Thursday, June 03, 2010

Summer Jobs: The customer is always right

Waking early in the summer, my job was to open a mom&pop cafe, just off the highway that led from our bedroom town to downtown Portland.  Still half asleep, I let myself in the back door.  Tying a brown apron lettered with the white script "Herbs & Spice" over my jeans and tee shirt, I spread a crisp white coffee filter into the basket, measured fresh ground coffee beans and hit brew. I flipped the switch on the yogurt machine and the open sign, taking chairs down from the three cafe tables.

Herbs & Spice sold espresso drinks, coffee, the aforementioned herbs and spices, as well as home brew kits in the back.  The married owners, Doris and Jim, seemed never to age over the years of hiring high school kids to man the store. Jim taught us the basics of brewing your own beer in your basement.  So we could help customers, of course. Doris taught teens the basics of customer service.  No matter what you were busy doing, the customer came first.

Every afternoon, like clockwork, a tall elderly gentleman with a full head of white, wavy hair arrived to order an iced latte.  To go.  He shuffled in, placed his order, smiled, and shuffled out, clutching the red coke cup already sweating in the summer heat. 

One day he arrived, on time, only to berate my coffee making, ice-shaking skills.  "Every day, I order an iced latte, and every day I take it home to my wife, and it's COLD!" he bellowed at me.

Confused, I smiled.  "But sir, an iced latte is cold."

He barely let me finish, a man on a mission.  "All I know is that my wife is complaining that her coffee is cold."

"You are ordering an iced latte, yes?"

"I know what I order!" he yelled.  I'd never seen him like this.  I called for my manager.

Hearing his complaint that his iced latte was always cold, my manager offered him his money back for his most recent purchase, and suggested he might want to try another cafe.  Perhaps one where iced lattes came hot.

Looking back, I wish I had simply honored his request, and made every iced latte he ordered for his house-bound wife piping hot.  It seemed a small order to keep this customer happy in his routine. Because, of course, the customer is always right.

NPR's All Things Considered is asking the question: which summer job influenced you the most?  Click here to submit your story

(Photo: Yami Yugi, Flickr)

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