Opinion: Not at your service?


“It’s not my job,” sneers the kid behind the counter. Perhaps, we think. But if not them, then who? OK, specialization leads to greater efficiency. Having the latte person make the Americano might slow down the entire production line leading to the kind of biblical chaos that was only known to readers of the Old Testament. Skinny-foam customers would likely get disproportional halves of “caf” to “decaf.” And some highly educated MBA’s vision of the perfect optimization of steps required to dispense coffee would be disrupted. Still, can’t we just get an extra cup?

As labor markets have tightened, the things that used to get done are now not happening. Young workers are scoring some of the lowest labor participation rates ever recorded. Older workers are retiring early as not before measured. And highly productive employees are self-reporting significant reductions in the amount of time they are putting into their jobs. Maybe it is a needed reset of expectations and demands. Maybe we have all gotten a little lazy. Whatever the genesis or the analysis, we find that we’re being told to do it ourselves with increasing regularity and ferocity.

The promise of technology might help to carry us along. Soon, we hope, some device will lift the shifted burdens. In the meantime, we’re left to manage our own beverages or learn to live without. As we are confronted with a new paradigm of service, can we come to accommodate the changes gracefully while clinging to the fundamental elements of civil interaction? Kind, respectful exchange still carries the day, in most cases.  But conflict over increasing gaps in expectation between providers and customers may be a harbinger of a new age in human interaction. We just want an extra cup. Is it really that diffcult? Well, it might be.