Specialty Coffee: The Front Lines of Mental and Emotional Health?
Let’s start simply, people have needs, modern societal and social stigmas don’t always meet those needs. We as a culture have seen a rampant rise of mental illness in the last fifteen years that it is unlike anything we have ever seen before, at least in recorded history. Experts in the field go so far as to call it an epidemic. You can do more research into that on your own if you so desire, however I am not here to write a paper on semi-conclusive results about mental health in the 21st century. I’m here to talk about a thing that we all have in common: jobs in the specialty coffee industry.
Now, how do jobs in the coffee service industry and mental health correlate? They actually have more to do with one another than most people might think. You, as a barista, interact with people nearly the entirety of a shift, even if you’re on a slower shift your main focus and responsibility is customer service. Now, I would go so far to say that your priority is actually guest interaction, not simply taking orders and making drinks. We who choose to work professionally in the coffee industry have a passion for the craft, but in conjunction we must accept the reality that we are the face of the business and the one with whom people interact at such lovely coffee shops as ours.
It would be remiss of me to not ask one thing: Does being kind matter?
Duh. But have you thought much about why, or even the depths to which it can go? When people walk into a coffee shop on the surface they are usually looking for caffeine, which we can readily give them, but many people are looking for so much more. We live in a world of social media consisting not only airbrushed photos, but airbrushed emotions. When people are down, depressed, or stuck in a spiral, they don’t always feel cared about, nor do they necessarily care whether or not they feel cared about. That being so, all people need someone to care about them. All of the people who walk into a shop with a smile aren’t necessarily happy, and those who yell at you for “not making their drink right” might not actually be mad at you. Take a minute and think about that, I’ll wait.
I was once working a shift with a good friend (we’ll call him Tony) approached us and ordered in a rather hurried and brash tone. Thankfully Tony had the wherewithal and common sense to ask her if she was doing all right. She was taken aback and asked “really?”, we replied “yeah, what’s going on? Are you OK?”. She then proceeded to tell us that (if I remember correctly) her son was in the hospital recovering from a rather serious and unexpected accident. She didn’t know how he would heal, she hadn’t slept well at the hospital, and her life was completely uprooted at the moment. So yeah, she was stressed out and just wanted her drink to get through the day, I think we’d all be a little short under those circumstances. We got to do something cool though. We had the privilege of giving her a drink for free and giving her some drinks for her son and all the attending nurses as well! Aside from the free drinks do you know what she left with? A smile. She left with a smile. On one of her hardest days she left an interaction with strangers happier than she had been probably all day.
It’s pretty neat to think that we could be those people, that we could change someone’s day. Sometimes, and I think more often than not, we get to be those people because of the position that our job puts us in. Now, I can’t give out a free drink every time someone is having a bad day, but I can tell you that when I take a minute and talk to the guests that I’m serving, something changes in them. They know that they’re actually cared for, they’re not just another number on a screen pushing orders through the system.
They feel like they matter, because they do.
Being in a world fraught with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and so much more, we are on the front lines of encouragement and healing for an innumerable amount of people. People who are feeling those things typically have a tendency to be down on themselves, or perhaps they just don’t care about anything that day. Taking the chance to get to know someone can change their life, and yours too. I know too many stories of people who were about to end it all, then someone said hi, asked them how they were and if they were doing anything fun, and they decided it might be worth living another day. Quite literally we can make that difference, not every time and every circumstance, but it’s a higher chance for a positive difference than anything else.
Why do we tend to interact in a way where we see everyone as a drink order (and maybe a hefty tip)? I understand that it gets busy and we can’t always give everyone our full attention, but at the very least a genuine smile and an encouraging word can go much farther than you might think. People who have a place where they feel safe are more likely, I find, to feel more security and less anxiety, they know they’re wanted. That’s so important. Creating a loving atmosphere can make a day, build confidence, bring joy, or even quite literally save a life.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that it’s our job to save lives, rather simply to be kind. Doing so can make an immense difference.
This is why I end our blog posts with “Be kind, it’s not that hard”. I say that even if it’s cheesy and cliche because I think it matters and it’s true.
Be kind, it’s not that hard,