Today I have a very important post regarding a matter of great concern to me that was discussed in detail on Facebook. The threads have since fallen into the archives of the various people who followed it, but the concern is one that may force me to reconsider my patronage of what I believed to be a great franchise for writers like myself to hang out and enjoy an awesome cup of java.
Tim Hortons is a popular little place to get coffee, donuts, sandwiches, soup, and other awesome little snacks while you kick back and relax with the peeps (read: friends and colleagues). Many stores from this franchise dot the landscape of the Western New York area where I live, and one of them, located on Colvin Blvd. between Brighton Rd. and McConkey Dr., has always been my complete fav over the past two years. Its atmosphere is typically laid back and fun, and the employees working the night shift when I usually hung out there were not only courteous and attentive to the patrons, but showed a great deal of interest in our vocation, which was writing–or in some cases, artwork and photography as a corollary of the writing and publishing field. Coffee shops have long been popular with writers and artists of nearly every stripe, going all the way back to the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s. I like to think that authors like myself, and those artists who often work along with us to produce books, are the modern day successors of the great but quirky Beatniks of yesteryear.
One of the reasons coffee shops appeal to us so much is because of the specific type of ambiance and environment they provide, and the fact that they tend to attract both employees and patrons who are “hip” to the youth culture. Such individuals appreciate the sense of fun that our writing largely embodies. My genres of choice for writing tend to be horror, sci-fi, and pulp fiction, with a great appreciation for the comic book medium (even though, thus far, my published work all appears in prose). My work also has a lot of what I consider to be strong political and socio-cultural commentary, something the above genres and sub-genres of fiction writing have long specialized in providing. And the idea of entertaining your audience while simultaneously–and hopefully–enlightening them at the same time is the main purpose of our product. This is why we love our coffee shops to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to the spirit of our work when we visit. And this means, first and foremost, a sense of fun.
And here lies my concern. As many friends and colleagues are well aware, I have long recommended and preferred Tim Hortons [THs] to its main competitor in the area, Starbucks. THs has always had better service, better tasting coffee and latte, and considerably more reasonable prices. The THs on Colvin Blvd. (often called the McConkey branch) had become the THs of choice for me over the past two years, and certainly the only one to patronize regularly. This was not only due to what I mentioned above in terms of quality of product and reasonable prices to go with it compared to Starbucks, but also the fun and affable personalities of the late evening/overnight staff and their singular ability to get along well with writers and the rest of the hipster, youth-oriented crowd that love to frequent coffee shops.
Interacting with these employees gave me all the extra impetus to order multiple cups of java well into the “late” morning hours (not a contradiction in terms, as I’m sure you know I mean late at night into the morning when it’s still dark outside). It also gave me much encouragement to recommend not just THs, but this particular shop to my many fellow writers and related artists, whom I often encourage to visit and hang out with me in the Western New York area.
Well, about a week and a half ago, what I feel was a very bad business decision on the part of the store management was conducted. It resulted in what I believe to be a great injustice to two of the employees of the evening/overnight shift at the McConkey branch of THs. These two employees were well known for providing cordial service and often a shoulder of advice and great artistic suggestions to the hipster authors like myself who frequent the locale. I understand why the manager made the decision that she did, but I’m sorry, it was the wrong decision, and though I realize it was done for reasons intended to serve matters of decorum and professionalism, it was done without a thought as to the main customer demographic who tend to patronize the coffee shop.
Specifically, a short video displaying some patrons and reportedly the two employees in question (whom I must confess to not really recognizing under clever masks) performing a rendition of the popular and very fun Harlem Shake dance. It was embedded on Facebook and (for a time) YouTube, and to say the least, everyone I know who saw it totally loved it! It gave the location the important veneer of fun and youth-oriented atmosphere that attracts so many of us to that fine place. I knew my fellow writers would flock in droves to patronize such a cool and hip little coffee shop when they got the chance to visit me periodically, and it would be a great place to relax and hold our creative planning sessions for future book projects. I likewise recommended it to all fellow writers I know who live in the area.
The McConkey THs shop was simply a great place for writers to hold their story planning sessions. Its atmosphere was highly conducive to the type of fun and creativity that underlies our work, while sipping some great java that is priced reasonably enough that we could afford to be ordering additional cups for an entire planning session, which could last a few hours. We could also have some snacks there while conversing and sharing our story ideas with the employees, who had often shown great interest in our work. I knew they would always look forward to meeting my fellow young men and women who work the literary “salt mines” with me, and the reverse was most definitely the case.
Unfortunately, the manager, upon seeing the video on either Facebook or YouTube, reacted in a knee-jerk display of what I’m sure she legitimately considered “professionalism” and fired the two employees who were present when the short video was made, and who were said to have participated in displaying the mega-popular Harlem Shake. These two employees just happen to be great and attentive workers who showed much interest in the creative work that so many of the franchise’s patrons are involved with. They also got along very well with the predominantly youthful customers there, who are largely comprised of college students, poets, starving writers, goths, fans of the contemporary music scene, Harry Potterists (this way cool descriptive term for this group of fantasy fandom was coined by one of the two employees who was fired), and connoisseurs of books in the various fantasy sub-genres. In other words, they were hardly the type of patrons who would be even remotely offended by such a video being filmed on the premises. This fact was amply displayed by at least three patrons who took part in the fun. The video was quite brief, lasting no longer than 23 seconds, and could in no way be construed as a case of the staff neglecting their jobs. I can personally attest to these employees being very good at their jobs, and very responsive to the patrons there, including regularly telling us what was on the menu, always diligently giving us the reminder, “last call before the old stuff is thrown out to make way for baking the new stuff,” etc. I never felt they were in any way unprofessional.
I was very upset upon learning that these two employees were let go for something that was in no way negative towards attracting the type of patronage that primarily enjoys the environment of Tim Hortons; quite the contrary, in fact! And the video in no way constituted a case of any employee of that particular shift neglecting their work to “goof around” instead. They would never have filmed such a video if there was a large number of customers to be served, and in fact, the small number of customers present at the time clearly encouraged the very festive video. This is no different than the emerging and growing trend of businesses that routinely have employees spontaneously engage in nerf missile fights or impromptu hoop-shooting tournaments to keep a “light” and festive atmosphere that is fun to participate in. This method of running a business is highly attractive to both youth-oriented customers and employees, and has never been shown to detract from a professional job being done by the staff.
Yes, the Harlem Shake has sexual connotations to it, but that is simply and largely an imitation of the very popular music videos made by mega-hip vocalist Katy Perry. She is immensely popular amongst the youth crowd, and the evidence of her very strong influence on the emergence of the now trendy Harlem Shake dance is clearly displayed in her music video California Gurls.
Ms. Perry and her act personifies the free and joyous expression of sexuality, as well as the unbridled–even manic–sense of fun and creativity that is so popular with the youth crowd of today. It would only come off as “inappropriate” or offensive to the most old-fashioned way of conservative thinking, and such individuals do not regularly patronize coffee shops like THs, unless it happens to be a store with a convenient drive-thru. But they do not tend to sit in the store and become part of the social scene that are an integral part of its atmosphere, and are indicative of what coffee shops tend to represent in American culture. And I always felt that THs was as “American” and contemporary as any other popular aspect of this culture (yanno, like apple pie, baseball, etc.).
So I cannot put into adequate words how disappointed I was by the manager’s knee-jerk reaction to this short little video. I understand that she could easily say the following things: “Sorry, I didn’t really want to do it, but it was store policy.” It was? If so, then the patrons knew nothing about such a policy, and as we are supposed to be the most important people in the store, it forces us to wonder what purpose such an incongruous rule was to serve. Not the interests of the customers, I must say. “Doing such a thing on work hours was unprofessional and a sign of neglect for their jobs.” That would be patently untrue, for all the reasons I mentioned above, as myself and my fellow patrons always got great service there, and we grew to like these employees on a personal level. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a coffee shop to my fellow writers, both within the area and visitors, if bad service was common there.
I called the store last week, spoke to the manager, expressed my concerns and that of my fellow writers over her decision, and issued a polite protest. She spoke to me very politely, took down my personal info and blog address, and courteously thanked me for the call when it ended. I did inform her that since I have been discussing having some of my fellow writers visiting with me soon, I could not in good conscience recommend the McConkey shop any longer, or even THs in general (since presumably, the policies would be the same in every shop of the franchise).
If an unjust reason like this would be used as an excuse to fire efficient and hard-working customers at a time when jobs are hard to come by during a bad recession, how could I be inclined to support this shop any longer. One of the two employees, in fact, is married and has a family to raise. It’s not like what either of them did (to whatever extent their involvement was in the production of a short, fun video) was the equivalent of stealing, or failing to replace day-old food so a a new batch could be cooked up, or being rude to customers for no good reason, etc. These two employees never acted moody or in any way discourteous to the customers around me, no matter how hard a day they had either before or during the work day. Nothing about that video was something that would make the company look bad for the primary patrons there (again, quite the contrary!), and they were not neglecting the needs of the customers in any way.
I did let the manager know that my blog entry on this matter would go “live” today. And in that time (I spoke to her last Friday), she evidently did not reverse her decision. I do not know for certain if she put any thought into the matter, but it’s my personal opinion that she simply took a “what’s done, is done” attitude and put no major thought into it. And despite the fact that her overall intentions may have been inclined towards what she perceived as adhering to professionalism, it was not something conducive to the well-being of this particular establishment, it was not a decision that in any way made the main customer demographic happy (yet again, quite the contrary!), and resulted in two routinely courteous, amiable, and hard-working employees being rendered jobless during a nation-wide recession that this state has been suffering particularly bad from.
In case I may be accused of making up these accolades for the night staff, please go to this website, which gives location info and customer reviews for this particular Tim Hortons.
Please note the following, excerpted from the customer reviews that I linked to up above (which I copied and pasted in bold face):
Go late night, the staff there is phenomenal. Very nice for a night crew, and I’ve had my fair share of bad night crew employees.
Been to many Tim hortons and this is by far the best, the staff is so friendly…
The staff here is so friendly and cheerful 🙂
Note the time stamp of these excerpts and you will see they were made from 2011 to Sept., 2012, which are recent enough. Nothing about those reviews suggests the work of a troll, as they were friendly with no sign of sarcasm. Note how one of them directly recommended the evening shift, and noted that it’s (or at least was) the best of all the THs in the area.
As such, I am planning on having a talk with THs corporate management. I encourage all of my followers on this blog, including all of my fellow writers, to leave a brief and polite message of protest to the manager of the store, who can be reached at this number during the daytime hours (figure Eastern timezone hours): (716) 833-0412. Let her know that this was far from a good reason to fire two employees whom the patrons liked and respected, and whose presence often encouraged me–and clearly other patrons–to specifically pick the McConkey store, and specifically during the evening-overnight hours.
Thank you to all for listening, including my fellow writers and the management of this store. And to the latter: Please reconsider your decision and do the right thing. A refusal to do the right thing out of nothing more than stubbornness or lack of concern for the situation (because it’s now “in the past”) is only going to lose this store a chunk of its primary patronage, possibly hurt the franchise’s good reputation among those of my vocation (who are a big part of its customer base), and result in protests further up the Tim Hortons hierarchical ladder. No one is calling you an evil monster or any names at all for that matter; we all make mistakes, and we often make mistakes with the best of intentions. But the only way to rectify things for people who may have been hurt by some of our mistakes is to admit the error and reverse the decision. As I see it, that shows a lot of character and responsibility, not a sign of weakness.