As I strolled into Cafe Milano on Monday night, with the clock nearing 9 o’clock, I expected a very busy night for one of the most frequented cafes in Berkeley, complete with full staffing. As I took my seat, I was surprised to notice only two employees manning the counter, one primarily interacting with customers (the one that I observed), and the other shoring up the back. With only two workers, it may seem the work was not too grueling (which it was not), however the responsibility of ensuring customers walked away satisfied more than made up for what was otherwise a slow night.
The role of the individual I observed was on the surface, simply a cashier and food and drink preparer. However, on a grander scale, he served as the sole worker with the responsibility of taking customer inquiries, questions, and complaints due to the fact that his fellow co-worker was challenged at speaking English. Basic rudimentary tasks for the individual in question involved taking a customer order, accepting the cash and giving the correct change/receipt to that customer, and processing that order. He and his co-worker switched of responsibilities if a break was needed here or there, but it was obvious that one (the one that I was examining) was the primary intermediary with customers. During the course of the night, the variety of tasks were very analogous as most of the customers ordered coffee (due to the late night) and nothing outlandish was performed.
As I sat watching my suspect, I was amazed at his congeniality, his personableness, and overall graciousness with customers. Despite the expansive customer base, my client somehow managed to recognize and playfully banter with nearly every customer that managed to walk into the cafe. Evidenced by the fact that only two employees were needed to manage a cafe with nearly seventy five customers, both workers were very well acclimated with the workplace. There was no confusion as to how to manipulate the cashier machine, clean the coffee machines, work the brewers, or make the sandwiches. The tasks were routinely performed without any issues arising. Due to the vast experience that the individual performed the tasks without a care, but this is not to say that he didn’t have joy interacting with customers. In fact, as noted, I have rarely seen anyone with such an innate sense of getting people to open up and laugh with him despite the relatively short interaction time. It seemed he thrived on interaction with new and loyal customers, often observing the customers when there was down time (which there was a lot of). Even with his coworker, the individual seemed to be having a great time and holding casual conversation for extended durations of time (towards the end of the night, they talked for 10 minutes straight without a customer needing assistance).
Although I’m not a connaisseur of cafes, the individual filled his duties and responsibilities remarkably well. There was never a moment where I felt he was lost or unprepared, in fact he seemed in total control of the place. Essentially, he was running the whole place as his coworker concentrated more on the rudimentary tasks such as emptying the garbage, and washes the dishes. He was engaged with every customer, often multitasking by taking and order and creating one at the same time. When hunger had taken hold of me, I questioned him about a particular item on the menu on and he was very courteous in explaining to me what it consisted of and was patient in my decision making process (I’m very indecisive).
While I’m normally very critical of performance, there was no kink I could find in this man’s armor. Customers loved him, he completed each order with zeal and alacrity, never delaying in his service. Additionally, he aided his co-worker if there was ever an influx of customers and held steady conversation with him. If I want to nitpick, he did disappear in the back a few times during the shift (but there were not customers), either to take a break or sit down. I won’t fault him on this as there was no work needed to be done at the moment. He even surveyed the scene for long periods of time (often staring at me because I was staring at him) to see if anyone needed assistance of any kind. If I were Cafe Milano, I would make future hires shadow this individual for he possesses both the customer service and performance aspect of the job. Cafe Milano should ensure that they retain such a well likened, superbly performing employee for the benefit of company operations.