The Coffee Shop You Should Never Visit. Do Read About It Though.

If, at the end of this post, you think I’m being overly critical and don’t understand the pressures of being behind the register, consider that I’ve worked front-line customer service at a site which hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. And I’ve worked retail Christmas.

That being said, on to this week’s topic: Mugshots, the pathetic excuse for a coffeehouse on Fairmount Avenue. Because it was adjacent to my former place of work, and there was no other coffee shop within convenient walking distance, I ended up at Mugshots a few times a month,  like mornings when I overslept and had no time for breakfast before I caught the train. These visits were never pleasant.

Now, Mugshots may think that if they’ve gotten me in the door, I’m going to spend my $3.00. But no. Any visit here is, initially, purely exploratory. There are a few factors to consider before I commit myself to the probable folly of another foray into Mugshots. First, how many people are in line? More than two or three? Then forget it. There’s no way I’m getting out in under fifteen minutes. More importantly, how many people are down by the pick-up counter, waiting for their orders? More than two or three? Forget it. An onslaught of more than four or five customers at a time seems to have the Mugshots staff at a loss, and there is no point in placing an order if I want to receive it and then clock in within the next twenty minutes.

Today there were two customers in line, a girl behind each register, and no-one waiting for food. I decided to risk it. Waiting in the Mugshots line, however short it seems, always gives one ample time to contemplate the large glass case at length. Mugshots is the kind of establishment which prides itself on all kinds of organic and vegan offerings, and the centerpiece of the case is a mountainous “vegan peanut butter chocolate bomb” that reminds me of something from the elephant house floor scooped onto a plate and doused with chocolate. A small flying insect crawling contentedly across the plate does nothing to dispel the illusion.

The first real trial of a Mugshots visit begins when you make your order. Mine is a confusing one for the folks at the register, who usually seem to be having their first day at work. It’s complicated: I want an onion bagel, toasted, with cream cheese, sliced tomato and sliced cucumber. Onion bagel, no sliced onion. Yes. No raw onion please. Yes, on an onion bagel. Perhaps I am being unfair. About half of the time, some particularly sharp sandwich maker divines the meaning of my order and leaves off the sliced onion. I recently switched to ordering the aforementioned toppings on a salt bagel instead of an onion one, thinking that this would be less confusing for the Mugshots staff: they won’t have to contend with the whole onion bagel/no raw onion conundrum.

But lately a new purgatory awaits at the register. “Do you have a Mugshots card?” the pretty girl asks. “No.” I say.

“Ok, what’s your last name?”

“Uh, it’s ‘Mabaso.’ Em, ay, bee, ay, ess, oh.”

“Ok…um, I’m sorry, I don’t see your name in the database.”

“I said I do not have a Mugshots card.”

“Well, do you want to get one? You can get ten percent off.”

“No, thank you.”

“Ok, so can you give me your date of birth please?”

“Excuse me?”

“So I can enter it to sign you up for the Mugshots card?”

“I do not want the Mugshots card, thank you anyway! I just want to get in and out of here.” I realize a real note of frustration creeping into my voice and force myself to smile, but the nice girl looks quietly stricken and confused. “But the Mugshots card is free,” she says. I can’t convey the complexities of the truth: that I don’t go to Mugshots often enough to justify giving them my DOB and contact info. I never spend more than three or four dollars at a time there and don’t care about saving 10% on it. And most importantly, I’m so irked every time I go into Mugshots, I don’t want to demonstrate the kind of customer loyalty a Mugshots card implies.

The next major ordeal takes place next to the food counter, where the minutes tick by as I wonder how long it takes to make a bagel sandwich. If they are not already waiting, a bevy of equally impatient customers quickly joins me, leaning over the counter periodically to see if it looks like anyone’s making something that could be their drink. Things happen haphazardly at Mugshots, because the employees at the registers periodically leave to make the drinks, and the baristas periodically make their way to the registers. Drink orders are mistaken and forgotten. The crowd grows restless. Two or three other employees can often be seen chatting in the rear, strolling back and forth, or polishing under the biscotti jars.

The sandwich makers seem to favor a method by which customers’ sandwiches are announced and given out not when the individual sandwiches are ready, but only when five or six sandwiches are ready. So even if your sandwich is number one in line, you have to wait until number six is done. In the meantime, I dwell with dark satisfaction on a lot of frustrating things. One is a sign at the pick-up counter that reads “DO NOT leave your dishes on the counter, Dishpan around the corner.” Instead of making the dishpan accessible to customers, it’s located at the end of an expedition to the darkest nook of the shop, next to the bathroom door. Another frustrating thing is that from the pick-up counter, a large pillar obscures the clock. I’m sure it’s deliberate – a fruitless attempt to make me forget how long it’s taking to get my sandwich. In the past, customers were able to peer into the bagel preparation area, at first merely to determine if their bagel is anywhere close to being toasted, and then to fix an increasingly penetrating evil eye on the sandwich makers as five, ten and fifteen minutes tick by while they wait for a toasted bagel. But lately, Mugshots has erected a wooden screen which blocks the view from the counter, and the sluggish bagel makers can labor in relative comfort, away from our hungry, pop-eyed stares.

“Alaina! Susan! Mike! Jamal! Sebastian!” The sandwiches were ready! There was a desperate rush to the counter and we gingerly examined the fresh row of wrapped sandwiches to figure out which one was ours. Inevitably one or two waiting customers were disappointed and they fell back, their worry building as each passing minute made it more likely that their order had been forgotten. But this morning, I was one of the lucky ones! Jamal and I grabbed each other’s sandwich by mistake, but that was easily righted and I was free, tasty breakfast sandwich in hand. The voice of one of the unlucky ones reached me as I dashed through the door: “Excuse me, but I’ve been waiting here for a while…”




Add yours →

  1. You could be a restaurant critic for sure. How is the service at home ;-)?

  2. I have never been to Mugshots but have certainly experienced the same type of service elsewhere.

    I, too, have worked retail at Christmas (the Trim a Tree shop at Wanamakers, for one). So I don’t think you are being too critical.

    Here is one of my pet peeves in retail: I am finally at the front of the line and just about to ask my long-saved question, or ring up my sale. But no! another customer–maybe someone more important than I–runs up and engages the cashier in a long conversation. How annoying is that?

  3. Alaina, your pesky clerks remind me of the cashiers or the line jockeys that have those portable scan devices that constantly ask if I want to upgrade from my regular membership to the executive membership. I don’t want to be bothered by them but they are too persistent, even when I have a sticker that states “No exec” right on the card itself.

    • The worst thing, those poor pesky clerks are only doing what they have to do. It’s like visiting Barnes and Noble when you DON’T have the B&N Member card. “I do not want to sign up for the member card.” “You know you could be saving ten percent, right?” I want to scream. But I used to work at Barnes and Noble, and the employee HAS to say it – not only is a priggish manager watching to make sure cashiers follow the full policy, retail employees never know when they’re being “secret shopped” and then scored on whether or not they said all the right lines B&N corporate decided they should say. So when I get annoyed because they won’t shut up about the (insert benefit here) card, I try to remember that they don’t have a choice about being so damn persistent.

  4. Mugshots is the horrible coffee shop where that miserable couple allowed their toddler to bang on the piano AND told me thats why the piano was there AND told me that I had ruined a child’s day!
    I hate that place too, service sucks and they are pricey!
    They screwed up PB&J on the side…! Rocket Science!
    Screw vegan peanutbutter! Give me Skippy (and quiet toddlers!)

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