Coffee, tea and cultivating culture of joyful service

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 2, 2011

Great conversations around hot cups of coffee and tea in pleasant cafés are clearly times of good thinking and beautiful memories for many.

They’re also enhanced by the good service we receive from baristas and those who serve our tables. But more about that in a moment.

First, a few responses to last week’s column from readers elsewhere who are envious of Cochrane’s reputation for quality coffee and tea houses.

From Ontario, Thelma Rhynas wrote about the coffee and tea houses of Cochrane: “Ah Warren, what a picture you create!  And how I hope that someday that picture will include me at one of your café tables.”

Helen Hare, another of our e-mail coffee companions from Ontario, agrees. She can think of nowhere in her Toronto suburb where she can find “lovely little havens like the tea shop and the coffee shop you have,” she wrote, “for it is there where long-term friends are met and deeper friendship are made.”

Then there’s this response from a former University of Calgary professor and Waiparous resident who’s now retired and living in North Dakota: “Delightful local colour in this episode,” wrote Helen Diemert rather nostalgically. “Your column conveys the feeling of being there – and how I would love to be there myself! Cochrane is such a special community, in a special province of a special country which I miss.”

Meanwhile, Val Irvine, of Cochrane, wrote: “I loved your column this week – close to home, as our daughter Hayley is working at Tea and Other Things part time, so we really appreciate the shop as well.”

Which brings me back to the importance of good service in our cafés. Val forwarded to me a newsletter written by her husband on this very topic.

David Irvine, popular keynote speaker and author on authenticity and simplicity (, began his January letter with a quote from Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

David’s valuing of service is about more than just coffee and tea houses, of course. He’s thinking about the culture of organizations of all kinds. “A great organization is one that makes the world a better place because it exists,” he says, and its true wealth is measured by what it gives to others.

Creating a culture of service starts with individuals, David says, and it includes our relationships both with customers and with those at every level with whom we work. He identifies nine simple strategies for getting started in developing a service culture:

  1. Anonymous acts of kindness and good manners – smiling, saying “please” and “thank you,” encouraging instead of criticizing. “When it comes to building a service culture, the little things are the big things,” he says.
  2. Service is a decision – an act, not merely a feeling.
  3. Serving is not the same as pleasing – serving is about meeting needs, pleasing is about meeting wants. “Pleasing breeds resentment, results in burnout, and turns you into a slave,” David says. “Serving leads to freedom, self-respect, and well-being, within you and around you.”
  4. Always do more than you get paid for. “In a world where we have come to expect a low standard of service, it’s easy to ‘wow’ people by over-delivering on your promises,” he says.
  5. Learning to serve takes practice – volunteering, a kind word, helping another even when it involves personal sacrifices.
  6. Disconnect to connect. In a high-tech age, “the more connected we are electronically, the less connected we seem to be personally.” Face-to-face relationships are still the best, he says.
  7. Listen before you speak. “A closed mouth gathers no feet.” This is especially important at times of disagreement.
  8. Set high, but not impossible, standards. “Pride and self-respect don’t come from doing something easy,” he says.
  9. In learning to serve, stay balanced. “If we spend all our time trying to help everyone, we end up neglecting our accountability to ourselves, our families, and to those who matter most in our lives,” he says. “Like all virtues, service must be tempered and informed by a good measure of conscience.”

David concludes his letter: “Everywhere I go I meet people who, in one way or another, seize opportunities to do good for their fellow travelers. It's truly inspiring to be around people who are committed to service. These are the true leaders in our lives, with or without a title.”

Yes, and these are the kinds of people that make our moments around coffee or tea in Cochrane so meaningful. I also think the same strategies for service should apply to those of us who are the customers, for we can help our baristas and waiters, too, have a better day.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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