Stupid Rules are Stupid

Back in my home state of California, I worked as a barista at a Seattle’s Best café inside of a Borders in Long Beach. The district supervisor who oversaw our location irritated me more than burning myself on the steaming wand.  He issued us dumb rules, which were detrimental to excellent customer service.

We could not ask the customer “What size?” for drink orders.  We were supposed to say “Medium or large?” as if the small size never existed on our menu.

Customers loved our cookies, especially chocolate chip, and customers appreciated that they had the option to have their cookie warmed in our convection microwave oven.  However, under our district supervisor, we were not allowed to ask the customer if he or she wanted his or her cookie toasted.  So we kept our mouths shut, while the cookie, clasped between thongs, made its short trek to the oven, and it’s only during these few seconds the customer can say, “No.  Don’t heat my cookie.”  It would’ve saved precious seconds and been more efficient if we had asked in the first place.

And finally, the rule I found to be the dumbest was that baristas were not allowed to ask customers if they wanted whipped cream on their drinks if the drink’s recipe called for it.  In the past, we had always asked if the customer wanted whipped cream on his or her Javakula (Seattle’s Best’s version of Starbucks’ Frappuccino), Coco Trio, or Javanilla Shake.  The district supervisor’s “Don’s ask” rule for whipped cream proved problematic: What about customers who are allergic to dairy?  Most drinks could be made with soy milk, such as Javakulas and Coco Trios, but the whipped cream was dairy based.  Most of the times, customers roamed nearby in the bookstore, so if the drink was finished while they were gone instead standing at the counter, we had to remake the drink if they had not wanted whipped cream in the first place.

One time, the district supervisor brought along an associate, and the associate ask me what I thought was the most popular drink, and related to that question, what was my favorite.  I said that the Caramel Javakula was my favorite and the one that I thought was the most popular.  But the district supervisor told his associate friend to buy the Javanilla Shake, the most expensive item on the menu, but not the most popular (in my own opinion).  I felt offended because the associate wanted my opinion, not a fake, dishonest answer.

Although he wasn’t my boss, the Seattle’s Best district supervisor was the worst superior I have ever worked under.  He wasn’t always at the café.  Ironically, a good number broke his rules–except me.  I didn’t want to get in trouble; once, he caught me asking “What size?”  But his rules hindered efficient customer service.

Those of my coworkers who broke the district supervisor’s rules never thought twice about what they did.  I asked one of my coworkers who broke the rules why she didn’t follow them, and she responded that the customer always came first.  I agreed.  Customers did come first.  I envied my coworker.  I wished I had the ability to break stupid, annoying rules.

However, there needs to be another approach to serving customers.  Instead of a “customer focused” approach, it should be an “employee focused” approach.  When employees are treated well by allowing them to use their common sense and judgment, they are in better spirits to efficiently serve their customers.  When customers are given the wrong tools, like dumb rules, business efficiency slackens and the business loses money.


Illustration by Danielle Burch.