The bell on the door jingles as you step into the shop. Aromas of fresh roasted coffee, spiced teas, and warming baked goods filter through your mask. Your lips, though hidden beneath fabric, curve into a smile in response, combatting the discomfort and the unfamiliarity of being around strangers.
A few steps take you to the counter and soon your “usual” is ordered and the smell of hand sanitizer overtakes the smell of coffee for a moment. You step back, making sure there is space enough between you and the other customers. The sound of
steaming milk echoes around you as the barista asks how your morning is going, their tone genuine. Your smile reignites as you respond, your heart swelling as they nod along and then answer your returned question.
Soon the warm cup of frothy milk and espresso is transferred from their gloved hand to yours. You nod a thank you to the barista and find a seat, spaced far away from surrounding tables, to settle in and begin your work. This is our new normal, in response to the coronavirus as coffee shops begin to open their doors for indoor service once again.
We are familiar with coffee shops as being places for meetings, dates, gatherings, and conversations, yet customers and employees of cafes alike are experiencing a paradigm shift as the pandemic continues.
General Manager at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. in Midtown, Peter Guy, says, “Coffee culture has always been about bringing people together over a shared experience. That will never change.” He continues, speaking to a change in customer relations, “We couldn’t shake hands or always see their faces, but we learned to exude warmth at a distance. Hospitality is about showing someone you care about them and want to positively impact their day, plain as that. We may have learned to speak a different language, but the sentiment is the same.” For employees like Guy, these relationships with customers seem to grow stronger as conversations are able to be more in depth as fewer customers are present.
Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. in Midtown is seeing almost double the foot traffic now than in the weeks leading up to their reopening of indoor service. They are still noticing a smaller customer base, however, most likely due to a lack of in person classes at Wayne State and College for Creative Studies, as well as fewer people working in offices downtown.
Many Detroit coffee shops have been able to weather the storm of the pandemic thus far. They have gone from curbside service to walk in to dine in, and each shift in service creates new challenges to grow accustomed to.
Dessert Oasis employee, Kyle Johnson, has been through every form of open throughout the pandemic. He expresses how nice it has been to see the people who live in and around Capital Park every day. This brought a normalcy to his long days working alone during Dessert Oasis’ curbside days, and even now as his coworkers begin to come back to work. A consistency in routine and relationship, enjoyed by both him and the customers. The changes made to address Michigan’s coronavirus regulations can be alienating, however. For customers and employees, a distance can be seen and felt. This distance is necessary, according to the CDC, to lessen the spread of the virus, even if it is uncomfortable.
The coffee community has been deeply affected by the pandemic. We have seen it in so many ways from the inability to meet in large groups, to a minimal amount of seats within a cafe. For coffee shops, a place built on and for community, these restrictions have been more than difficult. Yet, even as social distancing requirements continue, there is an incredible comfort coming from the cozy cafe interiors. “Coffee culture at its best is warm and inviting, comforting, and non-judgmental,” says Guy. “Sometimes it takes a global pandemic to remind you of the need to stay rooted.”
Even as fewer guests are allowed to be seated indoors, and conversations take place through fabric masks, and elbow bumps are our new handshake, coffee shops strive to keep the community close to heart. They push for connections to customers, wanting you to leave happier and more satisfied than when you arrived.
This community may be harder to be a part of during this pandemic, but being a part of, and included, in something is still what we crave as humans, and can still be found in places like coffee shops, even if it may look a little different.