A stray scolding from a irritated barista permanently severed my long-time patronage with Portland Brews this morning. The break-up was overdue. You see, I like their coffee, but lately that quality is not enough to overcome their deteriorating service.
The Portland Brews on Murphy Road consistently suffers now from what set in a few years ago at Fido: a staff of struggling artists and musicians more focused on talking up their crafts and gigs than on slinging coffee. That would be fine if the place were not consistently stuffed to the gills with customers who seem too happy to buy a single cup o' joe and camp out there long after their buzz has worn off. However, rarely can one find a table there for grabbing a quick breakfast in a place whose quality does not match its seeming popularity.
Speaking of breakfast, our relationship went rocky when Portland Brews decided to stop preparing a hot breakfast, choosing instead to offer only bagels and pre-made dishes. Their reasons: they were losing money by having some staff in the back cook and they wanted to devote more time and money to special espresso roasts for the connoisseurs among their regulars. I do not know how they have room for connoisseurs with crowds of students keyboarding away or local suits holding meetings in a java joint rather than in their conference rooms.
But since the change was made a few weeks ago, I have seen no special espresso roast offers for that elite clientele and the customer relations of the staff has gone downhill as their time free from the bondage to the cookery in the back room has increased. Food prep now means mostly popping bagels in a toaster out front, and yet, almost every time I have ordered a bagel since the changes were made, the staff either forgot my order or forgot to fish the bagel out of the toaster. I have actually waited 10-15 minutes on a couple of occasions to get a toasted bagel. The staff seemed more consumed with debating the finer points of acoustic rifts and less concerned with taking my order and letting me go in a timely manner.
This morning was the final straw. I ordered a double breve with no bagel. Seems easy enough, especially when I had been ordering the same 12-ounce to-go drink in the same place at least twice a week for a year. Mind you: I had not even had my coffee, yet; and what coffee-drinkers among us would blame me for having a bit of a pre-coffee snarl? And what barista should not expect a lack of humor until the drinker imbibes? Even while moody, I politely ordered my breve and I patiently weathered the barista chatter about "practicing octaves with one hand and scales with the other even without a metronome."
When the call came that my drink was ready, I found that they put it in a 16-ounce cup. I told them that I wanted the same 12-ounce cup that they always pulled out the minute they saw me at the register having made no prompt at all. I wondered to myself why they would assume that my breve should go in the larger cup. No matter, because everybody knows that the tenets of customer relations dictate a new cup of coffee: businesses eat cup-sized losses to hold on to the regular-sized customer.
Not in this case. The Barista proceeded to chastise me for not telling her clearly beforehand that I wanted mine in the smaller cup. She also said that "next time" I needed to tell her as much because "Half-and-Half is very expensive to waste." The pre-coffee snarl and lack of humor were now no doubt obvious on my face. Even so, I made no loud scene, as she made me my usual drink, but I did calculate what would come next.
When she called me up to her bar for my breve, I informed her quietly but bluntly, "There will be no 'next time.' I have been a regular customer here for a long time, but I will not be back 'next time.'"
Then I walked off calmly and coldly with my piping breve, and out the door, which only gave her the chance to reply, "But, sir ...!" Half-and-Half may be expensive to waste. But can it be any more expensive than the loss of a regular customer and each $1 tip he coughed up for every $3 cup of coffee he bought since the place opened? I leave Portland Brews to work out that equation on its own.