When behind a bar, at a certain time of day, there is a question that I really love to ask. The timing may vary but between 8am and noon I like to ask a simple question:
“Have you had coffee yet today?”
If the answer is “No” then I realise that my priority, above all is, is going to be quickly and efficiently getting this person what they asked for. No unnecessary questions, no additional choices, no upsell. Get to work and get this person coffee right now, and be sympathetic for their need for caffeine. Especially if it a grumpy, uncaffeinated and impatient “No.” from the customer too.
I think we sometimes lie to ourselves about how much we care about coffee when it comes to our first cup of the day. (I must credit Tracy Ging and the SCAA Symposium for really driving this home to me.) If I look at my own habits, for the first cup quality is actually lower down on the list, below convenience. I am not alone in this, even amongst other industry professionals – let alone habitual consumers. I’ve seen swathes of coffee people choose to skip the line at a brew bar to grab their first cup from a giant urn of very average hotel coffee. Most people, at the start of the day, just need coffee. We don’t have to like this fact, but we do have to accept it.
However, once we’ve had a coffee – then the world changes a little. The chemical need is alleviated, and I think this change is an important one for baristas.
If I ask someone if they’ve had coffee yet, and they say “Yes” – this is very useful information. They’re not necessarily looking for caffeine – to alleviate their withdrawal – but, more likely, they are looking for a tasty cup of coffee. I can ask if they’re in the mood to try something different, I can suggest a different coffee or perhaps a different drink. As a barista I have a little more space and time for the conversation. Even better is when they tell you what they’ve had today – the more information you can gather about someone the more easily you can delight them. Everyone needs something a little different in terms of service and experience, so any opportunity to understand them a little more should be taken. This is, to me, the very root of great service – and I hope this one little question is useful to those of you reading this.