14 November 2008

Monrovia Coffee Co. and "The Test"

This is my first post in practically three months. That means this post will either by highly good for the subject of the title, or wildly poor. It is not the former.

Everytime a new coffee shop opens up around me, I have a series of tests for it. Most of the time, these tests are unvoiced and subliminal. But this one gave me cause to explain such a process, and now those qualities have been abdicated, if only for a short time.

The first line of testing is relatively simple, though there is reasoning to each step.

1) Show up in the middle of the day. This tells you how the company performs when "no one's watching". Anyone can be on point in the early morning or late afternoon, when the business is busy. And anyone can use that busy timing to excuse poor service, quality or behavior. So, for the Monrovia Coffee Co., I showed up around noon.

2) Order something simple. This will show you not only if they know the coffee basics, but if they know enough to get out of the mentality that pervades this industry, namely "sugared promotion" drinks. For the MCC, I ordered an Americano. It's a espresso and hot water. That's it.

3) Don't wait around by the counter; take a look at the place, make yourself noticeable but not unforgettable. This tells you (a) how they track their customers, and (b) if they remember you. I took a little walk around, waited for about five minutes, and then slowly walked towards the counter. Then I moved to the counter directly. And leaned on it.

4) Tell them it's your first time, and that you're gently "testing it out". This lets them know not only that you're interested directly, but it puts a little pressure on them without expecting too much.

Here are my conclusions:

The company is understaffed; one girl is not enough to handle even an amorphous, relaxed, five person "crowd". The girl took my order, and when I told her #4 above, she flustered immediately. Asked me what I meant by "small" or "tall"; I had to tell her I wanted the lowest-priced size of the Americano.

Then I waited. And I watched her take three more orders. Then I watched her make two sandwiches, get a cookie and a slice of pie. Ten minutes later, I leaned on the counter (breaking rule #3).

She looked at me funnily and then asked me if I had ordered anything! It was a _____ing Americano. She apologized, but the damage was far from fixable at that point. The Americano was already slightly cold, and it was nothing but run-of-the-mill institutional.

In other words, on all four tests: FAILED. Failed MISERABLY.


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