“Good morning, may I take your order?”
“Tall, grande or venti?”
“2% or skim milk?”
“Whip or no whip?”
“And what’s your name for the order?”
During my first six months in New York City, I started most of my mornings with those questions. At 4:15 I’d suppress the impulse to throw my alarm clock across the room as I rolled out of bed and fumbled into my black pants and polo. I’d toss my mandatory black ball cap on my head and trudge along the streets towards to the train. Some mornings I headed to work as the bars on my block were closing down. I’d give a friendly nod to the bouncers who made sure the throngs of drunk guys didn’t hassle me.
An hour after my wake up call, I started up the espresso machines, brewed a batch of pike and one of whatever bold bean was on-tap that week and stocked the pastry shelves. In the fall and winter months, the sun hadn’t risen by the time we were serving our first customer.
Only one month prior I’d graduated magna cum laude with a double-major from a private university. Now, I could barely get a passing grade in milk steaming (guys, a bone-dry cappuccino is tough.)
I didn’t move to the Big Apple in order to master the art of foam hearts and pulling the perfect espresso shot. In fact, I had a “real job” working as a page for a popular late-night talk show. However, with odd hours and not great pay, I couldn’t even make rent. I’d applied to a variety of other part-time jobs with flexible hours. A mega-coffee chain was the only one willing to take a chance on a recent college grad with no food-industry experience.
Motivated by my well-honed financial survival instincts, I picked up babysitting in addition to being a barista in the morning and a page in the afternoon. I routinely worked from 4:30 am – 11:30 pm multiple days a week. For over a month I didn’t have a single day off. But, for nine dollars an hour, plus tips, I would paste a smile on my face and repeat the same inane questions over-and-over, because I had to pay my bills.
The worst part wasn’t the hours, but the insufferable people who need some perspective in their lives.
Lady walks in talking on her cell phone. She stays on the phone while saying to me: “I need a mocha. Operative word being need.”
Me: “Okay, would you like whipped cream?”
Me: “And a name for the order please?”
First glaring issue with this exchange: never would a person need a mocha. Crave? sure. Want? absolutely. But a milk-based espresso drink with several pumps of chocolate and whipped cream on top would never be essential to human survival.
Second issue, no matter the situation if you have a conversation, however brief, with another human being please have the decency to tell the person on the phone you can call him or her back. Don’t get irritable with someone asking questions to avoid you sending an order back because of any combinations of the following: whipped cream, no whipped cream, foam, no foam, not enough foam, decaf instead of regular, regular instead of decaf, sugar free instead of regular syrup, one more pump of syrup, one less pump of syrup, wrong flavor of syrup, 2% instead of skim milk, skim milk instead of whole milk, 3 spleendas not 2, sweet-n-low not equal, not exactly 145 degrees, not exactly 120 degrees, wrong size or the wrong drink entirely.
Yes, all of those happened at some point during my barista career.
However, there were people who restored my faith in humanity. One regular customer made a point to learn all the baristas’ names and address everyone personally in the morning. On one particularly bad morning he actually moved me to tears by asking how my day was going. In my defense, I hadn’t had more than 4 straight hours of sleep in several days.
My story isn’t unique. Scores of college-educated millennials are working part-time, minimum wage jobs whilst trying to figure out their next move or supporting an internship they hope leads to a paid job or just because they need more money.
However, for those who move back in with Mom and Dad or continue to live-off parental welfare because they “can’t find a job” please reconsider your stance. There are jobs out there. None of them are beneath you. A diploma and lofty career goals should not excuse you from earning a living.
*Names have be changed to avoid sue-happy Americans!