It Takes a Village

Josie Leavitt -- September 27th, 2010

Our store is in a small village where everyone knows everybody. Every morning I get my coffee at Kevin’s and for breakfast, I count on the folks at the Good Friends Cafe (not its real name, I’m trying to provide privacy to the owners)  to provide my sustenance. These are the two places I frequent the most, because every day I eat and drink more than I shop. Part of working in a village is being part of a lot of lives. Mostly it’s great, but every once in a while, there is bad news.

Miranda (not her real name), one of the owners of the cafe, was diagnosed with breast cancer recently. Her surgery was last week and I’ve never seen a whole town rally as it did for her. In order to keep the restaurant open, they (the cafe is owned by Miranda and her husband) needed help: help getting their children to and from school, organizing play dates, walking the dog, and more importantly, help in the restaurant.

My secret fantasy has always been to work in a restaurant, taking orders and doing some prep work. Well, last week, I got to fulfill a fantasy while providing relief to a dear friend who needed some time to heal and her husband who wanted to be with her more than he wanted to work in the cafe below their house. I worked all of last week, from 7:30am until the bookstore opened, and on two days I was there for the lunchtime rush (and rush is no exaggeration – and let me just say, hungry people are not as patient as they could be).

Several things struck me about working across the street. The first was how many customers of mine get food at Good Friends. The look of shock on faces was priceless. Some customers just burst out laughing when I tried to take their order and not mess up. Others asked why I was there and to be funny, I said,”I’m just trying to make a little extra money before the bookstore opens.”

Most folks knew Miranda had just had surgery, and were very appreciative of my being there. Many folks reached out to shake my hand or squeeze my arm commenting how nice it was for me to be there. And everyone saw that all the while they had no idea I was finally working in a restaurant!

In between taking orders, and restocking the cookies and pastries, I saw a flood of other volunteers, many of whom were also bookstore customers: dog walkers, dishwashers, child care helpers, etc. It was so moving to see that the entire town has rallied behind this family, almost willing the cancer to go away by their desire to help and their love for Miranda. It was all about keeping it local last week.

I know I’ve commented on customer behavior at the bookstore: folks don’t know what they want, they want something you had on the counter a year ago, etc. Cafe diners are far worse. Let me explain that everyone at Good Friends places their order at the counter and then the food is brought to them. There is a large chalkboard menu on the wall and a smoothie and juice menu on the counter. Regulars know what they want, and some expected me to know what they always have because it was a variation of a menu item. Newcomers to the cafe had a tendency to just stare at it for a long time. So, I thought I’d help them along by using my bookselling techniques. “What are you in the mood for? Sweet, savory or really healthy?” “Do you think breakfast would hit the spot or are you leaning towards the soup?” While I thought people in bookstores made it hard to order the right book because of botched titles, in restaurants they just make up menu items. Could they not get the breakfast special of egg, cheese, spinach on whole wheat and get instead get oatmeal, which was not on the menu? Or a turkey sandwich with ham instead? They’d ask for onions, then change their minds after I’d written the ticket. My handwriting, is, well, let’s just say it’s a challenge for me to be neat, so now I’d have to rewrite the ticket only to have them change their mind back to onions. It was all I could do to not roll my eyes and say,”Seriously? Again?”

Really, I think people just can’t make decisions anymore. I found out from the kitchen crew what we had in abundance and suggested that, with great success every time. I tried to upsell with our fresh squeezed lemonade (there’s a great margin on that) and did my best to represent all the yumminess of the cafe the way I would handsell a book I loved.

There was one very funny moment when Mark, a boy about three, who comes to my store at least once a week, came in and saw me behind the counter. At first he looked confused and thought about crying (he was terrified of me for a while last Christmas when I kept running into him while I was wearing my Santa hat) then he just looked at me, and looked at the direction of the bookstore. I told him I was helping out and I would be at the bookstore later that day. He liked that answer and then ordered a bagel, toasted, not too much cream cheese.

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