It’s not too much to expect my coffee made my way
Three weeks ago I walked into the Seventh Seal cafe in the beautiful Dorset market town of Dorchester and politely asked the man serving – who I now know to be Toby Frere – for an extra hot latte. He point-blank refused.
Said he couldn’t do it.
When, bewildered, I asked why, he said that it compromised the taste of the coffee beans and went on (uninvited) to explain what happens to the milk above a certain temperature.
I looked at this young man “lecturing” me about how I should drink my coffee – a lecture that he clearly thought would end in me handing over nearly £3 for a cup for his lukewarm brew – and a few things struck me.
His condescension and the fact he seemed to have no clue about the concept of customer service or indeed what his job is – to serve coffee exactly how the person paying for it wants it.
A barista is not there to educate people.
He’s not there to give everyone who walks through his doors a “coffee experience” with a latte and a lecture because, frankly, most of us aren’t interested.
We just want our coffee the way we like it.
But Mr Frere clearly sees his job as something far grander.
Maybe he equates making coffee with splitting the atom or saving the planet?
And he’s entitled to think those things.
What he’s not entitled to do is insult and patronise the paying customers who keep him in business.
Because if he’s only interested in serving coffee to experts and aficionados he won’t be in business long.
So, as I was leaving to spend my money at one of the many other lovely coffee shops in Dorchester I couldn’t resist a parting shot and said: “You’ve been so incredibly patronising I think I’m going to tweet about this.”
I wouldn’t actually have done it because frankly, Mr Frere and his lukewarm coffee is irrelevant in the rich tapestry of my life.
But when he haughtily bit back: “Go on then, tweet what you like” – I did.
The result was he went running to the local paper moaning that this woman with what he described as a “public profile” was trying to damage his business.
He told the paper I’d “stormed” out of his shop.
I simply walked to another coffee shop.
I only wanted a cup of hot coffee but Toby wouldn’t let me have it my way
He said: “She didn’t take it very well.”
If he means I wasn’t happy about being embarrassed and treated like an idiot, he’s damn right.
Maybe he’d expected me to smile and say “thank you” when he told me I’d have to drink coffee the way he likes it, and then pay for the privilege.
As he told the newspaper: “At that stage I didn’t know who she was and when she said she was going to tweet about it I thought that would be the end of it.”
So, if I’d been a punter without a public profile he’d have got away with being rude to me?
It shouldn’t have mattered a damn who I am or what I do.
I was a customer politely asking for an extra hot coffee and sneeringly being told “no” like I was some sort of clueless coffee Philistine.
That’s a total no-no in the coffee business, according to wholesale coffee roasters Limini, a company which actually trains baristas.
“Don’t preach to customers”, is one of their training rules.
But all this raises a question – what the hell’s happened to the concept of public service?
Whatever happened to people getting what they pay for, to politeness and respect?
Is it right that a bloke who makes coffee for a living can lord it over the people who keep him in business by telling them they have to drink their coffee the way he likes it – not the way they like it?
A friend of mine was recently in Waterstones buying a book.
The young woman serving asked if he’d like a bag.
He said he would.
She then proceeded to lecture this man – who is twice her age and has an incredibly powerful job – that he must re-use his paper bag “responsibly” and recycle it properly.
Who do these people think they are?
But God help customers who dare to complain about the service they receive.
We’re invariably told that just the act of complaining at all is “aggressive”.
That they don’t like “our attitude” because we’ve dared to complain.
People in call centres slam the phone down on us if we have the gall to ask why we’ve been kept waiting for 40 minutes.
The concept of “service” is fast disappearing.
It’s no longer the case that “the customer is always right”.
Dave Beckham gets his coffee his way, why can’t I?
In fact, with many businesses the attitude now is that the customer is invariably wrong – and a whinging idiot to boot.
How many times have you had a shop assistant look bored or roll their eyes when you ask for something?
How many times have you been made to feel like an inconvenience when you’re spending money that keeps them in a job?
How many times have you had to wait to be served by assistants more interested in gossiping to colleagues?
I have never in my life looked down on people in the service industry, because without them this country would go bust.
I have always treated shop assistants, waiters, people in bars and coffee shops with the respect they deserve because they work just as hard for their money as I do.
And I expect the same in return.
But with Mr Frere I didn’t get it.
I was patronised, belittled and embarrassed.
He describes himself as “an opinionated coffee enthusiast”.
But there’s a fine line between that and a coffee snob who is contemptuous of customers because they happen to like their coffee in a way he considers to be naff.
Yes, most coffee professionals know how best to extract flavour from coffee beans, but never have I come across one that has refused to make me the coffee I want – or tried to make me feel stupid for drinking it that way.
I spoke to Peter Dore-Smith, the owner of Kaffeine, one of the 20 top coffee shops in London who said it was “ridiculous” not to serve an extra hot latte if that’s what the customer wants.
“David Beckham often comes in here and he likes his extra hot,” he told me. “I wouldn’t say no to him or anyone else.
“It’s like someone walking into a restaurant, asking for their steak to be well done and being told, ‘No, you can’t have it that way.’ People are entitled to say, ‘I’ll have it exactly how I want’.”
I then asked Jando, the deputy manager at The Ritz hotel’s famous Palm Court restaurant, if he’d make a customer an extra hot latte.
He couldn’t believe I was even asking the question.
Giandomenico Scanu knows his coffee and his customers
“Of course, madam,” he said. “It’s absolutely no problem whatsoever. It has to be the way the customer likes it – or what’s the point?”
You can use the best beans on the planet, you can charge top dollar, you can be as precious as you like about brewing it.
But if you’re not making coffee people want to drink, you’re in the wrong business.