Worth Returning For

A friend recently introduced me to a new coffee shop. It had only opened a week earlier and the evidence was everywhere. A contractor measured for a canvas to shield people in the beer garden from the relentless summer sun. People at a table nearby were asked to relocate for a few minutes so a large print could be hung. A steady rhythm of loud hammering followed. The chairs were a mismatch of styles and comforts, though it's hard to know if that's temporary or not.

At the counter, lessons were handed out to new employees amidst brief moments of confusion. "Make sure to keep that area clean and organized. It's the first thing people see what they walk in." "Actually, we only have one size for iced drinks. I'll let him know." "How do you cancel an order and start over?"

The best part was watching people arrive for the first time. The tentative looks when they first step inside, followed by a distant browsing of the menu, without the benefit of past experience or reviews. Looking left and right at the people filling the tables, searching for that indefinable sense of belonging.

The scene fascinated me because so much of it applies whenever you welcome people to something new—a community, event, or project, online or off. When it comes time to open the doors, we naturally seek perfection. We want the first experience to be flawless and every contingency accounted for.

Watching the unfolding scene before me, though, I realized that what most people care about is who they find inside. They are looking for friendly faces, kind words, and above all else, hospitality. The menu may be limited at first and the rituals in flux, but it's the tenor and essence of the place—the warm welcome and intoxicating mix of laughter, conversation, and playlist—that are worth returning for.