So the one thing that will always encourage me to go back to a coffee shop, besides decent espresso drinks of course are baristas who are friendly and reasonable. It is also equally, if not more important to me that the place is one where I would feel comfortable hanging out with the rest of the regulars who frequent the place, enjoying espresso drinks and hanging out. It is being in the midst of that ‘community’, even if you are not necessarily interacting directly with those around you. This community and great customer service are what I really believe is king when it comes to having a great coffee shop and coffee shop experience!
Now with customer service, I think that sometimes we as customers forget to really appreciate baristas who are willing to go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your experience at their shop until we get into a situation where the customer service is really bad or you are surrounded by idiots who are making your enjoyment of your coffee an unforgettable experience… unforgettable for all the wrong reasons that is. Case in point is one of my favorite places in the lower Capital Hill area, Bauhaus Books + Coffee.
Many years ago, I used to live about two blocks away from Bauhaus and at that time Bauhaus was really the only decent coffee shop in that area. And so naturally, I used to frequent the place a lot. But over time I remember that the place started becoming really shady. At that time, smoking was allowed in the establishment. But then for some reason unknown to me it all of a sudden seemed like the place started attracting more and more shady characters who would simply hang out all day smoking and ingesting illegal substances. The shop has a cozy, dark, almost out of the way upstairs sitting area and a lot of these folks tended to gravitate towards this sitting area. If you were the kind of person who brought your laptop with hang out and work form there, you certainly didn’t want to leave any of your stuff unattended. This meant that after the second cup of coffee had done its work and you needed to go to the bathroom then you were faced with a small dilemma… your belongings or your wet pants…
And because of the smoking allowed policy, locals would easily know that you were at Bauhaus because you not only smelled of coffee, but you also smelled of cigarette smoke… pretty nasty. So as a result of this, I decided that I was simply going to have to find a better place to hang out… and this is partially why I ended up getting very familiar with Vivace, which was a little bit further, but worth it all the same.
I probably was not the only one to notice that the clientele at Bauhaus was mainly riff-ruff… and so a lot of folks would simply go get a coffee ‘to go’ and not hang out at the place at all. This certainly presented a problem for the owners of the place with regard to brand and image and so they did what was an obvious but smart move, they banned smoking within the establishment. This came as a surprise to me when I happened to drop by the place after a few months absence. I was simply going to go get a latte to go and when I stepped into the place, the first thing I noticed was the place smelled only of fresh coffee… no hint of cigarette smoke at all.
So I asked the barista what happened because the place looked different and actually was starting to look like its old self. This barista, who I believe is no longer there, told me the story of how they had to ban smoking within the premises because that plus the fact that they would allow anyone and everyone to hang out all day even if they really were not buying coffee had attracted the crowd that was doing all sorts of negative stuff and causing legitimate customers to shy away. In other words, it was bad for business.
The long and the short of it is that by simply going back to basics and creating that environment where legitimate paying customers were able to feel comfortable, relax and enjoy good espresso and good company is what helped bring Bauhaus back on track. And so even with more than 3 great coffee shops each less than 5 minutes walking distance from Bauhaus, you find that Bauhaus is doing great and looks like it will be around for quite a while.