Drive-Through Decorum

This article originally appeared April 24, 2009, in issue 1716.

Am I correct in thinking that in 2009 there is nothing common about courtesy?

Like most of you, I am a dedicated distance learner transitioning from part-time to full-time studies.

To make it happen, I left a full-time corporate career for a part-time café career. I assumed it would be a fairly easy transition; I did, after all, know people.

Or so I thought.

The first time my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., I reluctantly rolled out of bed and fought the urge to crawl back in. Thankfully, it really does take only 21 days to build a habit, and for seven weeks now I’ve been contentedly (more or less) starting work at five in the morning.

I welcome the dark embrace of the morning, its stillness rife with birdsong. Maybe five a.m. inspired Rabindranath Tagore when he wrote, ?Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.?

Anyway, back to the café. It’s a pretty nice environment. Jazz music provides an ambient backcloth that dusts the periphery of my world. Up front, It’s a fascinating world of personalities?from Zen to zealous, café patrons provide me with endless fodder for thought. Mostly, however, I marvel at how mean people are?particularly at the drive-through window.

I’m keeping statistics now, and although it is by no means scientific, I have noticed that the majority of ?mean people? are women around my own age (40-plus). This, in itself, comes as a shock to me. I get the distinct feeling that these women assume most of us work in a café because we aren’t well educated. For shame.

The Friday leading into the Easter weekend was anything but ?Good.? For six hours, café staff worked non-stop. Although we greet people with a hearty ?Hello and welcome to . . . ? it was after 11:00 a.m. before a single customer said ?Good morning!? to us. I realize coffee addicts need their fix. What I don’t get is how they can be so disrespectful to the people who feed their need.

Let’s modestly assume that my colleague and I served over 75 coffees between nine and 10 a.m., and that many of them were specialty requests requiring milk steamed (at 142 degrees, if you please), extra shots of espresso, and the like. And let’s also assume that we were not doing one order at a time, but three. For this to work, the process needs to run like a pendulum?perfect synchronicity between my colleague and me.

Well, guess what? Inasmuch as I love the idea of ?perfect synchronicity? my colleagues and I are human and we do make mistakes. Whether you are a solicitor, a microbiologist, a non-profit ED, or a custom carpenter, I suspect you make the occasional mistake at work too. And maybe, just maybe, we filled the previous 74 orders perfectly before we did yours wrong.

Moreover, it is difficult to hear everything that is said to us at the drive-through order box; not only do we have loud café noises behind us, we hear the cars driving past you, we can’t hear you when you don’t look into the camera/box, we can’t hear you over the music you are listening to, or, worse, You’re still talking on your cellphone and expect us to differentiate between what you say to us and your important caller.

There are a thousand reasons why we don’t always hear correctly, but does that give you the right to berate us for missing your ?extra foam?? Does it give you the right to speak in a condescending manner or pitch a tantrum because we didn’t hear ?non-fat? and used 2 per cent milk instead?

Really, does messing up a simple coffee order really entitle you to belittle us?

In fact, my colleagues are dedicated to providing a superb coffee experience for you. The people I work with are kind, witty, and incredibly unique: many of them have another job; most of them are in university; all of them have community commitments. They are, in short, just like you!

During the few minutes You’re at the window paying for your joe (that may have been made wrong the first time) I would invite you to think of the people who serve you as mirrors of yourself. And I challenge you to make a different choice in how you interact with them. Think about Craig Kielburger.

In their book, Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, Craig and Marc Kielburger offer a blueprint for creating a better world: one action, one small step at a time.

So, in the spirit of human kindness, why not try a different approach: common courtesy.

The choice is yours. You can choose to let your ?little-self? rule the moment, or you can let your ?big-self? stand tall. If you can’t demonstrate common courtesy, civility, and the spirit of friendship at your local drive-through, what chance do we have of creating an internationally respectful 21st century world?

So, whether You’re getting a triple tall, extra-hot, extra-foamy, 142-degree caramel latte or a double-double and a cruller, whatever neighbourhood coffee shop you frequent, please do the hardworking staff a favour and show some kindness.

Take a breather from the self-absorbed ?It’s all about me!? approach to life, and take the proverbial high road (even if you are right). we’re all part of the same community, each serving a different set of customers: your family, your friends, your neighbours?and you.

Since It’s your coffee, it really does start with you!