September 15, 2011

Managing Expectations

The lessons that stick with us are not always those on a syllabus. Perhaps the most enduring example from my High School experience is this little nugget: "Don't lower people's expectations before you start. Let them decide you're horrible on their own. They might even think you're great."

It was a speech class, and the teacher had heard enough prefaces that were, in fact, apologies for hypothetical transgressions. It's not that there is anything wrong with "I'm sorry", in the same way that there isn't anything wrong with hot sauce. But you might want to use both judiciously.

I bring this up now, because yesterday was a good day for foam. More than usual cappuccinos stacked on unflavored lattes, and even a few macchiatos. But it's not just that these orders were placed, as by whom they were placed. Which is to say, educated coffee drinkers, who knew what they wanted, and had some basic grasp of what their drink ought to look like. My kind of people in general, but one stood out.

"How good is your cappuccino foam?" she inquired. Taken out of context, this seems an aggressive query - and it is, at least, rather blunt. But if you've seen the quality of cappuccino often served, even at otherwise well-run establishments, you'll feel the question justified.

The first instinct of some might be to engage in a preemptive strike against her expectations, say something like "fine", or "I'll do my best". Others will start further back, and perhaps try and manage things further. After all, start expectations low enough, and you don't disappoint anyone.

But I remembered that High School lesson. I tried to keep the hubris from sprouting, and my proclamation becoming too boastful. "Good," I said, in a flat monotone. "You'll be happy with it."

She ordered, thus leaving only the matter of delivering. Which isn't so hard. Forget the expectations in general, and just steam the milk. Easy.





Accept thanks, offered in the form of a post-drink "Wow."

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