For the first time in my life, I was thrown out of café, café Filter on 1916 I street, NW, Washington DC, to be precise. Did I refuse to pay my bill? Bother other customers? Break coffee mugs? No. I brought a laptop with me. Yes, café Filter has a no laptop policy that is enforced as brutally as if you were smoking inside. I, of course, was not aware of such policy when I made my way to café Filter with a purpose of writing and reading. There’s no such policy announced on the café’s Web site. There’s no other café with no laptop policy that I have heard of in the United States. So how was I to know?
Also, café Filter has a sheriff. And she doesn’t look how you are imagining her right now. It’s a skinny woman in her late twenties with curly blonde hair and purple-framed glasses by the name of Anna. She’s hired to enforce the no laptop policy on poor occasional writers or students who don’t live in the area and have stumbled upon the café without ever dreaming that a peaceful cup of coffee could turn into a full-blown drama.
Anna doesn’t come up to you nicely and says: “I’m sorry ma’am, but we have a no laptop policy here. Would you mind powering your laptop down?”
To which, I would have said: “I’m sorry but I wasn’t aware of your no laptop policy. I will power it down as soon as I finish this paragraph I’m working on.”
No. She comes up to you and says: “We have a no lap top policy. You have to stop working on your lap top.”
Last time I checked this was a free country and a laptop is not a weapon of mass destruction. I wasn’t bothering anyone. I was quietly working in a corner of the second floor of the café.
Provoked by her rudeness, I said: “I didn’t know about your policy. I will leave as soon as I finish my latte.”
“No, you have to stop now,” she kept badgering me.
“I will leave as soon as I finish my latte, which I paid for.” I paid $3.85 for a mediocre latte, by the way. I was not leaving until I got my money’s worth.
Then she presumed she could tell me what I should do.
“You can read a book and just sit down and finish your latte. Or we can put it into a to-go cup for you.”
All of that would defeat the purpose. I came to write.
“I don’t have a book, and I don’t drink coffee from to-go cups.”
So she left, came back just minutes later before I could read two sentences and continued harassing me. At that point, I was so frustrated and it was obvious that even if she left me alone, I wouldn’t be able to focus. So I said: “the only way I would leave is if you refund me.”
To that, Anna said: “We’ll see about that,” and came back a minute later with my money.
As I was leaving five minutes later, I asked for her name: “Anna,” she said proudly. “I’m the manager.”
“You were very rude,” I said. “I have never experienced such rudeness in my life before.”
“You were pretty rude yourself,” she said.
Was I? I, a customer who’s suppose to be always right? Where did that policy go?
“I will complain to the owner,” I said.
“Go ahead,” she said and got close to my face, bulling me out.
“I will also write reviews, to make sure people know how rude you are.”
She was still in my face. I could see burst capillaries in her eyes. As I slowly backed out and was just out the door, she followed me. “And your coffee sucks,” I yelled out.
Not very dignified, I admit, but it was true. The coffee was not that good.
An hour later, I did as I promised. I posted reviews on Washington Post, Trip Advisor and Yelp, and I complained to the café’s owner.
He did apologize for the “unpleasant experience” but from the rest of the note, it was clear that he was not going to do anything to rein in his “sheriff.”
“We (Filter) have been fought on this (no laptop policy) a few times, sometimes without a good outcome, but will be standing firmly by our rule and decision. I am sorry that Anna came across as stern or rude, but rules are rules. I trust Anna to run my shops, and make most if not all decisions. She is a pleasant person and is complimented by all of our customers on a daily basis.”
I guess that “customer is always right” policy is definitely out the window. Someone mentioned to me recently that the customer service has been going down the hill lately. After this kind of treatment by Filter, I’m inclined to believe it. What I don’t understand is how establishments with such bad service have managed to survive in Washington, DC, a town of plenty. In Europe, the service might not be stellar, but they don’t expect tips. Filter does have a huge tip jar prominently placed by the register, but it doesn’t come with “How can I help you,” or “thank you,” or even good coffee.