For 10 years my wife and I owned and ran one of the busiest independent coffee shops in the UK. That meant employing a lot of young and energetic staff to handle the constant stream of customers at the tills. My guess is that over the years we have employed more than four hundred counter staff who stayed with us for anything from, in one case the full ten years down to, in another case just fifteen minutes of uninterrupted service. Yes it is true; one girl could be seen to be running off down the high street just a few minutes after being introduced to “The Beasts”. That’s not me and the wife but our original matched pair of Rancilio Classe 10 4 group Espresso machines.
During all that time I am sure you can well imagine all the thousands of wonderful people we met some of which became firm friends and remain so to this day. Perhaps you will not be too surprised to hear that we met a few *****oles from time to time too. One day during our first year, sweet young Emma, a very well brought up and polite barista who loved working behind that counter was brought to tears by a woman who wanted Emma to use the thermometer and heat the milk to 100 degrees for her Cafe Latte. Emma had reluctantly but very politely explained to her that anything above about 66 degrees was too hot for milk which boils at about 82 degrees anyway. The obnoxious woman went into a frenzy and started shouting at Emma and told her that even an idiot knows boiling point is 100 degrees and that is how hot the milk has to be for a Cafe Latte. This was not an unusual occurrence to be fair, we found that a lot of customers thought that it was like making a cup of instant, you just boil the liquid and pour it on. They assumed that the baristas had had no training and just came in off the street. The truth is that we never let anyone serve coffee to the public until they had completed all of the training and understood it to our complete satisfaction.
Anyway, at that time I decided that the staff needed to be empowered to retaliate when these very rare nightmare customers attacked. I told all of the counter staff that from then on they each had one free “F*** off” per quarter year , which could be used with absolute impunity to any customer they felt needed it. I assured them that there would be no repercussions whatsoever and that we would back them up whatever the circumstances. I also told them that if they wanted to use a more toned down version of F*** off that would be absolutely fine it was just a case of where their individual comfort levels each lay. I figured that one day I would probably have to revoke the right after we got into some serious trouble but I would deal with that when the day came. Meanwhile, perhaps the staff wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and impotent on those occasions.
During the next nine years and four hundred staff we only ever used one F*** off! It was my wife that used it anyway. The staff were always far too polite and well mannered as was my wife normally but someone had really got to her that day. But I always felt that perhaps the staff felt a little more confident because of their F*** offs, I hope they did anyway.