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Rated: E · Article · Psychology · #2153869
Observations from the local coffee shop about how you treat people
This afternoon I did a little social experiment for the Psychology class I’m currently enrolled in, and it was….enlightening. (Don’t worry, it was non-invasive and purely observational.)
The assignment was to come up with a hypothesis to test by observing humans in their natural habitats, so naturally….I went to the coffee shop.

My hypothesis was this: people tend to treat those in a position of service as if they were subordinate, or lesser than the person being served. Anyone who has spent five minutes behind a register already knows the conclusion of this, but if you haven’t worked in some kind of customer service, read on for some illuminating truths.

The Experiment:
To categorize the way the patrons of this fine coffee shop treated the baristas they were being served by, I came up with three categories of conversation. “Success” was defined by whether or not someone hit all three categories in their interaction with the barista. The categories were as follows:

“Small Talk” – This merely refers to inquiries about the other person’s well-being, comments about the weather/current events/etc. Basically this is just normal, minimal conversation. “Hi, how are you doing today?” “I’m good, thanks.”
“Pleasantries” – This is your basic courtesy, something I thought we were all raised with. “Please, may I….” “Thank you.” “No thanks.” etc…Again, very minimal and basic.

“Engagement” – This category is more complex. It refers to making and maintaining eye contact, as well as the general body language of the person ordering. More specifically, it refers to whether or not their body language shows interest in the interaction with the barista or not. For example, if a customer made eye contact and placed their hands on the counter while speaking to the barista, I would consider that a relatively high level of engagement. Conversely, minimal or no eye contact and leaning, or even walking away from the counter is a low level of engagement.

I had a time constraint of 30 minutes for the assignment, so I was not able to observe a very large number of people, but it didn’t take long to see the results. I observed an equal number of male and female patrons of varying age groups and ethnicities. (I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of people, given the short time I had.) I sat at a table somewhat near the counter and opened my ears and my laptop to take notes.

The Results:
Category 1: Almost everyone engaged at the most basic level of this category simply by returning the barista’s greeting, but one patron actually didn’t even make this one. He walked in, saw friends at a table, ignored the barista to go sit and chat with them for 20 minutes, then left without ordering so much as a glass of water. Most patrons showed a medium/high level of basic small talk.

Category 2: At this point, sadly the numbers took a drastic turn for the worse. Very few patrons said “please” to the barista and only two said “thank you” after receiving their orders. In general, basic courtesies were severely lacking and the overall tone of each customer was highly impersonal. I get that you’re not revisiting your long-lost lover, but come on. It costs nothing to be friendly and polite, even on a bad day. Side-note: two pairs of customers came in together and were perfectly friendly and warm towards one another, while treating the barista as if she were little more than a coffee dispensing ATM. One of these patrons stared either at the menu or the counter the entire time while speaking to the barista.

Category 3: This category was the worst of all: of all the people I observed enter the coffee shop only two made it to this category, and only one scored highly in it. Of the two, the first was an older male, who maintained eye contact and stayed close to the counter while ordering, however his overall tone was impersonal, and he scored lower in the other two categories. (He didn’t say “please” or “hello”, just launched straight into his order.) The second was a younger female, (I would never deign to guess at a lady’s age) who was the only patron to score highly in all three categories. She greeted the barista warmly, asked how she had been, maintained eye contact and interested body language (facing the barista whenever speaking) and even went so far as to apologize to the barista for having a more complex order. She patiently stood near the counter until her order was complete, while almost every other patron ordered and immediately sat down, expecting that the barista would bring them their drink. (To be fair, that’s a normal service at this coffee shop.)

Conclusion: Based on these minimal observations, people do indeed treat baristas, and probably waiters, bartenders, cashiers, and pretty much anyone in those positions, as if they were inferior.

Reality check, people. The people who make your coffee, or ring up your groceries, or serve you your food are also real people, with feelings, families, hurts, histories, and all the other hang-ups, mishaps, tragedies and joys that real life brings to real people. Some of them are truly joyful to be in their position and serve you like a coffee-producing machine, but just like you, they have off days. They still show up, plaster on a smile, and strive to be as polite and pleasant as possible, because that’s their job. Meanwhile most of you can’t even be bothered to look them in the eye while you order your latte.
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