Grande Extra Caramel Extra Hot Caramel Macchiato

Julia’s post of yesterday rekindled thoughts of my idyllic days as a barista at the coffee shop I no longer frequent. I am now even worse than a coffee snob. Never having had a need for the caffeine content, or a particular fondness for extra flavor or richness, I began my job as a coffee hater and ended as a purist. Apparently the “oracle” doesn’t understand the mysteries of good coffee, as it declared me lame. If I’m going to bother with a cup of coffee at all, it had better be good, and it had better not have any milk or heaven forbid, sugar, in it (Josh would take exception to this, since I don’t mind it cold). If I’m going to bother with an espresso, or very rarely, a cappuccino, it had better be from a 13-second shot. And also not be corrupted by any sugar or sweetness.

But this is not the point of my post. A comment at Julia’s reminded me of perhaps the most obnoxious part about working in that place, a trait shared perhaps by most service-sector jobs – the surveillance. The secret shoppers.

When I worked as a barista, I had a certain persona. A very cheerful, chatty persona, not all that different from my everyday self, but passionately maintained through several levels of stress. One summer, I transferred to the busiest shop in the country. We had three bars and were crazy hectic almost all the time. I was working one of the bars when it suddenly broke, caught on fire, and spewed hot steam all over the arms of one of my co-workers. You might imagine that in the first few seconds of this event we were somewhat freaked out. As I was trying to decide in a split-second what to do about both my screaming friend and the flames, a customer impatiently said, “where is my Caramel Macchiato?” I think I may have asked her to please wait a moment with a touch less cheeriness than is apparently required – but looking back, not nearly as angrily as she deserved. It turned out that my coworker had second-degree burns on her arms. The store took responsibility, covered her costs and made up for her lost pay.

But me? I got in trouble. The “customer” was a secret shopper. She in no way acknowledged what was happening in the moment I asked her to please wait a moment but only put on her little form that I was “slow” in getting her drink to her and less than friendly in my banter with the customers. My shift-manager, the incompetent that he was, suggested that I take a retraining in customer service.

9 years later and I’m still resentful.

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3 responses to “Grande Extra Caramel Extra Hot Caramel Macchiato

  1. i would be too…that ain’t right.

    i worked service for years, mostly in cheesy Anne of Green Gables industry jobs here on PEI as a kid, where i dressed in clothing shameful to my dignity and was the picture of cheeriness to Japanese tourists, but also behind a deli counter in Vancouver, and in a variety of cafes in my college town. i hated the forced cheer, though i’m by nature a friendly person, and i hated the pressure to sell in the more retail-focused places. i also hated being treated as less than human by people whose concept of customer service must have been forged by a Walmart sensibility.

    that said, as i responded at Julia’s to the SB barista who commented, i do think that one has to be, y’know, moderately aware when making inane conversation with customers, and assuming that everyone celebrates Christmas is kinda presumptuous and ignorant, in both senses of the term. but the fact that many people who work in service make dumb conversation because they’re pressured to is no reason to assume that you still get your coffee before the employee gets her burns dealt with. yikes.

    that person should have had her “secret shopper” privileges revoked.

  2. That sounds like the very antithesis of secret shopper to me. What a bitch!

    I can’t imagine any real customer reacting that way. Most people I know would be horrified and try to help, and to hell with the drink.

  3. I’ve had friends who were secret shoppers in the past, and I have to admit I’ve explored the possibility before myself. I’ve also had a friend who has worked as an editor of secret shopper reports. She said that one of her tasks as editor was to get rid of extraneous information in the report, like burnt arms. So, I’ve always interpreted this story as a machine at work, rather than anyone’s personal culpability. If I were to identify the truly “evil” person here, it’s definitely the shift-manager. He’s the only true believer in the machine, while the others seem to be just filling out paperwork, and making a little money. Then again, maybe I’m taking the position analogous to “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Maybe instead, the secret shopper and the secret shopper editor are the truly evil ones, especially if they don’t actually believe in the justice of the machine. The shift-manager might be the fair and honest one, because he holds the principle of quality service above all else, and is willing to promote that principle through all adversity. The secret shopper is simply an opportunist, willing to sell her services to any scummy outfit that requires objective and reliable surveillance. These are the kind of people that allow totalitarian dictatorships to survive, in the end. In that respect, the shift-managers of the world are pretty powerless – a little naive, perhaps – but powerless. They too are simply subject to those that are willing to soullessly write and edit reports.

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