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Barista Wars: You Looking at Her? You Looking at HER?

April 8, 2012

Caribou Coffee
Lakeview, Chicago
Sort of spring

Forced to come here for my afternoon fix (I’ll spare you the reasons), I found myself explaining what a macchiato is to yet another barista. The kid with spikey hair at the register who took my order had no clue. He whispered my order in the female barista’s ear, looking like I had asked for blood from a stone. She assured me she knew what I wanted, but asked me if I wanted it in a mug – a mug! Can you blame me for wondering what she would look like in a two-piece?

[Sounds of a screeching alarm and fists pounding on my office door here.]

Hey, come on! I’m no Hooters kind of guy! You know that. But when you find yourself in another coffee emporium where the people behind the counter don’t know their espresso from a hole in the ground, you need… a distraction. You need something to prevent you from getting snarky (again) and creating (another) unpleasant moment. And a time-honored way to keep your calm is to do what nervous speakers are told to do when facing an expectant audience: picture people sitting there in their underwear (except, of course, your in-laws).

Fact is, my brother had just sent me a link to a story about a nationwide chain of coffee shops where the all-female staff wears bikinis. The Orlando Sentintel, waving the flag of responsible, consumer-minded journalism, had dispatched a reporter to the local Java Girls to do a full-scale investigation. Like all good reporters these days, he (you didn’t think they would send a she?) came with a microphone as well as a pen and pad, accompanied by a  photographer-videographer.

“We like showing off what we got,” a 20-year-old server in pink said cheerily. Sometimes, she said, she stood out on the road waving a sign that read, “Now Open Extra HOT Coffee Spot.” And one day a week, to keep it fresh, the staff wore lingerie. The owner of the shop, who was not under-dressed, said it was all in good fun, and all was fair in business, and all that. A sheepish customer caught at the drive-up window said the coffee was good and, you know, why not have some nice scenery to go with it?

I’m not so sure about the coffee being good at Java Girls, but plenty of… un-themed java joints have bad coffee, too. While waiting patiently for my macchiato, I worried about airborne drops of boiling water landing on the exposed skin of the Java Girls girls and the cranked-up AC down in Florida causing one of them to catch her death of cold. That’s the kind of guy I am.

“Have you ever heard of Java Girls?” I asked the Caribou barista.

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head.

“No biggie,” I said, mug in hand, knowing I’d have to go somewhere else for a macchiato but relieved at not having to picture her in her underwear anymore.

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