Sunday, 15 March 2009

Familiarity breeds contentment

In my previous workplace I sat in an open plan office with the same people day in and day out for many years. We could spend hours deconstructing a film we had seen or discussing the significance of being a middle child as opposed to a youngest or eldest child (policy advisors like to practise their analytical thinking). I came to know those people almost better than I knew my siblings. Now, I see loads of different faces every day and the conversations we have are fleeting and rarely more meaningful than ‘do you take sugar’ or ‘would you like a bag for that’? I share my workspace with customers who don’t have names or personalities to me.

Over the weeks and months I’ve started to see the same faces returning again and again. I now remember what they have each day – middle aged American man has poached eggs on toast and a single espresso, the Australian girl with the quirky brooches has a small decaf flat white to takeaway, the English man with the leather jacket has porridge and a long black and the tall woman with the fur coat and straight fringe has a large skinny latte.

Most of the time that’s all I learn about them, but sometimes we start to engage and I discover that the large flat white is called Tom and is expecting his first baby and the double chocolate brownie is Ann who has a just been made redundant. The customer becomes a name with a personality.

One of my favourite regulars is a Spanish man with a large collection of scarves who has a latte with two sugars and a small orange juice.


Over the course of his daily visits the ‘latte and orange juice’ has become Alberto, co-founder of Webjam, digital artist, musician, surfer and admirer of brutalist architecture.

Alberto with his business partner, and another Lantana regular, Marcus
Alberto told me he was first drawn to Lantana because he heard we were using Monmouth coffee which he used to drink all the time when he lived near the Monmouth coffee store at Borough Market. He says that once he finds somewhere he likes he goes there again and again because it makes the city feel smaller; ‘to feel the warmth of people who recognise you, know your name and know what coffee you drink’.

Touche. It’s the small gestures of friendliness and familiarity from regulars (like Alberto letting me know that my blog had been named by Timeout as one of London's best food blogs) that make me feel that I also have a personality and am not just a nameless face behind a counter serving coffee. Maybe this is important to me because I’m a youngest child…

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