Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WWPD and the revolution

No, it does not surprise me that Park Slope coffee shop patrons are more concerned with getting good coffee in self-righteous packaging than with getting said coffee from a staff treated decently.* I remember quite well how crappily the workers were treated at the Park Slope coffee shop where I worked (not Gorilla) way back when. Our shifts were basically full days without breaks (or with breaks not long enough to get down the falafel from next door that was the food option for those many hours), and ended when they ended, which could mean having to walk home after 1am, having of course not received any tips from that last hour or so because no one comes by for a cappuccino when the place is closed and the machine's getting cleaned out. We were allowed to drink all the regular coffee we wanted (all the better to keep us upright), but not to try the desserts. (We could, if we wanted, purchase them at a discount.) We were nevertheless expected to be able to describe said desserts in a convincing and mouthwatering-inducing way. At any rate, not so great, but nothing newsworthy as worker-oppression goes.

What was remarkable was the smug obliviousness of the customers. Like the woman who came in, asked which products were organic, deemed the response unsatisfactory, and stormed out. The entire concept of the place was geared towards reassuring those who really care about the world, who want a spiritual connection with the soy plant that contributed to their vanilla chai lattes, that even their smallest indulgences are in sync with their values.

*See especially the preference for the small local blah-blah-blah over Starbucks. I fully agree that aesthetically and coffee-taste-wise, many of the much-hyped independent coffee places are superior. But I thought it was common knowledge that if your concern is, say, that the baristas have health insurance, Starbucks is a safer bet. And that products like coffee and chocolate might be more or less fairly produced, but are not "local" if you're consuming them in New York.


Matt said...

Yes, some dim seeming people in that article. I suspect that it's not wonderful to work at many Starbucks, as they are often very busy and the assembly-line style would grind on me. But as you say, it's likely better than many independent places in most ways. I can also think of lots of reasons to like a local place over a chain, but the apparent belief that "small and local" is as such better is sad. And you'd expect the management to not blame itself but the "it was just some bad apples spoiling everyone" and the "if my coaching techniques were not helpful, people should have said something" stuff was annoying. You have to hope they don't believe it, but they probably do. And, I think that if I worked in such a place I'd rather have a raise than go to a "coffee conference".

Phoebe said...


You're right that Starbucks isn't the greatest job, either - at least that's what a friend who worked there briefly. But there's not-great as in, isn't it a tragedy that not everyone gets paid to do something they find fascinating, and not-great as in, illegal, exploitative stuff is going on. I suspect that some coffee-shop patrons assume all jobs less intellectually stimulating than their own are some form of torture, and don't stop to think of the subtle differences between latte-making with health insurance and latte-making without.

Anyway, this all gets back to the question of the patron-barista relationship, and the preference among certain patrons for a barista who's a hipper, more rebellious looking version of himself, i.e. a (usually) white college kid or recent grad. At least in NY, one sees this type of barista far more often at the independent places than at Starbucks, possibly because these are people who either have health insurance from school/parents or expect to have it again soon, after a brief stint in baristaville.