Bank Holiday Barista

Ladies and gentlemen, on this, the last bank holiday weekend of May, please spare a thought for baristas everywhere.

Hell, spare a thought for retail staff everywhere. We’re a hard-working bunch, and we don’t deserve the crap that gets thrown at us.

I’m lucky this time around – I’m not actually working on Bank Holiday Monday itself. Having worked the Saturday and Sunday was quite enough, thank you. But this is quite a strange turn of events: I’m usually very firmly moored to my coffee machines for bank holidays. And quite frankly, it’s never pleasant.

Brace yourselves. I need to let off some steam.

The shop where I work is right in the middle of one of the UK’s most popular shopping centres. Going there is a major family day out for a lot of people, a proper occasion to look forward to for weeks… and they tend to save that day out for a nice bank holiday.

I’d like to point out that technically we’re not a coffee shop, we’re a slightly evolved sandwich shop – we’ve just also found ourselves to be pretty damn good at making coffee, and each branch has a couple of people trained as proper baristas, coffee maestros. The food is still the main attraction, and will always be prioritised. I love our food, it’s healthy and filling and bloody tasty, especially the soups. Mmm, soup.

But somehow, despite our very obvious focus on food (the name of the shop is a bloody great giveaway), the drinks always cause the most contention. Part of the problem is, I think, that people in the UK have gained most of their knowledge about coffee from one chain in particular, and it’s not the one I work for. If anything is even slightly different from the ‘norm’, it’s our baristas who get to hear about it. And half of the baristas in my shop are… me.

My Top 5 Favourite Customers of the Bank Holiday Weekend

  1. When we had so many people in the shop drinking coffee that we’d run out of ceramic cups and had to temporarily move onto takeaway cups: “I’m not drinking out of that. I’m… allergic to paper. And so is my husband. And my mum. Get me a REAL cup.”
  2. Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
    Me:”We do two sizes, small or big.”
    Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
    Me:”This is small, and this is big.”
    Customer: “I want a medium latte.”
  3. We sell iced blended drinks – seven different varieties. We have two blenders.
    Customer: “Why are you taking so long with my drinks?! This service is terrible. I’ll be going to Starbucks next time.”
    This particular customer had ordered five flavours of iced drinks and two different types of hot coffee. He had, at this point, been waiting less than five minutes.
  4. The woman who nearly cried when we ran out of skimmed milk for her cup of tea. Look love, three drops of whole milk aren’t going to ruin your precious diet. Chill.
  5. The family who, at five minutes before we closed, seemed totally perplexed as to why they couldn’t sit down and have a good long chat with their enormous cups of coffee. They also bemoaned the fact that we’d sold out of pretty much everything.

One thing they all have in common? Very short on that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ business. I always do an extra-enthusiastic “YOU’RE WELCOME! HAVE A LOVELY DAY!” in those situations because come on – what could they complain about? “Dear head office, the lead barista in this shop told me to have a lovely day and I hadn’t even said thank you. I am outraged at the impunity.”

Oddly enough, I do enjoy my job and I’d absolutely love to open my own café one day. Ninety percent of the time I have great customers, sociable people who like to have a chat while you’re making their drink, people who have a sense of humour and leave the shop genuinely happy with their experience. It’s easy to make someone’s day: it feels good to go the extra mile. I get such satisfaction from my making my beautiful, shiny coffee machines do their job with precision and perfection.

Cimbali beauty

Beautiful shiny coffee machine. If I could sneak it into my handbag and take it home, I would. Sadly, it’s plumbed in.

That all goes to hell, of course, when it’s a rainy bank holiday weekend and nobody can think of anything better to do than traipse their entire family around a shopping centre. Today, at least three quarters of my customers had right miserable faces on. I like to have a chat and will natter with pretty much everyone, but hardly anyone even cracked a smile today. It wasn’t as though I’d personally dragged them to the shopping centre, marched them into my shop and threatened them with a frozen baguette until they ordered a coffee. I’m a bit dippy and usually manage to do something stupid like trip over on my way to the coffee machine, or flick milk into my own face, or steam myself with the steam arm. Usually a bit of unintentional slapstick is ace for breaking the ice and getting a customer to have a bit of a conversation. Not this weekend! Grump, grump and more grump. And if it wasn’t a standard grump, it was a bored child throwing a paddy. There’s been more than a few of them this weekend!

So I thank the god of rotas, or my manager at least, that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow. The weather forecast seems to translate as ‘it will be arse’ and that means a heaving shopping centre. Will I spend the bank holiday marching from shop to shop like an automaton with a credit card? No I bloody won’t. I will be sitting on my sofa, rereading A Clash of Kings and perhaps playing The Sims 3. If I get a bit of energy, I might let Kev tow me along to the pub to be sociable.

By the time I get back to work on Tuesday, all will be back to normal.

And if it’s not, keep your eye on the news. Any reports of a barista overdosing on espresso and throwing boxes of teabags at an old lady who “can’t possibly have tea unless it’s in a pot with a silver spoon”… you’ll know where to look.

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