By Paul Butler
I’m not a big coffee shop fan — to me, it just seems ridiculous to pay so much for such a basic item. I can see and somewhat admire what these big coffee chains have done though — they’ve created a “third place” for people, as their marketers call it.
The assumption is our “first” and “second” places are our homes and our workplaces. The only thing I see wrong with that picture is for some people their first and second place is the same place and to me, it seems sad that someone would rank one of their top three places to be as a character-less, bland and cookie-cutter set of four walls called the coffee shop chain.
It was with this in mind that I reluctantly agreed to meet with my friend at a local Peet’s coffee store. I must admit the location did appeal to me though as it was close to a place I like to go to regularly — my gym. Even though I like my gym, I don’t think I’d refer to it as my “third” place — it’s just a place I go to so I don’t feel so guilty eating bagels at another “place.”
My friend is from New Zealand, which is a small island off the coast of Australia, and so he’s hard enough to understand anyway.
What made it even harder for me to understand him was the rather frustrating noise coming from the wheels of a cleaning trolley being pushed along by an associate of said coffee chain. After about the fourth trolley trip, I reverted to lip-reading him, as I just couldn’t hear what he was saying. The associate was completely ambivalent to the noise coming from her trolley cart — I assume because she did this several times a day and had just got used to it. She had a job to do. Her job was rolling the cleaning trolley through the inside of the store to the trash compactor outside the store. This associate had seemed to forget why people come to the coffee shop.
Not only could I not hear what my friend was saying, but I also couldn’t hear the beautiful jazz music that Peet’s had must have carefully selected to be piped through all of their stores across the country at exactly 4:08 p.m. on a Tuesday. I could tell it was Stan Getz, but it may have been Iron Maiden as this iron maiden dragged the metal across the stone one more time.
Having previously served as a regional director within leisure and hospitality, I felt obliged to draw this service challenge to the attention of the manager of the store.
The only problem was, I couldn’t find a store manager, nor could I find anyone willing to take any responsibility. I asked one person, “Are you the manager?” Her response was “No.”
That was it — nothing along the lines of, “No, let me get the manager for you” or “no, but could I help you?”
So I went up to another associate and asked if they were the manager. The response was the same: “No.”
For Peet’s sake!
I assume these folks have never heard the Disney line of training, which is to avoid saying the word “No” to a customer.
My friend was keen to head out and so I asked this second person if I could explain a customer frustration I’d had. She very reluctantly agreed to listen.
I waited for her to stop looking at her phone, and then I began. I explained about the iron maiden but she seemed completely disinterested. I tried to emphasize how the environment of beautiful jazz music and the intoxicating aroma of (overpriced) coffee beans was significantly spoiled by the trolley runs but it was as if I was speaking another language.
At this point, the disinterested, non-manager said: “We have to take the trash out and that’s the way we’ve always taken it out.”
I tried to reason with her two facts to consider — No. 1 that maybe a good time to take the trash out was at the end of the shift when the store is closed and No. 2 ,that if trash had to be taken out during open hours, maybe it would be a good idea to look for a trolley with rubber wheels.
I could tell I got her at the words “rubber wheels” for a split-second and then knew I’d lost her when she responded: “But that’s the trolley we have.”
So that’s how it went down when a Kiwi and a Brit walked into Peet’s last week. Not only am I sure this isn’t my “third place” — it’s probably the “last place” I would go to for a meeting with another human being I want to converse with.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaf-ca.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]