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Barista! Suggestively Selling Out

The Man has spoken. I don't have the right personality to do my job effectively. Or at least that's what my district manager says. She has made this confident assessment just one day after meeting me.

Yes, despite an extensive history of happy customers and impeccable job performance, a perfect record of log-recording, a masterful and speedy career as a barista, and three years as a distinguished member of the coffee culture, I recently received word that none of that matters because I am too sarcastic. And I refuse to suggestively sell, which is apparently the only element of the job that means anything to anyone who isn't actually standing behind a register, forced to suggestively sell.

This isn't a surprise by any stretch, but Corporate wants us to be fake. Like the transforming costume of a superhero, once my apron goes on I am supposed to become a phony-baloney in-your-face salesman, leaving all traces of my personality at the door. I don't get paid enough to put on an enthusiastic act about pastries, nor raise my voice to a nicer, more happy-to-see-you octave.

I know that this is standard procedure at many fast food restaurants and retail stores in general. When I worked for a major clothing store, we were supposed to offer credit card accounts to customers. I didn't do that either. Don't take it so personal, Big Coffee Company, I just don't have it in me.

In a recent supervisors meeting, my manager warned us that the district manager threatened to write up any manager whose baristas were not suggestively selling to every single customer. And then we, the supervisors, would also be written up for allowing non-suggesting to occur on our shifts.

First of all, I'm not entirely certain of the policies on this, I'm working on it, but I'm pretty sure Corporate shouldn't be threatening us with write-ups. Secondly, I need to clarify that when I say "suggestively sell," I mean we are expected to recommend that a customer buy a particular item. We cannot just say, "Would you like something to eat with that?"

We have to specifically recommend something: "Would you like a reduced-fat cinnamon-goo coffee cake with your medium coffee even though you are standing there with your exact change in your hand and giving me a look like I'm stupid to be asking because, of course, if you came in here wanting a reduced-fat cinnamon-goo coffee cake, you would have ordered it yourself? I know."

I feel like such a jackass when I suggestively sell. Well, I shouldn't talk about it in the present tense, as though I actually do it or something. I have done it only twice, and on the same day. The first time, the customer was looking casually into the pastry case, seemingly undecided, so based on his order of a peppermint mocha drink, I recommended he try the highly-acclaimed peppermint brownie. The guy didn't want anything and I felt like a chump for asking.

Then, later that day, a guy came in and was staring intensely into the glass case, so I asked him if he had tried our new loaf yet. He looked at me like I was the biggest asshole on the planet, and I just couldn't bear it. I stopped him before he could even finish his annoyed "No thank you!" and said, "Look man, I don't care if you buy the pastry. They tell me to say that. I don't see these sales reflected in my paycheck, and this is only the second time I've ever done it, so don't give me that look." He put a dollar into my tip jar for being honest.

I don't know who is really targeted through suggestive selling, but I have yet to meet customers who prefer to be spoken to as though they are generic and simple-minded. Most of the people I've encountered in the past three years have preferred to interact with a real human being behind the bar. Most of the people I've ever served have been very fond of me and my personality, even if I wasn't bubbly and Corporate-guided. Coincidentally, however, I cannot recall a single district manager who has liked me to-date. And that may be my single greatest achievement with the company yet.

*

Maude Perkins is The Beachwood Reporter's pseudononymous service industry affairs editor currently serving time as a store supervisor for a large, publicly-held corporate coffee chain. Catch up with the rest of her heartwarming tales from the front here.



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Posted on February 2, 2007


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