with whipped cream that they ordered. But I often turn the page quickly and am reminded the good will always outweigh the bad.

We baristas are often the first people the public interacts with at the start of the day, besides family and social media. We have the ability to get someone’s day started off right and we want to do just that.

I’ve had so many people tell me that they come in just because they want to feel better. Customers say seeing my fellow baristas and I outweighs the overrated and overpriced coffee we serve (I agree with them on the coffee).

Another aspect of our job that some might not connect with is that baristas are often like family to many of the regulars we serve daily.

We serve business executives, doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, construction workers, mechanics, custodians, police officers and journalists. We learn from all of them and understand that, like us, they are trying to make the most out of life.

Our relationships with the community are vital to its wellness. We provide more than a service. I have given people hugs, shared laughs and listened to them as they shed tears in front of me. There is such an intimate connection we baristas share with others that often gets overlooked.

Sure, there are baristas that loathe their jobs and can give us a bad reputation, but I believe that most of us enjoy being baristas. So many of us leave the coffee business and come back because of the people.

Never forget it’s about the people, not the fancy latte art and French press, even though a French press can make coffee taste divine.

Sincerely,
Brandon Angel

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