How about enlarging the lives of our amazing baristas?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 24, 2014

“As you enlarge the lives of others, your life will be enlarged.”
—Pete Thigpen, former President, Levi Strauss USA

We in Cochrane have some of the finest baristas in the entire world serving us our daily brew. But how often do we take the time to show our appreciation, or to get to know them a little – when they’re not too busy, that is, with other customers?

The March blog article by Cochrane author/speaker David Irvine titled “Enlarging the Lives of Others” really got me thinking about whether I’m doing my part in affirming the amazing folks who serve me so well in our coffee shops.

David opened his article with a quote from Pete Thigpen, former president of Levi Strauss USA:

“Believe in your heart of hearts that your fundamental purpose, your reason for being, is to enlarge the lives of others. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on will take care of themselves.”

Addressing his essay to business leaders, David reflected on how easy it is to take staff for granted. It’s one thing to give them the support they need to carry out assignments. “But do I actually make a conscious effort to enlarge their lives?” he asks.

David lists seven ways for enlarging the lives of others: Care, Serve, Make Time, Challenge, Accountability, Safety, and Appreciation.

Four of these struck me as important for how we, as customers at café counters, can enlarge the lives of those who serve us at those counters. (These apply to how we can relate to those who serve us in other parts of the hospitality industry, as well.)

Caring about our baristas should go without saying. We really do want to uplift them. But we can’t always remember their names? “Staff will forgive you for forgetting,” David says. “What they won’t forgive you for is not caring.”

But serving our servers? “Serving means making others look good . . . by seeing their worth, beyond what they may see in themselves,” he says.

And if we’ve made time to visit a coffee shop, we can certainly make time for our baristas. It’s about “tuning in,” David says. “It’s paying attention. It’s being in touch.” For years my wife has carried a small notepad with her to, as David suggests, write down their names and “make a note of what’s important” to them.

And of course, showing our appreciation tops the list. “Appreciation is genuine recognition when someone makes a difference. It’s about catching people doing things right rather than succumbing to the seemingly natural tendency to criticize,” he says. “Say thank you.”

I guess David must practice at home what he preaches in his articles, if learning by example is any indication. You see, his delightful daughter Hayley worked as a barista at Cochrane Coffee Traders last summer. She most certainly enlarged the life of me, a mere customer, with the kind of affirmation David would like us to show toward those who serve us.

Hayley’s currently in Edmonton wrapping up the second year of her Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education program at the University of Alberta, where she’s majoring in drama and international development.

I wrote to her expressing my gratitude for her always-genial service to me at Coffee Traders and describing to her what I hoped to do with this week’s column based on her father’s advice. I asked her if she had an opinion.

She responded by emphasizing the community neighbourliness we enjoy between locally owned businesses and the folks they serve:

“I am still barista-ing/serving, this time at a cafe in Edmonton, and I completely agree!” she said. “Something that locally owned small-town businesses excel at is getting to know the community around them. I hope that as Cochrane grows, it keeps the small-town charm.”

Thanks, Hayley. And I completely agree with you about Cochrane keeping its small-town charm. And for me, part of that charm is knowing that our baristas are also our neighbours, and some of them, like Hayley, the children of some of our closest friends.

Sadly on rare occasions, I’ve observed a hint of European “upstairs/downstairs” distance between the served and the server. But as more and more folks come to realize the richness of relationships we can enjoy across the counter, that attitude seems to be changing.

For myself, the baristas who serve me have allowed me to travel through their hearts to distant lands – perhaps to their original homelands, or places they themselves have visited. Through their sharing I’ve had a chance to learn of the human impact of storm damage in the Philippines, the joy that one of our churches’ youth groups experienced on a mission to Guatemala, and warm family ties in the Punjab, for example.

I’ve also learned from many of them about anticipating opportunities to show kindness. How many times have I entered one of our local coffee shops, only to arrive at the counter and find my favourite coffee already awaiting me, piping hot and served with a contagious smile? (They saw me when I came through the door, they’d say.)

So, let’s raise our cups in a toast to our baristas: To all those who enlarge our lives cup by cup, we hereby pledge to enlarge your lives with our appreciation!


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

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