It took a while to figure out what I was going to write for this issue. At 4:45 pm Pacific time today, I locked in on something: the mental health angle of reopening. It’s something I want to reflect on, so stay with me here.

I am not a cafe owner, I don’t have employees, nor do I have much of an overhead for operations. I do know that cafes and roasters operate on slim margins and that every bit helps. As reopens continue, I imagine it’s a lot of red tape, loan worries, and safety put in place not to mention the constant disinfecting that needs to happen throughout a shift. It’s a lot. 

Two posts on Instagram prompted this piece. I’m putting the images of them below.

Tried & True Coffee had an upset customer who maced the cafe. They were shaken for good reason and posted about the incident for their customers.

Mama Mocha’s has had verbally abusive customers for every shift. Cooped-up customers taking out their unhappiness on service workers is nothing new but pandemic-influenced unhappiness? That’s a new level. 

Tipped service workers are at higher risk for depression, sleep issues, and stress when compared to non-tipped employees. It also impacts women more than men which is significant as women make up 67% of all tipped workers. This study was published in pre-pandemic 2018.

On top of tipped wages and the associated customer service related mental health issues, there are also cross-sections of race, gender, gender identity and expression, and far more to consider. 

It goes to reason that between all of this, it’s difficult to work in a cafe and/or operate one. There are many ways to alleviate some of the stress but that unfortunately still takes time and groundwork. 

I’ve listed some ideas below and I imagine a little role play scenario, especially if some aren’t feeling confident in speaking out against a customer, could be useful.

  • Adding protocol for difficult customers in your employee handbook
  • Empowering staff to make a decision to warn or ban a customer, knowing that they have your full support
  • Have ready answers for why certain measures are being taken and why someone won’t be allowed in if you don’t follow them (depends on the state/country)
  • Put up signage reminding customers to be respectful – this might seem like overkill but I tend to err on the side of over communication
  • Read up on strategies for an employee-first culture
  • If your staff is unemployed, let them know that Headspace, the meditation app, is offering a full year subscription for free to US-unemployed workers

And lastly, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. If you scroll down this issue, you’ll find a link about mental health concerns for entrepreneurs. I have to constantly remind myself that we are in a pandemic and that productivity should not be a goal. Rather, I try to take one day at a time and take a deep breath for the next day.

This post originally appeared in Coffee Marketing issue no. 102. I have edited it slightly to make it fit a blog post style. Subscribe to my bi-weekly Coffee Marketing newsletter to be the first to read pieces like this.