I'm having a late lunch at Fiddleheads in Cedarburg. I'd been thinking of going to Panera, but am glad I decided to go here instead. I'm enjoying what was allegedly a half sandwich and soup and a latte. At about twelve and a half bucks, it's one of the larger meals I've had lately.
This evening, I took advantage of a rare-ish weekday evening opportunity to take a leisurely drive around Northwest Milwaukee. I was amazed at how development seems to come to a screeching halt west of Cedarburg, especially as you travel towards Mequon. I wonder if there is a specific reason for this phenomenon.
Um, fail? (It took me a good hour to figure out that the first punch--the only one most people will ever get--must have obscured the word "so", which makes the advertising message only a little less nonsensical. A crime against coffee is one thing, but this is simply a crime against language and reason. Is this punch card a national promotion? "Taking coffee so seriously" isn't a viable business proposition in Wisconsin, unless there is another line of business generating plenty of revenue to subsidize it.
Today, I did my customary weekend walk from Mequon (more like Thiensville, really) to Cedarburg and back. I stopped at the McDonald's in southern Cedarburg for a McCafe latte ($2.52 with tax). I was welcomed by a friendly and talkative upper middle-aged man behind the counter. I don't mean this in an insulting way, but I believe he was a little mentally slow. I mention this only because he provided customer service that was remarkable--all the more so because one could hardly fault him for being pouty or having a bad attitude. Instead, he somehow managed to demonstrate that he is overqualified for the position at McDonald's and, indeed, would be an outstanding employee in many rather more upscale environments.
This brings to mind something I've been thinking about a fair amount lately: we're a service economy, and if we mess that up, there ain't a whole lot left. Customers are a pain in the ass--as are people in general. I understand that. I suppose the best strategy is to try to positively reinforce good service. Just now, for example, as I was walking to Alterra at Bayshore, I noticed the young woman behind the counter at Caribou Coffee smiling at customers and wearing a pleasant expression even as she half-noticed me walking by. I don't care much for Caribou, but I think I'm going to make it a point to go in there later. Smiling--or at least not scowling--when you look in another person's general direction seems to be a lost art these days.
I'm not just trying to be Lawrence Welk. I think the bottom line is this: if you're a business, you should think that a customer spending his or her hard-earned money with you is the coolest thing in the world. This is elusive. I don't know that the problem lies with me, as I had a strong sensation of this feeling at Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, AZ--which, as I noted then, is over 1700 miles from here. I also observed that attitude being communicated to their other customers.
The latte at McDonald's? It was terrible--and I'm not putting that on the gentleman I mentioned earlier; creating the latte awfulness required a team effort from all three employees who were working. I wish it had been otherwise, but so be it. I think the point still stands.
I'm at the Java House in Cedarburg, where I'm having a soy latte. It's. . .OK. Two employees are working behind the counter, and the one that is the better barista is working the register. The soy latte is not up to Java House par, while the better barista pulled me a great double espresso a month ago. I don't know how to tactfully request that a certain barista make my drink. I know people who can pull that off, but not I. Maybe that will have to be one of my personal development goals for 2010!
This afternoon, I used a gift card I'd been given to Cedarburg Coffee Roastery. I enjoyed my soy latte and fruit bar (I forget what it was called exactly, but it was pretty good) at a table near the register. Overhearing many transactions, I noticed something I hadn't paid much attention to before. They have a rather elaborate loyalty program in which the counter person looks up your name on their POS, which is rather intrusively positioned like a computer you would do office work on, rather than discreetly like at Alterra. In any case, one woman eagerly volunteered her last name--spelled out, even though it was something like "Thompson"--before she was even asked. These are all transactions for ten dollars or less.
Walking back to my car, I reflected in amusement at how conditioned we've become to provide such information for even petty transactions. Especially in the white, middle-class American milieu, we find Papiere vorzeigen! perfectly natural. And I do mean American: I don't think such programs would fly in Germany, ironically. And I do mean white, middle-class: I don't think such programs would fly in my old 'hood on 29th and Mitchell, either. ("Before we give you your $3 worth of food and drink, Senor, we'll just need some information for our, you know, database. What do you mean, will this result in a knock on your door at 5 a.m.?")
My objection lies not in the belief that there's anything sinister about this, but rather in the slow creep towards a system in which the buyer works for the seller rather than the other way around. The classic example would be the "Would you like to a buy a cookie for 99 cents?" at Walgreens. My objection here is that this a waste of the customer's time. There's a public outcry when WE Energies raises its rates by one-thousandth of a percent or whatever (I know--it's more than that), but all this private-sector crap adds up too, especially when it's a part of multiple transactions every day. Without going into how much I make--other than to say I'm not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination--minutes mean dollars. For others, I imagine that would only be more so.
I'm at Cedarburg Coffee Roastery, having enjoyed what for me is a rare treat: a weekday evening walk on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. I've had a couple mugs of the Java Estate Jampit, which was one of the better drip coffees I've enjoyed here. I'm currently enjoying a mug of today's decaf, a delicious Colombian with the exotic name "Spectacled Bear." I would have thought someone came up with that moniker after drinking some magic mint tea, but it turns out there really is such an animal. Both coffees have been a bit stronger than usually offered here, but especially the Colombian. It's almost strong enough that if I were served it at Alterra, it wouldn't seem out of place. I've purchased half a pound of the Java Estate to take home with me.
I relocated to Cedarburg Coffee Roastery, which proved more amenable. Another group of kids just arrived, but they're better-behaved. When coming here, I strongly recommend splurging on the bakery. "Homemade" is a much-abused word, but it really holds true here--I saw the girl actually baking in the back. I don't get a lot of homemade bakery these days, so it's a welcome opportunity. I tried the plum cake ($3.50)--worth every penny. I could have skipped the drip coffee ($1.75 for a bottomless mug). This is another of those places that has great beans, but doesn't know how to brew them. In this case, the brew is too weak, at least for my taste. Definitely something for older folks and others who find Alterra's mild coffee not mild enough. I revel in the fact that I can still throw the "y'all old people and you weak coffee" stone from my glass house. Dammit, I still like a strong cuppa joe. . .(five minutes later) Ow, my aching back!