Customer Service at Blue Bean: Sweet as Icing

Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian October 27, 2005 Volume 63, No. 7

    Are you against sweets?" asked the genial proprietor of the Blue Bean Café.

    "No, no," I protested, but even as I uttered the words, I realized how weak my denial sounded.

    So how did this all start?

    It began with muffins. In the first few months of its operation, the Blue Bean offered only muffins to those in search of a quick breakfast item. So each morning I would go there and get my usual dosage of muffins (one). After doing this for several weeks, it occurred to me that I was missing out on variety. Variety, after all, is the spice of life - and a breakfast consisting solely of muffins, tasty as they were, was somewhat lacking in the spicing-up department. So one day, as I picked up my muffin, I suggested to the proprietor that the café might consider adding other items to the menu.

    "Scones," I suggested. I had seen them in Starbucks and such, and they seemed like a good choice for breakfast on the run. Well, lo and behold, shortly afterward, the Blue Bean started selling scones. This was most gratifying - customer service at its finest!

    And so the days passed. Now when I went to the Blue Bean, I had choices - I could buy a muffin or a scone. If this wasn't heaven, it certainly came close to it.

    But darker days lay ahead. One day I noticed two kinds of scones. Well, I am all for variety and spicing up life and so on, but this particular addition was disturbing. One could still buy the regular variety of scones, but now, nestling next to them were scones with icing. With icing!

    Now I don't have anything against icing (really, I don't) but the sight of those white strips of sugary icing on the surface of a brown scone seemed wrong. Sacrilegious, almost.

    I consoled myself by noting that choices are the essence of a pluralistic society. Should one person be able to dictate what others can or cannot eat? Even if what they ate contributed to the problem of obesity, should it not be the individuals themselves who decided what was best for them? And if it was icing today that attracted condemnation, might it not be sodas tomorrow? And burgers and fries the day after? No, I knew, if people wanted to eat scones with icing, by Jove, they should be able to eat 'em.

    But not me! I could stay away from them and continue to buy my garden-variety "un-iced" scones. And so I did. But each day the signs became clearer. The number of scones without icing was getting smaller. Those with icing proliferated. My choices were getting crowded out.

    Finally it happened. Oct. 20: I arrived at the counter looking for a regular scone (I had eliminated muffins from my daily diet a while ago). I espied scones, several of them in fact, lying on a large tray with a glass lid. But not one was sans icing. There they all lay, the "iced" scones, the white sugary curves mocking me.

    I turned away. Perhaps, I thought, there were some un-iced scones lying behind the counter, concealed, out of sight. In a sign that hope does spring eternal, I asked the proprietor.

    She was sympathetic. "No, we don't make them any more," she said, with evident regret. "The customers seem to like the ones with icing."

    "So, so," I whispered, "you will not make the regular ones any more?"

    The proprietor was moved. She offered a compromise. "Well, if you like, when I make them in the morning, I can keep one aside and not put any icing on it."

    A kind offer, to be sure, but would that mean I had to go to the Blue Bean every morning? For, if I failed to do so, the lonely un-iced scone would sit through the day, unloved, unbought - and I would be responsible. No, no, I shook my head, I could not live with such a responsibility.

    Oh, the irony of it all. You live by customer service, you die by it. The scones had appeared as a response to market demand, and now the un-iced variety was being eliminated in response to market demand.

    I ordered a scone with icing.