Friday, February 26, 2010

Keep the customer satisfied

I realized after formulating the idea of this post that in some ways it's a rehash of the ideas in the last one (clearly it is Underdog Week in my head). But I think it'll be fun to write, so here goes.

This morning, after wading through drifts up to my knees (not saying much, but bear with me here) and sitting on the train for twice as long as usual as it slouched towards Prospect Park to be borne away from a signal malfunction, I decided that what I really needed was some warm, comforting caffeine. Since I left home extremely early in anticipation of delays, I had time to mosey over to one of my two favorite coffee spots in the neighborhood, which I'll call, for the purposes of thinly-veiled pseudoanonymity, Purple Spork and RBI.

I wound up choosing RBI, I think for pragmatic reasons--the train that would take me there arrived first; it is a bit closer to my office. But I feel a little bad for letting these reasons win out, as the following exposition will perhaps make clear.

I had never heard of Purple Spork prior to working here--it is a tiny little storefront, couple of tables and a line out the door, on a busy commercial drag: easy to miss if you're not paying attention. A friend of a friend recommended I check it out, and I was glad I took the ten-or-so minute walk over. The staff is extremely nice. They act like you're an old friend when you come in, more than any other coffee place I have been. They have the most ingenious tip-collection method ever, in which they write out a question on a business card every day and stick it in front of two bowls labeled "Yes" and "No" so you can put your tip in the appropriate container. The next day they announce the results. My favorite question? "Does you always corrects people's' Grammar?" You can guess where I deposited my quarter.

And let's not forget the drinks, which are excellent. This place makes the best mocha around, and believe you me, I have conducted, and continue to conduct, a most exhaustive search. The iced lattes are likewise amazing; the regular coffee's also quite good. They cost about what you'd expect from a fancy-coffee shop; they also have buy-ten-get-one-free cards, one of which I just this week completed. The service is efficient (at least insofar as it can be when the line's out the door) and my thermos always comes back to me with a smile.

RBI, the competition, is a hotshot upstart that just opened a few weeks ago. They're coffee-world-famous for having, like, the most expensive coffeemaker ever, complete with peculiar Buffy-esque name. They are located somewhat nearer to the office than Purple Spork and are a tad more expensive. But damn they make the best hot latte in existence, as well as a mean Americano. ("More water or less?" they queried my coworker, whose gleeful "More!" resulted in his bouncing off the walls that afternoon.)

I have two quibbles with RBI, which are the service and the service. The baristas are those ironicer-than-thou sorts that tend to proliferate in most place where coffee is truly excellent. There are usually about four of them loitering behind the counter yet it frequently takes a puzzlingly long time for one of them to deign to present you with your drink (a problem when you have to punch in at work precisely on time or risk losing precious vacation minutes). All the while, it feels vaguely like they are judging you, with your messy hair and headphones and snow streaming from your coat. Especially if you sit down in one of the two comfy chairs in the space, which seem specifically designed to make you feel guilty as you gaze out at the wood-backed chairs surrounding the larger central table. My other service complaint (which I concede is very specific but is very specifically vexing to me) is that they can be quite dumb, or, if you're feeling charitable, uncoordinated amongst themselves. Twice in a row when I gave the cashier my thermos to put my drink in, the maker wound up putting it in a paper cup, complete with delicately coiffed foamed-milk swirl pattern, and had to dump it unceremoniously into my container. Guys, I have brought you a thermos so we don't have to waste the cup, all right?

So it is with some trepidation that I hit up RBI today, and with some trepidation that I admit that my coworker and I wind up going there slightly more often than to the friendly, lived-in Spork. Then again, the first sip of that latte is godly. And last time there was a snowstorm, messy uncoordinated me managed to catch my coat in the door on my way out, spilling a little bit of jealously-guarded latte on myself while providing a slight offering to the snow-soaked street below. I went back inside for napkins and the counterhipster immediately offered to make me another drink. I declined, because I had hardly lost any, and why waste what was left, but I really did appreciate the offer. Maybe hipsteristas are not so bad after all. I do still plan to head Spork-ward next time I need a fix, though.

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