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.

View this post on Instagram

Just to answer all the questions people have been asking about our downtown store: Everyone is safe. No permanent damage was done to the shop. Earlier this morning a man entered our downtown store and was belligerent and verbally abusive to our staff. He became irate when he was told that we aren’t currently accepting cash due to COVID-19 safety issues, left the store, got on his bike and sprayed mace all over the front and into the store while riding by. Police were able to find him and charge him with assault and trespassing. This is an incident with a lot of varying factors, but we want to see it as an opportunity to remind everyone that we are all here in spite of the stresses of this pandemic. We have been so touched with all the support from our families, friends, and community, but there are still those who are overcome with doubt and anxiety that we are not ourselves, or at least not our best selves. For those, we strive to continue to be a place of safety and comfort, but we need your help to spread love and compassion around, especially to those who get the brunt of our frustrations: service workers. If you’re out on Mother’s Day, give an extra smile and compliment to someone working a service job. They are also tired and anxious, and their job may be one solace of purpose in a world with so much uncertainty. Don’t take that from them. We can’t control what’s happening right now, but we can control how we react to it. Our number one priority is to keep our staff safe and today we were not able to do so and it’s heartbreaking. We’re sad, angry, tired, and determined. We love our Corvallis community, we simply wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the support we’ve had over the past 5 1/2 years. This doesn’t reflect or detract from Corvallis being an incredible place, but it did happen. It happened in our community. It happened to the staff you’ve all come to love and care about. Please join us in lifting them up, loving them, being kind, encouraging them, and supporting them. They deserve our very best all the time, and especially right now. -Ann & Collin

A post shared by Tried & True Coffee Co. (@triedandtruecoffeeco) on

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.