Grounds for bitterness?

So The Washington Post reported that a 32-year-old guy went into Murky Coffee in the Washington, D.C., area and asked for a triple espresso over ice. The barista, a guy named David Flynn (no relation), refused. Customer asked for a triple espresso and a glass of ice, and pours the coffee over the ice. According to the customer, a guy named Jeff Simmermon, the barista told him that espresso over ice violated the coffeehouse’s policy and was “not okay.” Simmermon told Flynn off and hunkered to a table to drink his iced espresso. The baffling part of the story is that Simmermon wanted more caffeine, and went back up where another barista served him an iced Americano (which was basically four shots of watered down espresso). Simmermon left a dollar tip scrawled with a not-so-polite “f**k you and your precious coffee policy” and left. (Unsurprisingly, photo credit goes to Simmermon.)

Then, he blogged about it.

The cafe owner is sort of the Soup Nazi of coffee in his area. The reason he has a policy against espresso over ice is because he believes it turns the flavor bitter, in part due to way they prepare it. He also says that scheming customers sometimes ask for an iced espresso and then go over and fill up their cups with milk to make an iced latte — at a considerable cost savings.

I’m not sure what to make about this. One, why does any human need seven shots of caffeine in an hour? (Yes, seven. Read the paragraph again and do the math.) Was Simmermon trying to revive his stilled heart or something? But I guess it also comes down to the old is-the-customer-always-right dilemma? Should the owner refuse to serve iced espresso — even though he sells iced lattes and Americanos? If the loss of profit due to people making their own iced lattes is such an issue, why not make iced espresso and iced lattes the same price? If it’s enough of an issue to make a “policy” about iced espresso, perhaps train the staff to automatically respond with a potentially agreeable suggestion such as an iced americano instead? After all, the Difficult Customer here acknowledges that he liked his four-shot Americano just fine.

On that point, pleasing customers – even difficult ones – is an irritating yet essential part of self preservation in small business, especially in a declining economy when consumers may have to forfeit their daily double tall latte and put the cash toward gas to get to work instead. After all, even a mammoth coffee company like Starbucks is losing customers.

There’s a saying in the restaurant business, that a customer who has a good experience will tell one person, but that a person who has a bad experience will tell 20. Or, in this guy’s case, he told the world via his blog. Sure, the owner thinks straight espresso gets a little bitter over ice. But maybe it’s better the espresso is bitter, rather than the customer?

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