On Thursday of last week, BBC News published a short video about a coffee shop in Norwich that is refusing to serve people who attempt to order while talking on their cell phones. The video was linked under the title, "Coffee Shop Stirs Etiquette Debate," and revolved around a very polite sign stating, "Sorry we are unable to serve you if you are on the phone. Thank you."
Waiting for my coffee at the Firehouse Coffee a few days later, I was pondering this British newsflash while reading the somewhat less subtle sign above the Ballard coffee shop's bar: "If you are grouchy, irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $10 charge for putting up with you."
If either of these signs seem rude or inappropriate to you, you may wish to consider the following...
According to recent studies, just over 103% of the American population carries cell phones. (Since I'm sure there must still be people who do not own cell phones, this puts the number of citizens carrying more than one cell phone at significantly over 3%.) The same study predicts that in-use cell phones will outnumber humans worldwide by 2016. No coffee shop will be safe.
The baristas at Firehouse, as so many baristas do, looked exhausted. Whether their usual demographic deserves the $10-warning posted or not, there is no denying that customer service jobs are some of the most taxing jobs out there. Think about yourself before you've had your coffee in the morning, and ask yourself if you would like to deal with you. (For most of us, I'm guessing the answer is no.) We put our baristas through a lot; the least we can do is give them the courtesy of acknowledging them as people.
I have written before about the importance of things like tipping. Let me pause in the usual course of blogging to note something the Norwich coffee shop got right with their sign: it is nearly impossible to take an order from someone who is holding a phone conversation. It is certainly impossible to do so with finesse. And that is frustrating, when finesse is being expected of you. (It is even more frustrating when the conversation is being held via Bluetooth or other hands-free device, making it excessively difficult to determine to whom the speaker is speaking.)
If your conversation is so important that you cannot set it aside for thirty seconds to order a cup of coffee and give your barista a smile, it is probably also far too important a conversation to be held while distracted by ordering coffee. Therefore, my advice for the week is to pick one: phone, or coffee. Not both.