Published: 2 years ago

Recognize. Respond.

Not every Starbucks has a singing barista, but mine most certainly does. Or at least, it used to (more on that later). Some mornings, the baritoned barista’s impromptu ballads about coffee cake brought a welcomed smile. He was happy…I was happy…the world was happy.

But some mornings, when he would annoyingly deliver the Batman theme song, I wasn’t so happy. Maybe it was because I was trying to process email and the nana nana nana nana drove my concentration factor down.

Then there were mornings when I was happy…but he wasn’t. I didn’t get a song. There was no crumb cake tune, no masked crusader ditty. He was reserved, quiet, and maybe…whoa! Is that a little bit of barista bad mood I detect?

I also noticed that my singing barista had a similar effect on other customers. There were some who playfully interacted with him. There were others who appeared to want to push his head into the coffee grinder and hit “Turkish Blend.” There were people who just wanted their coffee, skip the show.

It’s interesting to note that one day, he was just…gone. No melody. No medley. He waltzed off into the espresso lane, never to be heard from again.

I’ve always wondered what happened to him, but I’ve never forgotten the two important lessons I learned from him:


Recognize and respond.


In guest services situations, every one of us has a little singing barista inside, needing desperately to recognize and respond to social cues. My barista appeared to be a great guy, but there were days when a song wasn’t needed or desired. It pushed me away from conversation rather than drawing me in.

One organization refers to this as the “mood meter.” If a guest’s mood can be ranked from one (“Our pets’ heads are falling off!”) to ten (“My team just won the national championship!”), our goal should be to recognize where they are on the scale. Assess the situation. Read their body language. Figure out if it’s a good day or a bad day.

And then we respond. What respond doesn’t mean is that we try to take ones and catapult them to a ten. No. That’s jarring, offensive, and off-putting. If our guest services volunteers (normally functioning as a ten) encounter a guest who is visibly having a tough day, we set aside our tendencies for cheeriness (you’re welcome) and meet them closer to where they are. We do our best to empathize with a stranger and seek to serve them however we can.

The guests in our church are a lot like the customers in my Starbucks. Every weekend we have people who want us to proverbially sing over them. They want us to go all out in order to include them in the party.

Others are going to be more reserved, hesitant, skeptical, or just plain sad. In those cases, an exuberant welcome is not appreciated…it’s offensive. The key is recognizing what they need, and responding in kind.

Do you have “singing barista moments” in your ministry?


photo credit


An earlier version of this post appeared in October 2009.

  1. […] Recognize. Respond. by Danny Franks […]

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