Word of the day

A kind of latticework formed of, or covered with, vines, branches of trees, or other plants, for shade

Today’s word of the day might remind you of trees, foliage, or one of those things that’s neither a pergola or a gazebo. But for me, Arbor unlocks a cavalcade of sense data: the sound of mismatched chairs at a dozen mismatched tables squeaking on a worn wood floor, the glow of small white light bulbs that spell out “Oakland” on the wall, and the smell and taste of freshly brewed coffee.

Arbor Cafe was a coffee shop in Oakland, CA. This is an excerpt from their Employee Handbook:

Employee Handbook, Chapter 4: The Customer

In this chapter, we talk about our unique approach to The Customer. Even if you have experience working at other cafés or restaurants, read this carefully—because at Arbor Cafe, we do things a bit differently.

Follow our Five Simple Guidelines to make sure any customer who walks through our doors gets the true Arbor Experience.

1. Indirect your attention

Contrary to your instincts, customers are not be approached in a way that is direct, helpful, or courteous. This is what they expect and at Arbor we consistently Challenge Expectations. Treat incoming patrons the way a birder might an endangered sparrow: with trepidation, distance, and quiet. Use small, subtle movements, don’t walk up to them, and never try to to feed them.

2. Out of sight, out of mind

Exercise caution when a customer walks through the front door. These people probably want something: coffee, snacks, or a meal. Remain out of sight for as long as you can.

Pro-tip! Position your body so that it is invisible to anyone who enters. If you are not sure where exactly to stand, practice with a coworker or manager before your shift. Everybody who walks into Arbor should see a front counter that is perpetually unmanned. They should believe the café is automated or that all the employees have been zapped with a shrink ray.

3. Get busy—with busy work

Sometimes our newest Arbor team members , especially those with prior hospitality experience, are confused by our Unique Approach to Customer Service. Many of them instinctively walk up to the counter, say hello, and take a customer’s order. This often results in a customer ordering something from the menu and paying for it.

Instead, find a Behind Counter Activity to occupy your attention. Sort Tupperware containers. Stand behind the espresso machine and produce steam. Sit on a milk crate and complain about politics. If you do happen to get ensconced in a customer request, see if you can increase the length of time required to do it. There’s no law that says a bagel must be prepared in under 10 minutes.

This can be challenging for newcomers, but you’ll get better over time. One of our earliest employees once spent four minutes “facing” the bottles in the fridge while ignoring a queue five customers deep that started to form behind him. He is now a manager!

4. You cannot “help” the customer

After an appropriate amount of dithering (we aim for 80–100 seconds), find your way to the counter where the cash register is. You will almost always find a customer waiting there. But remember, you don’t know her life story, her journey, or her expectations. You really can’t help them.

For example, if a customer asks for a coffee, “for here”, with no room for cream, that is not what he wants, nor can he ever know. Treat all patrons the way a jaded social worker might regard a hopeless case or in the way one patronizes an elderly relative with dementia. But with 1000 times more pity and loathing.

5. Act like you’re jonesing for a smoke even if you just had one

Self explanatory.

Don’t forget to have fun!

Remember, Arbor isn’t just a business that exchanges goods and services for money, it’s a way of transmogrifying the theoretical concept of “surly” into a temporal and physical experience for our local community. By following these five guidelines, you can help our customers understand that the best response to their needs is no response at all.

We’ve hired you because we know you can do it. By working together, you and the rest of the Arbor family can help us put the “nay” back in in “neighborhood café.”