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An open letter to Starbucks customers

Noel Goebelbecker | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

“Hello!” I call to you as you opened the squeaky front door. You flick your eyes toward me in surprise and disinterest, and your mouth stays shut.

It opened, though, to answer the phone as you walked up to the pastry display and then over to me, the girl at the register.

Actually, you walk over to the register counter and plant yourself firmly in between the two registers. The customer behind you feints forward, noticing that there is a second barista ready to take her order at the counter as well – but then she realizes you have left no space for her to do so. She shuffles backward again in confusion, an apologetic smile on her face because this is the Midwest. As for you, dear customer, what, one barista at one register can’t handle you?

“Hold on, hold on, I’m ordering,” you interject to your phone, now pressed between your cheek and your shoulder as you fish around for your student ID. “I’ll have a vanilla bean,” you say in my general direction but still peering around for your ID.

Now, I understand a vanilla bean to be one of two things. First, literally, a bean coated in vanilla. Second, a flavor. At this particular establishment, vanilla bean is actually a powder. So your order is like saying, “I’ll have a salt.” Since I assume you don’t want one vanilla-coated bean or a handful of powder, I guess, “The vanilla bean scones?”

But you’re back on the phone and don’t hear me. I repeat myself. You nod, impatiently. My backup barista bags a scone, and I hand it off to you. You hold out your student ID to me, and I swipe it and thank you. You continue your conversation and float off to wherever you’re off to next, unsullied by such trivial customs as acknowledging the people in front of you.

Yes, dear customer, it’s indeed basic store policy for me to greet you as you enter and thank you as you leave. But my paycheck stays fixed regardless of your money, and so I don’t think of our interaction as a transaction. When I acknowledge, even affirm, that you’ve made it into this coffee shop, it’s not because I’m being paid to do so. It’s because I’m an optimist, and I’m hoping I can get you to crack a smile in return.

And, just so you know, not everyone gets a smile when they walk in. If you walk in the door by the condiment bar, swinging the “Please Do Not Enter” sign out of your way, you do not get my hello. Above the law, eh? You’d make a great dictator, but I may not make you a great cappuccino.

(Kidding. I make great cappuccinos, always. You can’t take that away from me.)

Dear customer, now that I have been candid, I will also be vulnerable.

I’m terrified you’ll find out I don’t know your name. You remember mine – an awesome compliment. And yes, I remember we met in that one class. But when you order a coffee, which doesn’t require a name, rather than a pumpkin spice latte, which does, I am profoundly relieved.

But if you do order a latte and look even vaguely Caucasian, I will cross my fingers and write something vaguely resembling “Caitlin ” on your cup. I tell you, I have my fingers on the pulse of whatever baby names were trending among 1990s Irish Catholics, and Caitlin tops the charts. I will also be worried for you, because the amount of syrup that goes into pumpkin spice lattes fills about one quarter of the cup – that’s a lot of sugar, sugar.

But, dear customer, you are an enthusiastic pumpkin spice latte drinker. So you join the line that winds out the door. And, truthfully, I love that you are committed.  

I used to be shaken by immense pressure that squeezes the baristas when the line gets long. It’s demanding, to be able to recall the countless small, but vital details about the process of preparing any given drink – let alone as quickly as possible! Students need to get to class and football fans want to head to Tailgateland, and most of you come to Starbucks because we are super fast. But now that I can recognize the sound of milk that’s correctly steamed (it really does sound a certain way,) now that I can identify a well-poured cappuccino by its heft in my palm, I’ve come to regard working at this café as one of the most rejuvenating and grounding things I do here at Notre Dame. I’m on my feet and talking to people, not sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I’ve mastered tangible things, rather than half-scanning through text on abstract concepts, wondering how I will ever apply them. I do things with my hands rather than my intellect and, best of all, I get the chance to make you smile in the process. Or at least to help you wake up enough that someone else can make you smile.

By the time my shift ends, the wrinkles in my hands have taken on the aroma of coffee. That’s definitely one of my favorite things about the job. But another, dear customer, is you.

Keep it coming.

All of the hottest, blackest and
spiciest love,
Your barista

Nora Goebelbecker is a senior political science major also participating in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service.
She can be contacted at ngoebelb@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.