Manila coffee shop gets no smiley face from me

After settling into my new office in central Manila, I decided to explore my the local neighborhood and was delighted to discover after a five minutes’ walk in the blazing hot noon day sun, the familiar sign of a leading international brand coffee shop that I entered in search of a much needed frozen cappuccino and steaming-hot chocolate croissant.

The first “out of the ordinary” experience upon entering what I thought would be a familiar comfort zone, was the cheery welcome from an impeccably uniformed security guard, who carried a lethal looking shotgun, with an automatic pistol strapped to his belt, presumably in case his shotgun did not work, which was I have to say, a little unsettling for me, as I was not used to this level of “protection” in a coffee shop since leaving Pakistan several years ago.

This unexpected welcome experience, was immediately exacerbated by the extremely loud volume of the house music, and the sticky hot temperature of the coffee shop itself, as it seemed to be almost the same temperature as that encountered outside its carefully guarded doors.

However, the friendly service, the great coffee, the delicious food, and the overall cleanliness of the shop were all up to the chain’s brand standard, so I enjoyed my first visit, apart from the almost deafening music, the uncomfortable temperature, and the omnipresence of the armed guard.

During my next visit a few days later, I struck up a friendly conversation with the husband of the manager, who was enjoying a coffee and Danish in a “quiet corner” while waiting for his wife to finish her shift. I asked him if he could ask his wife to lower the music volume and increase the cooling of the restaurant, as I found  both anomalies to be most unpleasant.

His answer, which I will never forget, as it came as something of a revelation to someone who has been in the customer service business for 40 years, was as follows, and I quote verbatim.

“Well sir, the music is kept very loud and the temperature is maintained at what my wife calls barely bearable level, because she wants a quick turnover in each chair due to the very aggressive covers and revenue targets they have been given to her by head office. So that’s why she likes people to eat and leave quickly instead of sitting longer to chit chat and maybe do their business work here instead of at their offices.”

I must admit that I was pretty surprised by this revelation, but then looked around at the hard wooden seats, the uncomfortable and way to low sofas and chairs, the way to high coffee tables which made it difficult to work on a laptop, and then it all made sense, or did it?

Actually, it’s more like nonsense because at 1 p.m. on a Friday, the 50-cover outlet was barely half full, possibly because they gave their customers half the service they deserved after paying premium prices.

I have not returned since that day and never will. Despite the strong urge to write to that world famous brand’s head office to complain, I have resisted the temptation to do so, and just hope that any day now they will send an inspector to find out why their coffee revenue cup is only half full.   

P.S.: I did also wonder why the seats in the departure hall of Manila International Airport were perhaps the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in. Is it because they don’t want passengers to get to comfortable and fall asleep? Because if they are sleeping, they are not eating, drinking or spending money in the duty free stores, no, surely not?