coffee_bleakney_2013Are some Asheville baristas so stuck-up and unfriendly that they’re driving people to the smiling faces behind Starbucks cash registers? That’s the question I saw a few friends discussing on Facebook in the wake of this Business Insider story on friendly Starbucks baristas, and this followup at cuveecoffee.com.

A sampling of the comments:

twice, in asheville, baristas at independent coffee shops have replaced my requested “skim milk” with soy milk. when i tasted the drink and took it back to the barista, i was told “soy is better”….except that i am allergic to soy.

and this:

I have a few places in AVL that I love, mostly because the espresso is better, service is always good. The baristas have never really struck my as stuck up, but pretty accommodating to my neurotic coffee needs

So, Asheville, what do you think?

Image by Elaine Bleakney from a previous Ashvegas post.

RECENT POSTS

73 Comments

  1. The Pontificator says:

    In ’96 I purchased an Estro Vapore espresso machine and after 19 years it’s still going strong (had the boiler replaced 10 years ago).

    That solves the problem with snotty baristas.

  2. I don’t really know what’s up with Asheville in general, but yes, I’ve dealt with stuck up baristas here about 1/2 the time. Asheville has too many snobby hipsters in general. It’s ridiculous. So I can’t say it’s coffee.

  3. Izzy’s is so not terrible. Had hundreds of coffees there and no one has misbehaved at all. What is it about the interweb that makes people have supercharged opinions on everything?

  4. Maybe, Maybe Not says:

    No.

  5. Asheville Resident says:

    I frequent High Five often and love their coffee. I drink drip coffee, a lot of others have more complicated orders. I wish there were an express line for drip, like a self serve line. A lot of times there is a line of people, it can take up to 20 or 30 minutes just to get a coffee. I never go to Stabucks because it’s crowded, tiny and loud and their coffee sucks!

  6. I probably don’t have much more to add to the conversation, but just wanted to say that I lived in Seattle for 3 1/2 years and frequented many of the local chains there. I can’t say that I received any worse or better service from baristas who really take their jobs seriously as supposed to anyone in Asheville serving up coffee. I’m in no way knocking the level of service, but I do think that most coffee shops and baristas – no matter what – like to serve their coffee up with a bit of ‘tude. For better or worse I think it’s just “coffee culture.” Either you have to get over it or start brewing coffee at home.
    Another tidbit: the only time(s) I’ve had some serious ‘tude is when I ask for ‘coffee’ and the response is, “what kind of coffee.”
    “ahhh regular cup of coffee?”
    “you mean drip …”
    I learned pretty quick that in Seattle you just don’t order “coffee” it’s drip, americano, espresso etc… call it naivety.

  7. Everything dialogue in every forum I come across in our city seems to turn into a childish tit-for-tat. How old are you people? 15?

    My rule of thumb is: If I get bad service or a receive a bad product, I vote with my pocketbook and go elsewhere. Less stress for me and less stress for the place I abandoned.

  8. Pingback: Ashvegas reader: There's still a big gap in customers' understanding of complexity of coffee they drink

  9. Wow.
    I must say it’s great to see some good debate about service and coffee, two subjects I feel quite strongly about. I think there are some good points here about the service industry. Without picking out any businesses in particular, I would like to see the service industry in general take a notch up in professionalism. Asheville has a strong and vibrant service industry and I believe we have some of the best and some of the worst servers/baristas you will ever come across. That may very well be a bi-product of having so many people in the service industry and some people are just not very good at service. Nonetheless, I would like to see more businesses take responsibility and ownership of how their staff interacts and presents their product. Whether by way of giving them a decent wage, taking time to communicate effectively about the jobs they are doing, or both, I see a dual responsibility of the business and employee in order to create the proper service experience.
    Now to the coffee. I agree with Jared from Waking Life that we in the coffee industry are in an interesting time. The demand for better coffee grows. But even more, it is our job as professionals in this vastly expanding industry to help make this product we and you are so passionate about all the more accessible. I see this less as an uncompromising attitude and more that we as baristas are suppose to lead you the customer into the world of better coffee. As a friend of Jared’s and fellow industry professional I feel I can respectfully challenge the finer points of what we both have committed our lives to.
    I believe that baristas have an incredibly challenging job. We sometimes have customers who see a young “hipster” with tattoos and expect him or her to automatically be rude or talk over their head about coffee. We have lost before we ever got a chance. Unfortunately, this scenario, as even mentioned in some above posts, keeps people from even walking through the door. And though it is not a baristas job to just take it on the chin with a fake smile if someone at the counter is rude, it is our job to be genuinely nice and make customers feel welcome. This is certainly one the gripes I have about some of the entitled baristas I have come across in my long stretch in the industry. However, it is important not to paint that brush on all baristas/coffee shops that are independent and serve excellent coffee.
    The coffee part is another can of worms. I take the responsibility of brewing the coffee to its near perfection. Whether that coffee be a single origin microlot brewed through a pour over cone, or be it a blend of coffees by way of the espresso machine mixed with velvety hot milk, it is our job to create a veritable work of art in a cup. It is also our job to suggest that you might not want to put cream in that ‘Natural Sundried Ethiopian’ because it not that it’s “just not what you do”, but that cream can make it taste almost sour. But, it is your coffee now. If you like cream in your coffee, I want to help you choose coffee that is good with cream, not scoff at you for putting cream in coffee that I made specifically for you. Here is where the specialty coffee industry has much work to do.
    We are not only in a developing industry with more complex combinations of coffee growing and production. There is still a large gap in most consumers understanding how vast and complex the coffee they drink everyday is. But I think this point is even more important in the case of companies like Starbucks who continue to fool the customer into believing they are getting quality coffee when what they truly sell is mediocre, at best, consistency. So be it if that is what you seek. The main issue I have with this scenario is that they are charging basically the same price as we, independent shops, are. Furthermore, the coffee you buy, just like the food and clothes and every other good you put your money into, is part of a chain. Those coffee shops that Jared and I represent spend more time and money to purchase and serve coffee that has integrity throughout its chain of production. That fact alone is an important one. Our job is to make the experience of that coffee a great one. If we fail to do that by way of being rude or by ruining that great coffee by not properly training our baristas, shame on us. If you fail to support ‘third wave’ coffee shops because of your experience with one or two bad ones, or because Starbucks gives you the same mediocre coffee every time….. no shaming here, just give us another try! 🙂 (jay from high five coffee)

  10. When I first moved to the area 11 years ago I was shocked by the customer service (in general}in Asheville. I have since gotten used to it. There is a certain way of interacting with the hung-over service industry folks that is just second nature to me now. I am occasionally reminded when I have an out of town visitor who has a negative experience with a waiter/bartender/barista etc. I always tell them it is just the culture of the area. You would not go to France and expect bubbliness from your waitress. Its same thing here.

  11. try old europe on broadway.

  12. The baristas are not stuck up. They deal with a lot of shit. Comments above saying folks should be fired belie a certain consumer-as-entitled person attitude, which baristas deal with day in and day out. Buying a drink does not come with a guaranteed license to be rude. Especially in this town where the job situation is as it is. If you are allergic to something, mentioning it on the front end, politely, may help, especially if this has happened more than once. There’s a great article about customer service floating around the internet, as well and the gist is this: if you are repeatedly having problems with customer service and “stuck-up” or “rude” folks from the service industry, maybe you are a bad customer. Maybe you are rude, entitled, condescending, or curt. Food for thought.

  13. mark patterson says:

    Biltmore coffee company downtown next to green sage is the best place to go for coffee or espresso drinks, they have quality good coffee with great company as well… always willing to fix my coffee just the way I like and the staff is super friendly…

  14. Let’s remember that this is about coffee first and foremost. If you’re going to Starbucks because someone hurt your feelings you’ve got the game all wrong. It doesn’t matter how friendly Starbucks employees may be because most of their products aren’t worth half the price they are asking for them. In fact most of them are disgusting even when they are free. I’ve always been treated well at every coffee shop in town and I’d like to thank all the baristas for their hard work. Maybe when you’re receiving rude service it’s because you’re a rude customer, they’re just trying to do their jobs. Remember, it’s their job to get you coffee, not to entertain you. Baristas are not comedians, they aren’t self help specialists, and they aren’t set in place to brighten your day. They are here to get you coffee.

    • Oh right, blame it on the customer. Whatever happened to “the customer is always right”.

    • WRONG!! It is about CUSTOMER SERVICE.

      I am glad your experience has been better, but from the anecdotes shown here, there is a pattern of dissatisfaction that you cannot dismiss so easily.

  15. I’ve noticed that the people most quick to judge those who work in the service industry are those who have not themselves. The exchanges in coffee establishments are so brief, with very little time or necessity for someone to bend over backwards for me. As long as I’m not being blatantly ignored when it’s slow and no one curses at me, getting my order will suffice. I understand that it is my job to be welcoming to the customers where I work and am naturally inclined to do so, being that I do unto others and appreciate the opportunity to make money. When they fail to realize that I am human and not purely a vehicle for their neurotic desires, THEY are the ones that are in the wrong. Sometimes I don’t feel so good (because maybe I have a life outside of work that is going badly) and I can’t put my entire soul into sugar coating their perception every damn day. But with that in mind, I never take out personal problems on someone whose fault it isn’t. It is a true fact that not everyone can be pleased. The unpleasable are most often (but not always) the difficult, demanding, and unsympathetic people who would never even consider the possibility that their OWN attitude when they walk in is going to affect the attitude that they, in turn, receive. Business is a cold and unforgiving realm.. but check yourself before you expect the world for $3.50. Also, keep it in perspective.. think about people that don’t get to eat for days before you complain to the manager about the slight imperfections in your mocha latte or how your ass wasn’t french kissed passionately enough for that $1 tip. The whole system is inherently flawed. If 1 customer out of 1,000 has a qualm, it gets blown out of proportion.. and they get rewarded free things for making a stink. It’s very similar to giving a crying child a cookie to get them to shut up. A crying adult should be given an enema and a firm lecture about how everything does not revolve around them.. and that the sooner they realize this, the sooner the world becomes a better place and the happier they’ll be.

  16. danielle plainview says:

    Here’s an idea….make a cup of joe at home and shut up.

  17. Tod’s typically treat me well, and considering all the challenges they face working in that tiny space, with steps and doors, and having to climb on top of the walk-in cooler to get supplies, they retain their composure. They also have the best bagel sandwich in town.

    Starbuck’s is good when traveling, as they are consistent.

  18. I’ve been treated well at Battlecat, CityBakery, and HighFive… I tell you what tho – Tod’s Tasties is ALWAYS super friendly and helpful. Gotta have my coffee…

  19. “In contrast, at one Starbucks they ask my first name in some sort of attempt to get friendly-wendly & it grates on my nerves. I realize they are required to.”

    -I think they ask your name so they can call it out when your drink is ready

    • I would prefer being given a number. I do not like everyone in the establishment hearing my name yelled out. The last time I was asked for my name (not a coffee place, though) I gave them the name of a character in the novel I had in my hand. I should not have to lie to protect my privacy like that.

  20. I live in West Asheville, within walking distance to Battle Cat. I went there once, and will never go back because they were shits.

    • I ordered a drink from battle cat once, and the person working told me it was “Probably like 3.50 or something.” Because guessing is fine.

  21. couple salient points:

    1) we (waking life) try to be friendly. i am probably the biggest offender in that department, but i think at worst i’m hopefully just business-like and task oriented, never rude. i actively work on eye contact and authentic human connection, because it’s my weak spot as a barista. if i fail and someone feels slighted, i do my damnedest to fix it.

    2) the coffee industry is in a tough spot with this, and it’s unique to our trade. there has been a very low demand on coffee customers in the past, and as the industry serves ever superior products, that demand grows higher.

    instead of “just a coffee,” you now have to choose between the washed SL-28 from a certain factory in Kenya or the pulp natural Bourbon variety from a specific farm in El Salvador. this is the same as moving from coors light to serious craft beers. customers have to understand what’s being presented in a new way – it’s quite literally not your momma’s coffee.

    as the quality of coffee improves, the way it’s presented will also change. you wouldn’t use an expensive california red wine for sangria, and you shouldn’t dump stevia in a Gesha. that means the coffees must be presented well (hence the way we structure our menu) and the context must be correct. the latter we’re still figuring out as an industry – for an excellent lecture on the subject, see this video by one of the smartest and most respected industry voices, James Hoffman – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8kD47O33gE

    i do agree that customer service is an integral part of succeeding as a café. the trick is marrying an uncompromising attitude towards the product with a compassionate and authentically human interaction with the customer.

    • awesome. thank you, Jared.

    • “…instead of “just a coffee,” you now have to choose between the washed SL-28 from a certain factory in Kenya or the pulp natural Bourbon variety from a specific farm in El Salvador. this is the same as moving from coors light to serious craft beers. customers have to understand what’s being presented in a new way – it’s quite literally not your momma’s coffee.”

      You are presenting the choices as if the customer must make them… but the customer can choose to ignore those choices and go somewhere less pedantic.

      • i definitely had to look up the defition of pedantic. i guess i need to read more books and less blogs!

        it’s indicative of the problem the coffee industry faces that you would say “You are presenting the choices as if the customer must make them…” yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. just like every damn bar in town presents the choices as if the customer must pick their beer, their cocktail, or their wine. every restaurant has a menu where the customer has to choose their food items. that’s what customers do. they make choices based on the options businesses give them. they’re certainly welcome to go somewhere else if our options don’t please them, but don’t ask for zero options – i’m not sure you’d like that business model very much.

      • luther blissett says:

        “the customer can choose to ignore those choices and go somewhere less pedantic.”

        This is the American sense of privilege in a nutshell: the desire to order a really good cup of coffee, then dump in a load of International Delight and be treated as some kind of genius for doing it. The people who’ll go to Curaté, and demand ketchup, pouting like infants.

        FWIW, Waking Life makes really good coffee, and what I’m paying for is the expertise behind the counter.

    • Waking Life is wonderful. And making that coffee looks really complicated to me….steaming and pouring and watching it make. I sure could not do all that, and have a conversation with a customer.
      Nancy Kuykendall

    • As a neighborhood regular of Waking Life, I always felt warm and welcome there and I felt especially with you Jared that you made an effort to get to know me because I made the choice to support your shop. I believe the greater choice presents greater responsibilities on everyone (although there will probably be that part of the population that just doesn’t care). Part of the benefit of an artisan product is being able to try new and different things, but this does require efforts on the barista’s part to connect and educate the customer on your particular philosophy. And there has to be trust established between the server and the customer for that education to really happen. In my experiences working the farmers market table for Farm & Sparrow for about 5 years, I didn’t feel like it was my job to judge people’s knowledge about bread or pastry or vegetables, but rather to get them excited about it, to foster this connection of food and community, and really a celebration of people being able to express their talents.

    • Jared, you rock. Always friendly and remember my name even though I haven’t been by in awhile. Your staff is also always friendly. Wonderful coffee every time. Thanks so much.

  22. City Bakery & Greensage are amazing. local coffee, no attitude, and always plenty of seats as opposed to maybe a half dozen tables…

    • mark patterson says:

      the Biltmore coffee company has a great staff, they are right near green sage and their coffee is better actually… so much nicer atmosphere, newer, but he barista knows what he is talking about , go there, amazing…

    • Actually, you are right. But, in order to get a decaff, you have to buy an americano. But the service people are very nice.

  23. Easier to make my own.

  24. I live down the street from Tod’s Tasties and have frequented it. Most of the workers are super nice and do a great job with all the drinks, but last week I sent my sister in to get some tater tots and the guy checking her out chided her about the unhealthy-ness of tater tots. Really? Did they think we were getting them for our health? So rude.

  25. I will never go back to Izzy’s. It was the best when they first opened, the owners knew what they where doing. The last two owners have taken that place downhill quickly. I can not believe they are still open. The espresso is terrible!!! The last few times I went there I ended throwing my drink away. How could they ruin something that was once sooooo good???
    The majority of the employees are stuck up hipsters – and the service is terrible. They get in the weeds once there are two people in line.
    Starbucks is great, they have a consistent product and the employees are nice without being overbearing.
    Once in a while I go to Walking Life, I have never had a problem there.

  26. I don’t know that the snottiness of service people in Asheville is endemic to just baristas. I think it’s a mindset of a lot of people in Asheville. That, essentially, they are much more “cool”, much more “in the know”, and have much better “taste” than you could ever possibly have.

    We no longer frequent establishments in Downtown Asheville because too many hipster types have made me and my friends feel very unwelcome. It’s sad too because we have disposable income, professional jobs, educations, homes and would love to spend our money in town. But until these people check the ‘tudes we’ll take our business elsewhere.

    • I agree with you on that. The servers in this town are arrogant…guess they think they are more valuable than the customers.

      Awhile back the MountainX had an article about all of the horrible customers that the servers have to deal with. Wow! how about all of the horrible servers the customers have to deal with.

      This one is a classic. Last year during Bele Chere, I bought a taco at The Lab and sat at the outdoor sitting area overlooking the sidewalk. In addition to the taco, a Bele Chere special, I bought a beer. The server actually came up to me and said I could not sit there because of the taco being some type of special. The people next to me told me the seat had been empty for at least 45 minutes until I sat at it. I refused to move as I had spent money at this establishment, it wasn’t like I was freeloading. She came back twice to harass me. While I was sitting there, the manager came started taping signs on the counter, including right in front in me, saying you could not sit there unless you ordered from inside. How incredibly rude…( I had purchased the beer from inside.) Needless to say, I have never returned.

      If you want to experience good service, go to Charleston, SC. Friendly, kind, and good.

      • You’ve got that right, about Charleston. Wonderful city. And for below, I spend TONS of money in Charlotte. I’ve never been treated like a second-class citizen at Dean and Deluca – they have some of the best coffee in town.

      • luther blissett says:

        “Last year during Bele Chere–”

        See, if you’re going to make Bele Chere weekend your example of bad service, you’ll end up sounding like the person who complains about slow pizza delivery during a tornado.

        I’m pretty sure Downton Abbey does so well in America because too many people pine for the days of servants bowing and scraping to them.

    • Charlotte called, they said they’d love to have you and your friends.

  27. At least at Starbucks the coffee taste the same every day and not like it’s been cooking in an old pot all night. Asheville is known for it’s snobby independent business owners that only want to cater to locals and work bankers hours if that. Then they complain about chain stores stealing their business. LOL

    • Asheville has the worst decaff coffee in the world. There is no where you can get a good cup of decaff in this town. They all think that stronger is better because of lack of caffeine. Horrible…Greenlife is undrinkable and I just noticed that the FB Coop has that horrible Timor flavor that no one can drink. How about just a normal medium roast decaff. Starbucks is better than anywhere else I’ve been…now I just stay home and make my own.

  28. I go to Starbucks because I’m over how snotty the baristas in Asheville are. I have tried to frequent different coffee shops hoping to be able to purchase a local or locally made product and support local business but I just can’t have people be that rude before I am able to put some coffee in my face. The people at Starbucks are always friendly, remember what your drink and even say Hi to you when they see you out in real life. I’ll be happy to start spending locally again when the independent shops check their attitudes.

    • Those snotty local baristas are sooo much better than the rest of us, with their high pay and their highly marketable liberal arts degrees.

      The Starbucks baristas only learned their friendliness through corporate training..ahem…indoctrination, which like all things corporate is inherently evil.

      So, “progressive” Asheville, suck it up and take the rude service. If you pick the fake politeness of corporate coffee, you might as well join the GOP.

  29. Ask Bean Streets what happens when you treat patrons like they are visitors in your world. I used to walk past that place every day, and still chose to drink the office coffee after being treated like an afterthought because I wasn’t disheveled enough when I walked in.

    • That story may make you feel better, but that isn’t why it closed.

    • I remember waiting at Bean Streets with the line out the door and the staff decided that it was the perfect time to count the tip jar! Classic!

      I go to City Bakery and they are always nice and the coffee is great.

  30. I won’t go to Battle Cat anymore because of how flat out rude the barista has been several times.

    (at least I won’t have to look at the “art” anymore….it’s so horrible I honestly wonder if it’s some kind of inside joke/prank)

    • I love Battlecat! The folks that work there are always friendly and their coffee is amazing. I typically go for a late afternoon decaf Americano, best in town!

  31. Joshua Marc Levy says:

    cmonnn, hahahaha, please do not go to Starbucks

  32. Any food service worker who takes it upon themselves to substitute something you’re allergic to in place of an ingredient that you clearly requested should be fired. That said, I’m not that much of a coffee drinker, and I’ve never experienced rudeness or other bad behavior in any of Asheville’s independent shops.

  33. This feels like a phony fox news story. I’m friendly with, and respectful of, the talents of the baristas at Waking Life Espresso & West End Bakery.

    In contrast, at one Starbucks they ask my first name in some sort of attempt to get friendly-wendly & it grates on my nerves. I realize they are required to.

    High Five is friendly and attentive to orders, as is City Bakery.

  34. Izzy’s is terrible. Terrible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*