Everyone has been vocal about their feelings regarding last week’s presidential election. Today, I encourage you to think about how the election affects your baristas.
I was overwhelmed by how difficult it was to come back to café work after last week’s presidential election. And I hardly think I’m alone in that sentiment.
Many of us in the specialty-coffee community were devastated by the election results. In large part, we’re a group of people trained to be empathetic to others and help our community, and seeing the majority of Americans (although Hillary does lead the popular vote by more than one million votes as of this posting) elect someone who champions for causes that create more barriers between us and our neighbors ”both within our community and globally ”is disheartening. Still, even as we were crushed by this news, many of us had to go into work the next day and conduct business as usual.
As service workers, the morning after wasn’t just a tough day at the office, but a barrage of forced interactions with regulars and strangers alike. Depending on where you live, you could be faced with a number of customers who do not agree with your political views. However, the specialty-coffee industry does tend to lean to the left, and have fairly liberal and progressive views, so at least it was heartening that many of our colleagues and community leaders understood our feelings of grief and shock.
As was printed on Eater, restaurateur Danny Meyer sent a letter to his New York-based restaurant staffers to share his own disappointment, but also to remind his employees that œwe have both a responsibility and a powerful opportunity to lead with our strongest suit: hospitality. James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle, also expressed sadness in a company-wide email, but encouraged positivity, sharing to baristas, “yours might be the kindest and most optimistic face they see. You make a difference in our guests’ lives every day, but today, especially, they need you. If they see their favorite baristas at their favorite coffee bar not wallowing, but undaunted, kind and helpful maybe that small gesture will lodge in their day and in their lives.”
Now more than ever, baristas should remember how important that seemingly small gesture of a cup of coffee can be for someone having a tough day. Somehow though, even if that advice comes from such heavies as Danny Meyer and James Freeman, they still don’t feel like enough. That’s because baristas, more than anyone else in our domestic coffee chain, are the most likely to experience the emotional fallout from this election. Customers feeling sadness, disappointment, frustration, and anger can be extra challenging, and as baristas are coffee’s most public-facing representatives, they simply must feel supported and ready to deliver customer service in a confusing, uncertain time.
Here are a few ways café owners and managers can show continued support to their barista staff.
- If you haven’t considered health care options, now is the time to do so.
The reality is that no one knows what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act, and as a business owner and/or leader, you need to find out what options are available to you, and who on your staff will need support if the law is repealed.
Every state is different: In California, for example, Covered CA has assured enrolled members that their benefits will not be affected in 2017, so encourage baristas to enroll now (open enrollment ends December 15th). But that might not be true other places. Do some research and decide what options are best for you and your team.
If you can’t provide healthcare yet to your staff, you at least need to begin looking at your profits and losses to figure out a pathway to healthcare. You can’t expect the stewards of your business to be bastions of cheerfulness if they’re sick or can’t go to the doctor.
- Create a clear-cut policy on harassment for both staff and customers.
Right now, a lot of your staff might feel very vulnerable, especially those who identify as being a member of a marginalized group. Many may fear that the election validated racist, sexist, and discriminatory views and actions that could be committed against them or people they know. If you own a business, this would be a good time to let your staff know that these sorts of behaviors will not be tolerated in your café. You might think it’s enough to believe that, but it’s important to take these issues as seriously as your baristas do and develop a code or set of rules that encourage respect, and empower baristas to say no or deny service to someone who makes them uncomfortable and/or offends them in your café.
- Establish the café as a safe space.
Your staff should feel safe at work ”period. Part of that comes from developing a clear anti-harassment policy, and part of that comes from creating an open and transparent environment. If you can, call your staff together and talk about how the election affects your employees. Lindsey Pittman, who co-owns Trade and Lore Coffee in Asheville, N.C., chose to close her shop for a day in order to come together with staffers for both moral support and to make plans for moving forward. Allowing your baristas to express their concerns, fears, and frustrations openly and without restraint will empower as well as comfort your staff. And if you work for a company with an HR branch, suggest that they extend office hours and listen to the concerns of the staff.
- Be present.
The power of simply being present is vastly underestimated, and showing up at the café just for a few minutes to say hello, run a register, give someone an extra break, or a shoulder to cry on, or just to listen to customers as they come in, is the most inspiring thing a leader can do. If I saw a business owner ringing up customers the day after the election, I would have taken a lot of comfort and likely raised the level of my respect for the company, from that gesture.
Above all, listen to your baristas. Ask them what they need and provide what you can. In most cases, it will be nothing more than someone to listen or give them a hug. Simply acknowledging someone’s pain goes a very long way, and with the support of their leaders, baristas can be the smiling and welcoming agents that your customers need, as well.