Coffee and Unpleasant Customers: The Daily Struggles of Café Workers

Many of us have to deal with angry or unhappy customers as part of our roles, and it’s never easy.

By Naomi Rehberg

Anyone who works in a customer service job can agree on one thing: old people can ruin your day.

Now I don’t want to start this off by making a bad name for all old people who come through and place an order because some of them can be the sweetest customers you’ll ever encounter. However, I believe that it’s evident to me that the majority of bad interactions I’ve had in the workplace just so happen to involve an aggressive old person. The irony of this situation is that I work in two customer service jobs that aren’t too serious: ice cream and coffee.

Working at both an ice cream shop and café I’ve experienced a lot. Let me tell you something that I’ve learned: old people are very passionate about their orders. And by ‘passionate’, I mean to the extent that they may blow up on you if an unwanted miniscule drop of creamer falls into their coffee. And hey, I understand that your morning coffee can make or break your day if not made to your liking, but when I am pouring the creamer in front of their eyes at a snail’s pace and explicitly inform them to tell me when to stop pouring and they don’t, it appears to me that it was a preventable situation.

  This does not mean that I am not willing to go through the effort of remaking the coffee exactly how they want it because, after all, that is my job and I’m pretty specific on how I like my coffee as well. But when the situation was 1. Preventable and 2. A simple fix, I do not appreciate getting screamed at in the aftermath. Old people though, are not in favor of second chances. Second chances in this case involve a simple remake that will take an additional minute at most. But once you have already made a mistake, no matter how minor, you have ruined their day. And do you know what this means? They are about to ruin yours, and maybe even get the attention of the manager!

Luckily, taking this to the manager is such a common occurrence in customer service jobs that they are prepared to confront this situation. It begins with the simple, “What is the problem?” coming from the manager who is no stranger to confrontation. Typically, if not all the time, this is followed by the old person creating an entire story where you are painted out as the bad guy regardless of how well you handled the situation. (Which causes me to question their intentions. Do they want to get young people fired for a simple mistake? Because I can solidly say one of the main complains of an old person is how lazy young people are, so I don’t understand the intentions sometimes…) Anyways, after bringing it to the manager it ends the same way: a simple fix, however, done by the manager instead of you and more than likely also takes up an additional five minutes of time. This outcome is much more pleasing to the old customer though, who actually just wanted to create a scene and take it out on you, a young adult, for a minor inconvenience in order to assert some type of authority over you.

To elaborate on this reaction, I would like to say genuinely you never know what someone is going through. A minor inconvenience to someone who is having a bad day could set off a bigger reaction than they would normally put out. However, I don’t think this gives any old customer the right to take it out on young workers especially considering they could be having a bad day too. The respect within the interaction should always be mutual, and there’s no reason for aggression towards an innocent worker just trying to get though their shift, especially when it comes down to coffee or ice cream.