How Volunteering for Palate Improved My Confidence

“Rachel, you need to talk.”

It’s like déjà vu for me to hear someone say that. From my French teacher in sophomore year of high school to my boss at work during meetings, I’m told I need to talk.

At Bible study, the leader says to me, “Rachel, you don’t talk.”

After dinner with her family, my friend says, “You didn’t really talk much.”

It’s not that I’m shy. I’m just…quiet.

Do you ever get that feeling when you’re with a group of people and you just NEED to say something, and you feel like you will never be content if you don’t get to say it?

Yeah, me neither.

When I signed up to volunteer for Palate Coffee Brewery, I was nervous about having to engage with customers. I previously waitressed at a brasserie, but that was in England and chatty customer service was not a cultural norm.

At Palate, the atmosphere thrives on camaraderie. The baristas ask how a customer’s family is doing. They show interest in the poetry that a customer is writing. They remember which drink someone orders. As a new recruit, I saw that as my standard.

If only I were more talkative.

It’s not that I don’t have things to say. In fact, if you ask about my thoughts on something, I’ll tell you. But I won’t volunteer my opinions. Until you inquire of them, they stay with me.

Because of that, I have a special place in my heart for the types of people who do ask about my thoughts. Or about how my day is going. Even if I’m at a restaurant or café, and the person is just being friendly. Them asking me a question indicates to me that I have a free space to speak. I don’t have to worry about my words falling on deaf ears. I have full confidence that the waitress, the barista, the 7-Eleven clerk, or whoever are listening.

So in the early days of volunteering for Palate, I followed my co-barista’s lead and sparked conversations with customers.

“What do you have planned for today?”

“What brings you to Sanford?”

“I love that book you’re reading! How’re you finding it?”

I was surprised by how simply asking those questions could transform a customer. A person would amble through the door looking as closed-up as a clam, and then stroll away, bright and bubbly as kombucha (which is delicious, by the way).

My confidence grew as I volunteered more often and built relationships with the regulars.

And I realized something: some people are motormouths to the core. Some people just need coffee. Others are like me: content to stay quiet, but deeply appreciative of the daily, drop-in people who ask how I’m doing.

So I strive to be that person in a customer’s day. When a customer has, perhaps, been talked at and shelled up in a cubicle for hours, they then get to retreat to Palate and tell someone how they are. They can get something off their chest.

I love helping in that way because I know how special it is when someone helps me in that way. It gives me strong incentive to speak.

Of course, necking a few shots of espresso before my shift doesn’t hurt.

-Rachel

Photo Credit: Daniel Bhowanidin