Coffee Shop Conundrums: Dealing with Customers who ask a Lot of You (With Grace and Tact)


by Amy Hall, Espresso Elevado, Plymouth, MI

Every barista can relate when I say that some customers are hard to deal with. The common generalization, “the customer is always right” has never been harder to agree with than after you’ve served a person who has challenged your kindness threshold. Being a reactive person by nature, I know that setting aside your own emotional reaction is essential when serving customers who are particularly difficult.

This can prove to be especially daunting in the field of specialty coffee. So many coffee drinkers originate from the fast-paced, nearly instant gratification that big chain coffee shops offer. It seems as if there has become a sense of impatience when it comes to specialty coffee. Very few people are willing to wait a few moments for their handcrafted drink. On the flipside, after hours of handcrafting coffee beverages and serving others, I know that I get tired and need a break. So, when it’s time to close after a busy day, I’m ready. But what do you do when a customer does something unexpected? What do you do when a customer finally asks too much of you?

Recently, I had such an encounter where a customer called our store to order his drink in advance of his arrival. This is common and it isn’t usually an inconvenience. However, this particular customer had asked us if we could remain open for 20 minutes after we closed so that he could make it to the shop to get his drink. Of course, we could not stay open. So, we decided to close and allow him to come in when he arrived. This meant that I had to hold off on counting down the register, pushing us back by at least 10 minutes. My coworker and myself just had to take deep breaths and stay as calm as we possibly could. When the man finally arrived, he paid in exact change and did not leave a tip. Inside, I was beyond frustrated but I could not let my instinct to say something that I would regret overtake me. Instead, I had to swallow my pride with a sip of coffee and keep it together. Through gritted teeth, I smiled and wished him a good evening. After he left, I had to take a step back and tell myself that this was not a big deal. In the grand scheme of things, this would not ruin my day. I would go home just like anyone else. I would eat dinner, chat with my family, and probably watch TV for the remainder of the evening. I probably wouldn’t even think twice about what the man did unless I recalled it as a funny story to tell friends later, (or as an anecdote for a blog post).

At the end of the day, we all recognize that customers can be difficult every now and then (they are human beings, after all), but ultimately we get to control how we react to these situations and how it makes us feel. As baristas in the specialty coffee industry, we exist in our jobs to serve others with a smile and provide a quality product. The most exciting part is that we also get to expose them to all of the ways that a great cup of coffee can delight and surprise customers who seek out these experiences, which is what we are truly passionate about. If we can’t communicate the respect that people crave, then we’re not in the right business. Though we’ve heard it a million times, the golden rule stands true: treat others the way you want to be treated. If we all start living out that rule—baristas and customers alike—I believe we will see the changes in attitude that we desire and dealing with customers gracefully and with tact will never have to be a chore. Try it today and see what being kind brings you.

Espresso_Elevado_007Amy Hall is the staff writer and a barista at Espresso Elevado in Plymouth, Michigan. Though she writes website content, blog posts, and newsletters for the coffee shop, she advises on anything from marketing to mixology and has a true love for coffee and her customers. As a student of literature at Eastern Michigan University, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to blend her writing skills with her passion for specialty coffee. Contact her @aimeezy on Twitter. 

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