8 years…8 long years of working with customers and co-workers, most of whom I loved, some who I dreaded dealing with… Working with the consumer public and co-workers in a confined space for so many hours a week, for so many years takes its toll on even the most patient of people.
I was always told I had a ton of patience and I was the nicest person. Most people still think I am exactly that way. Don’t get me wrong, I am still that person, but lately, the girl who always sugarcoated everything is not exactly keeping quiet and always saying “yes” anymore.
You know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s empowering to not always go with the flow, to not bite my tongue, and to not give a damn about everything and everyone who crosses my path for the slightest of moments.
Yes, I am still Sandy Lo, the bubbly, positive writer who looks forward to life and makes big plans. But that doesn’t mean I have to be that little girl I used to be, who always did what she was told out of fear of rejection.
Growing up the youngest of four in a dictatorship of a household, I was taught to shut up, don’t ever question authority, and there were severe consequences if I didn’t agree.
I went on living my life this way, and still do, on occasion, sadly. It’s hard to break away from those childhood feelings. I have come along way from that scared little girl in the projects, though.
My fellow barista in Florida has nicknamed me “Sass” this week, which I have embraced with open arms. Most of the time, my sassy comments are in jest. Being from an Italian-Irish New York family, sarcasm is our language. Believe me, I’m not even that fluent in it compared to the rest of my family.
Some of the baristas I have worked with over the years, especially more recently, usually love when I dish out some sassy comments. There are some, though, who LOVE to dish it out, but simply can’t take it…or especially can’t take it coming from me, Sandy the Sweet.
This reminds me of my later high school years. I didn’t offer much of an opinion or argument if my friends wanted to do something I didn’t want to do. I went with the flow. By senior year, I got tired of it. Suddenly, I was the bad guy if I said no to something or suggested we do something else. People don’t like change.
I was typecast as the nice and easygoing girl. And yes, generally, I am that girl, but don’t think you can walk all over me because of it, or that I don’t have an opinion or a right to disagree.
I am a woman now. I won’t tolerate double standards or being talked down — no matter who is doing it. I don’t care if you’re a supervisor, big deal, so was I. In fact, I’ve worked for the Coffee Giant for more years than most of my supervisors, but I still treat them all with respect.
I won’t even tolerate customers thinking I’m inferior to them anymore. I’m used to a wonderful clientele of colorful customers from all walks of life coming in and out of the cafe. People who I got to know well and who knew exactly who I was and what I was all about. We would exchange business cards, know about each other’s families, and even keep in touch outside of our daily coffee exchange.
Here in Bradenton, Florida… it’s a different story. Aside from a handful of fantastic customers, there are a ton of non-conversational types, who won’t even look me in the eye during our transaction. It makes me sick, actually. How can these people be so self-involved, rude, and dehumanizing? It’s not a social disorder either. Plenty of them will chat it up to their friends or on the phone WHILE I’m trying to take their order.
Recently, a customer ranted to me for over five minutes on how horrible our customer service was, all because we accidentally upgraded her for free. “I don’t want to be upgraded! Do you know how much sugar is in milk?” Why yes, yes, I do. But lady, if you’re so concerned, you shouldn’t drink it at all then! 4 ounces of milk is really going to make that much of a difference?
Of course, Sandy the Sweet wouldn’t say that to a customer, though Sassy Sandy was thinking it, and also imagining throwing the drink in her face. Instead, I offered to have the person on bar remake her drink, and apologized sincerely for our screw-up. Nasty Lady was not having it! “There are people behind me! That’s not fair to them!” She yelled, and I do mean YELLED at me through the drive-thru window. (How I loathe drive-thrus in coffee shops! It’s not the appropriate environment. We’re not fast food, especially when you want four extra, extra caramel and double blended drinks!)
So, I apologized again to Nasty Lady and told her I would refund her. The entire time I was doing the refund, she screamed how customer service in the entire world sucks, and basically was putting it all on MY shoulders. Finally, I had enough. I turned to her and said, “I am trying everything in my power to give you good customer service, but you are not having any part of it.” She kind of shut up at that point before driving away. Her rant lasted longer than it would have been to remake the drink, and the poor customers behind her had to wait anyway. Her previous concern for them was nothing but a pile of steaming poop.
Afterward, I needed a five minute breather in the bathroom to let out my frustration. I just don’t understand taking things out on your barista who is genuinely trying to make your day better. In my experience of working in this industry, as much as some baristas complain about their job, we do love to make people smile. It makes our day brighter and the time spent slinging coffee go by quicker.
Baristas love to laugh and joke with each other and love customers who interact with us. After all, this is just coffee. It is not a life or death institution that Americans have made. It is a luxury. It is about connection with people, not about the caffeine you’re guzzling down because you think you need it.
One of our above mentioned fantastic regulars in Bradenton told me something beautiful recently. We were discussing how much money the general public spends on coffee daily — no matter which cafe you choose to give your patronage to — and I explained how if I didn’t work where I received free coffee, I don’t know if I would frequent the place so much. To be honest, I know that’s a fib. Even on my off days, I spend my time writing at coffee shops!
My regular then explained, “Well, it’s not really about the coffee, is it? I mean, sure, I like to get my fix, but I keep coming back because of you guys.” She surely put a smile on my face. And she is right. It is the same reason I love going to coffee shops. I love the atmosphere and the interesting people you meet.
Another regular had told me, “It’s so cool to find out each barista’s story.” Even as a barista myself, I love to hear what my co-workers are up to, outside of the cafe that sometimes makes us loopy, angry, happy and sad.
See, it’s rare you’ll ever meet simply a barista. Each one of us is something much more. A college kid, a musician, dancer, pastry chef, gunslinger, fireman, or a writer. Sometimes we have good days when we are quick and efficient. Sometimes we have bad days, too, where we fall short. Maybe someone called out, a family member is in the hospital, we’re training someone new, or we’re simply having an off day or most likely, a crazy busy day with no breathing room or time for breaks. We’re human. We make mistakes. We try our best to remedy our mistakes.
And yes, I am sweet 98% of the time. Yes, I try to make the customer always right. I try to abide by my supervisor’s way of doing things, too. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t voice my opinion or suggestions. I deserve to have a voice still, no matter my rank, age, gender, or personality. As for those certain customers…they’re not ALWAYS right. I will still smile at them and try to give them want they want, but it doesn’t make them right or anything less than a downright bitch for thinking they can treat anyone in such an aggressive, degrading manner.
Love Your Barista,
Sweet Sandy Sassy Pants