By Marco Paulo Carneiro
I’m still working towards my undergraduate degree, and it’s been a long way coming. Granted, I took time off/sometimes lightened the course load in order to work some fantastic freelance gigs and develop self-started arts opportunities throughout Boston and beyond. I even got paid! But, as grateful as I am for all of those wonderful jobs, I’ve always had to look for part-time work to put some extra coins in the piggy bank. For the most part, it’s been in retail or the food industry.
For a while now I’ve worked at a coffee shop. While serving out beverages and pastries, you start to remember the regulars who come in everyday ordering the same drink or asking for their bagel to be extra toasted. From there, we start being able to converse with them about the products they like, what they did on the weekend, and how their grandmother’s gallbladder surgery went (if nothing else, it helps pass the time when they’re awkwardly staring at you, impatient for the milk to finish steaming…) Right then and there, we’ve connected and discovered something about our customers, and we’re also able to find special ways to fill their needs. All this is from simple conversation – the “filler” stuff. For some of us, it’s only natural that we should remember and be able to create this experience; they come in everyday and we are good at making those connections. For others, it’s actually a big effort to remember so they too can make the customer feel welcomed and known while expediting a regular’s order. Either way, the customer will walk away feeling appreciated and special; we accomplish that much through simple conversation and maybe even a familiar smile.
Now, I go out of my way to treat retail and food service workers well; I know how hard they are working – I’ve been there, I sympathize. But, it’s not often I get that special treatment I try to give out, mostly because I’m not really a regular anywhere. But when it does happen, I have to admit it feels great. Suddenly you’re a VIP whose name and needs everyone knows and the other people around can only wish they had their product delivered with such love. Right? (RIGHT?) Anyway, you can imagine how great I felt when I had a similar experience when I walked into a small-town, family-owned, homegrown bakery while visiting my parents over the holidays. I hadn’t been there in years and I was bundled up with a scarf and furry hat covering most of my face. I was hardly halfway through the door when the saleswoman looked up, remembered me from at least five years earlier and said, “You’re picking up for Olivia?” (Olivia is my mother). To think that after years of being away and being half-mummified in polyester-blend winter wear, she could still remember me and whose son I am. Maybe she just has a good memory; she certainly has a flair for being familiar with customers. And she even thanked me for coming in again. “Again.” As if I was just there the week before. And that’s where this is going.
About the Author
Marco Carneiro is the Managing Artistic Director of the Boston Stage Company. www.bostonstagecompany.org