Thoughts by: David Mays, Director of Continous Education
What you can learn:
When a guest comes in and asks for a coffee with some particular quality, using a catch-all term like bold, or bright, or strong, how can you both (a) figure out exactly what they mean and what they are looking for in their coffee, and (b) provide efficient, personable and approachable service without talking down to them? Alex discusses this question and offers some tips on how to bridge the gap between the limited vocabulary most consumers have about coffee and the insular, overly technical vocabulary most coffee professionals use to describe coffee.
Why the article matters:
In Alex’s speech at the SCAA Symposium 2014, he states, “Every social interaction is accomplished through acting, even if you’re not always conscious of that acting. But service work is a very conscious form of acting. You need to give a performance that is going to convince a guest that you care about them, and are doing everything you can to make them happy, even if, internally, you might be having a hard day, and finding it hard to feel the love yourself.”
Alex’s position is not a new one in the service industry, and it can be the most personally challenging and often most rewarding aspect of our work. I have been in food service for nearly 6 years now, and some of the hardest days of those 6 years were spent trying to put on a good face to strangers while experiencing hardship in my personal life. It can feel degrading to submit your emotional self to the service of others. Why should we be expected to “turn ourselves off”, so to speak, and put on a mask in order to make someone else’s day marginally better?
Shutting yourself off from hard experiences and feelings is obviously not healthy. Because of the mentally and emotionally taxing nature of service work, there is an infinite set of circumstances when taking a day off to reflect is much more constructive and beneficial than coming into work and trying to put on an emotional mask. Giving great service should never be a motivation to repress your emotions — but it can be a real, profound opportunity to transform them.
By taking a slightly different perspective in the middle of those hard days, giving positive service can actually have a net positive experience on both the server and the served. Giving service, like any act of generosity, can lead directly to joy if the server is open and willing to receive that joy! In my own history of service work, focusing on giving great service has, on several occasions, given me a purpose for that day beyond resolving my personal issues, and it has opened me up to feeding off of the positivity and enthusiasm of others! I have many memories of leaving a shift feeling much more drained, but in a much more positive headspace, with a deeper and more positive view of human warmth and kindness, than when I started.
In order to provide that caliber of great service effectively, it is critical to choose our words with as much care and understanding as possible. This article provides a great perspective on how and why we choose to use the words we do when describing coffee and flavor. It also showcases how every conversation, even when just about someone’s morning drink order, is an enormous opportunity for learning and genuine connection for both the server and the served.