Asking someone behind a food service register out for coffee?
October 2, 2013 10:30 PM   Subscribe

There is this woman/lady/girl/gal who's often behind the register at a Chipotle I'm at 2-3 times per week after work.

Yes, she's friendly, upbeat, and super nice to everyone. But, in our thirty seconds of banter while I pay, we always reference past thirty seconds of banter. And today she asked how my week has been so far. After I replied, she said something in a low, uncharacteristic tone of voice about having no life. And I just couldn't parse it, when usually our banter is crystal clear. So I said, "Say again?" And she repeated the exact same thing, and I still couldn't parse it. I had to reply with something generic. And then we exchanged a couple more sentences of easy to understand, banter-referencing-past-banter and genuine smiles.

Then, I walked over to the utensils and stuff and puttered around for like a minute, and then I turned back to the register rather abruptly (and intentionally), and she was watching me, and we locked eyes, and she had an unreadable expression on her face. I tried for a friendly smile and headed out.

1. Is she just being friendly? Or is she kind of noncommittally curious and just enjoying the banter for now or forever? Or does she definitely want to have coffee? (Any insight on what's going through her head?)

2. Assuming for the moment that she wants to have coffee or hang out, is there a smooth way to have one of us give the other contact information? I want to be sensitive to a) not embarrassing her in front of coworkers, to b) not getting her in trouble, and to c) the fact that she's a captive audience and her job is to be friendly.

Like, could I say to her, "If you say, 'Let's get coffee,' I will say, 'Yes.'"? I could pull it off. But then I'm worried about a) through c).

It's loud enough and there's enough space between coworkers at the usual time I'm there that I don't think anyone can really hear us. But someone would probably notice if we exchanged something besides money and/or she put something in her pocket? I don't want to overthink the logistics, but I again want to be sensitive about a) through c).

What to do? Or just wait and let things develop or not?
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I work in a service industry job similar to this young lady and I have to tell you that there is no way for any of us to know what she's thinking. I have customers I would love to slip me their number and customers I dread will make a move. Because I'm at work, I treat all of these people essentially the same. I don't think there would be any major harm done if you gave her your number. That way she's not on the spot to accept or turn down a date in front of her coworkers, though I seriously doubt they'd care. If she doesn't contact you maybe find a different lunch spot for a couple weeks and move on.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:50 PM on October 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

She could be into you, but I wouldn't make a move here unless I was prepared for a no (ie, willing to stop visiting this particular Chipotle so regularly, to save you both embarassment and awkwardness).
posted by charlemangy at 10:54 PM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Next time you see her, slip her a handwritten card or letter asking her out on a coffee date. Include your phone number. Keep your expectations low and see what happens.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:56 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If possible, ask her to something specific that makes sense based on your past conversations. A show or event or restaurant or party that you'd think would have special appeal to her, based on things she's said. That's less of a bald ask-out and so if she declines, you can both move on with less embarrassment.

As for the logistics, be a solid guy and make it less awkward for her. Have her tell you her number and remember it without whipping out your phone. You can remember 10 digits for 45 seconds.
posted by malhouse at 11:26 PM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I can see why you are puzzled. Her comment about having no life is off kilter for your conversations. What was your response to her question about your week? Did you mention going or doing anything? Maybe something that might be more of a life?

Next time if you can work it into the conversation, ask about HER. Her week. Example, has she seen any good movies lately. Or music. Maybe did she know about "such and so" event at "where ever".

Ohhhhh.. Halloween is coming up. "Are you planning to go to any haunted houses in the area? "

If the response is such that you think she's open. Then ask. Or a note.

Either way, asking once and getting turned down is no reason to stop eating at the place unless your ego is that fragile. So don't be that guy. You can still eat there without being a creeper.

I hope it goes well!
posted by moonlily at 11:28 PM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't see anything that suggests that she wants to date you.

My female coworkers are often friendly to customers, even those that skeeve them out. One coworker, L, was often to be seen chatting to a nondescript, ordinary guy in a friendly fashion - asking him questions, engaging him, smiling at him, etc. I was working with her one day, when she ask me to not leave her alone with him as she was "scared he was going to rape her". Less than 5 minutes after saying that to me, she was engaged in her usual kind of conversation with him, at the till point, with lots of smiles and friendliness. She might have been exaggerating when she made the comment about rape, or she might not. Either way, she was creeped out by the guy, but she still engaged in behaviours that suggested she liked him. I never asked L why she was so friendly to someone who creeped her out so much, but I'd hazard a guess it was because she was worried about how he'd react if she wasn't submissive and nice to him.

There's a massive cultural expectation that women are going to be friendly and nice. There's also an expectation that a service worker is going to be friendly and nice. Put them together and you get a situation where someone is maybe a little bit scared to not be quite so nice for fear of reprisals.

She might be really really into you and think you're the hottest thing ever. She might not. None of us here can possibly know how she feels about you. Don't take friendliness a sign of interest. For what it's worth, I banter with reasonably friendly customers all the time, because it makes the day go a little bit faster. I'm not doing it because I want to get inside their pants.

I've tried to put myself in her situation and think about how I'd handle this. If she's not interested and has to turn you down, she's likely to panic about what it's going to be like the next time you go into the shop. You're a customer and have a great deal of power in the situation. Are you going to be weird with her? Are you going to make up some ridiculous complaint about her and get her fired? Are you going to badmouth her to her colleagues? Are you going to be nasty to her at the till? That's what I'd be thinking, were I her.

There are a lot of people of your appropriate physical conformation in the world who will be nice to you without being paid to do it. Go find someone who is free of constraints.
posted by Solomon at 11:37 PM on October 2, 2013 [32 favorites]

The move here is "Hey I'm going to go do x, you should join," where hopefully x is related to something you guys have discussed previously. Maybe it's a movie, maybe it's a band, maybe it's a cool cheese shop, maybe it's a bike ride, maybe it's a book fair, I dunno. It's non-committal, it gives her an easy out, but you'll be able to tell instantly whether or not she's interested in taking things out of the freshmexassembly line. The idea here is not to specifically ask her out on a date but rather to establish some kind of non-work friendship that can lead to a date. Although really, these things are all pseudo-dates.

"My friends and I are getting together at this bar tomorrow. I'll be there at 9. You should come."

"I'm gonna go see this band tomorrow night at the [insert place here]. It'll be cool. You should come, bring a friend."

"Hey there's this art thing tomorrow night I was gonna go to. Wanna join? It'll be arty."

All you want to do is establish a rapport away from the restaurant.

If she says "Yeah, that sounds cool," then scribble your phone number on a piece of paper - like maybe your copy of the receipt - and hand that to her. Ball's in her court. If she says "Oh, bummer, I'm busy, I can't make it" then no hard feelings. You should be able to tell if she's actually going to be busy or will just be "washing my hair" busy. If she says no, you can try maybe one more time maybe a week or two later, but from then on out, just go back to the way things were.
posted by incessant at 11:42 PM on October 2, 2013 [34 favorites]

Saying "I have no life" is a pretty standard-issue complaint for younger people- I don't see anything to be read into that one way or another.

Normally, I am all for asking people if they want to hang out directly, but in this case I would pass her a business card or pre-written note. Then she can respond on her own time, or not at all if she so chooses.

When I was younger I once asked out a girl who worked at a place. She actually said "yes," but later backed out because she obviously didn't want to do it in the first place. Looking back I feel like a jerk for putting her on the spot. She was trying to do her job, had no escape route and probably felt like she couldn't say "no" gracefully. In my mind at the time I was being "brave" by asking her directly, but it's kind of a crappy spot to stick a stranger in.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:48 PM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

"My friends and I are getting together at this bar tomorrow. I'll be there at 9. You should come."

This isn't bad either. Really, anything but a direct asking-out in front of people when she's trying to work.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:50 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's my take, as a woman who considers herself marginally attractive and somewhat nice. I get hit on/asked out in public situations a lot, so I can only imagine what a conventionally pretty and friendly woman must get. You should start with the assumption that she's not trying to get asked out, because she's most likely just being herself, showing a certain human vulnerability that has nothing to do with her signaling her "availability."

Not to derail too much from the question, but I think some women act aloof and closed-off around men because there are guys that see the mere act of being "nice" as an invitation. Just food for thought.
posted by mirepoix at 11:56 PM on October 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

Agreed that if you do this you should start off by inviting her to be social outside a work context, in general (not as an explicit date, and other people are a nice touch). Also agreed that you should invite her to a specific outing, rather than "get a coffee sometime".

I don't even think it matters whether she's actually busy or washing her hair busy, and I don't think you should ever follow up if she declines.

You get one "let's hang out for more than 30 seconds" chance.

With this chance, you should keep it casual. And not, like, "a supposed group outing that turns out to be a date", but an actual group outing. Even if it's one on one, keep it VERY non-date-like the first time you hang out. In a genuine way. First show her that you enjoy her company outside of the Chipotle line, that you respect her as a person rather than a customer service robot. Then, much later, you can ask her out on a date.

You should leave the ball in her court as much as possible, during this whole plan. Give her your number. Let her decide whether to come to the thing or not. Invite her to bring friends and let her do that or not. Follow her lead on how slow to take things and whether she's into you at all.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 PM on October 2, 2013

As someone who used to work in various customer-facing jobs, it got quite tiresome to have to be professional while people flirted with me. Sometimes you're just trying to do your job & get paid. I personally agree with this previous answer by Trull: There is no responsible way to convey romantic interest to someone in circumstances where they are professionally obliged to be polite to you.

However, a lot of people have had differing opinions on this topic, and reading past threads may be helpful.

posted by studioaudience at 12:00 AM on October 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

I think that the way to go here is to first upgrade the relationship you have with her from service person/customer to friend/friend. You wouldn't want to date someone you can't share friendship with, right? So instead of framing it like a date, go out of your way to frame it like a social gathering of friends. Then, if she shows up to the thing, and you do indeed get along when you aren't across the counter from one another, you can ask her out like you would any other new friend. But make sure that you're actually friendly, first. It might take more than one thing before you're friends.
posted by Mizu at 12:51 AM on October 3, 2013

There's no way to do this and not be skeezy, sorry. She is paid to be nice to customers.
posted by empath at 1:19 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's no way to do this and not be skeezy, sorry. She is paid to be nice to customers.

empath has it, but...

Assuming for the moment that she wants to have coffee or hang out, is there a smooth way to have one of us give the other contact information?

You keep showing up to her place of work. She knows how to get in contact with you if she wants to. The only "smooth way" for you is to let her decide if she wants to give you her number. Until that happens you are an ordinary customer and you should act like that.
posted by three blind mice at 3:54 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I still think the best way to handle this is to either say (or write down), "I'd like to ask you out," or, "I'd like to get together sometime when you're not working."

Just be very matter of fact and straightforward. I'm of the opinion we only live life once and asking someone else should absolutely be a chance people should take because you just don't know otherwise. The worst that happens is she has no interest in you, and you find a new lunch spot for awhile.

But then you know. And then she knows, too. If you remain polite and clear and aren't inherently creepy, she'll probably be polite and clear back. And then you either wish her well or make plans.

These situations don't have to be skeevy and creepy --- honestly, getting hit on in a bar by someone I didn't know was far more creepy to me than having been asked out at work once (I was already in a relationship).
posted by zizzle at 4:23 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ask her her name. See how that goes. If she seems enthusiastic telling you, then, the next time you come back, chat with her, finish your transaction and pay. Then come back to her in the line with your card or something where you've written your number and say "Hi! I hope this isn't weird but I'd love to take you out for coffee sometime. Here's my number, if you're interested give me a call!"

Then, don't go back to Chipotle for 2 weeks. If she doesn't call, you can go back and smile and say hi like nothing happened.

I think being less straightforward has more awkward potential. You're a grownup, presumably she is too (she'd better be), so dates happen not big group hangout stuff. Go for it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:33 AM on October 3, 2013

I think incessant's idea is kind of genius, because it gives you both plausible deniability that oh, this wasn't like a date, it was just one person telling another about a cool thing, like the way I told my roommate the other day "hey, the botanic garden is doing a thing this weekend if you and your girlfriend are looking for something to do."

That kind of casual suggestion seems to be a good script - "hey, me and a buddy are doing x, did you know about it? It's kinda cool, you may like it, if you wanna go I'll be there" - because she'll probably get the subtext. (She also may not, though, so don't assume anything if she shows up.) But if she says no, either she's gotten the subtext and is turning you down in a way that will let you both save face, or she hasn't gotten the subtext but isn't interested in you on a social basis anyway, so now you know.

But the invitation itself would let you both pretend that this wasn't a date, it was just a thing you were telling her about, you know? And that may be good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:40 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

(Any insight on what's going through her head?)

You're over thinking this. Either she wants to go out or she doesn't, it's that simple.

Sure, she might already be seeing someone. She might just be bantering for the sake of banter. Nobody in this thread, including you, can know what's she thinking unless you ask her out.

You're spending a lot of time and energy thinking about various ramifications of asking her out. She's an adult, let her make up her mind.

Quit messing around on the internet and casually ask her out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:53 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Her, with a warm friendly smile as she processes your order: "hey, how are you going?".

You: "I'm ridiculously excited, I've got Event (concert/art show/whatever you're into) coming up and I can't wait to go. Still trying to scout out a friend to go with me though".

Her: Either "I wouldn't mind tagging along, I'd like to see Band/Show" (if she's interested in hanging around with you) or "good luck with that!" (if she isn't).

Let it evolve organically. Give her a non-skeevy way to offer to join you outside of work. If she doesn't take it up... well, she's a damned good customer service employee who has the knack of making customers feel special.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:12 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not crazy about these ideas where she has to read between the lines. She's focused on work, she might be open to it but not in a headspace where she can pick up the subtle approach. If you're going to ask, be clear.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:07 AM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

The best thing you can do is slip her a business card with a note that says "for not creepy coffee or a drink, call! bring friends!" or something. If she doesn't want to hang with you, friendly or romantically, it's best if you can frame it as you're just super outgoing and invite tons of people to tons of things. It makes it not creepy or awkward if she doesn't reciprocate. Come to think of it, that's how my husband landed me.

I'm in a retail setting, although 95% of our customers know I'm the owner married to the other owner whose name is on the sign. But still I get hit on, and it's weird and shitty and I dread seeing these people again because they're just continually creepy. I trust you wouldn't ever be that dude. But if someone was like "hey you're cool, where do you hang out?" I would give them my facebook info. I have bike shop regulars on my friends list now, as well as the retail staff from a local coffee shop, just from months of pre-existing shallow retail relationships. Facebook keeps it low-key and you can sever the relationship easily if things go south.

So there's hope, but you do need to frame it as casual friendship, I think, in order for it to not get really awkward. If it stays casual frienship, you have a casual friend, hooray! If it goes deeper, even better! If she rebuffs, apologize for being awkward and continue going to Chipotle and just be jovial.
posted by kpht at 6:27 AM on October 3, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, I would mark every answer in this thread as best answer. I am leaning towards "no responsible/appropriate way to put her on the spot." But/and if a clear time-bound/place-bound mutual thing comes to light, I will say, "Oh, I am totally doing this X thing at Y time."

And yes I would go there that much anyway. My routine is unchanged since way before she started working there. :)
posted by zeek321 at 6:46 AM on October 3, 2013

"for not creepy coffee or a drink, call! bring friends!"

omg no. why not just put "I am not a serial killer! Really!"
posted by desjardins at 6:46 AM on October 3, 2013 [20 favorites]

When I was a first year student in grad school I pulled into a supermarket parking lot right at the same time as a really pretty woman. We parked two spots from each other, got out and walked in right near each other, and then did the whole criss-cross-in-the-aisles thing where we'd pass each other every other aisle or so. We recognized that we were doing this and so there were smiles and polite laughs. I finished shopping before her and loaded up my car and was ready to leave, when I had a moment of silly boldness. I wrote a note that said something like "We crossed each other a bunch of times in the store and you are really cute. I know this is crazy but if you ever want to get a pizza or something call me." I put my name and phone number down.

She didn't call me and that was that. But then a year later, I got out of my car in the student parking lot and found myself walking in right next to her. When I wrote the note she was a college senior; she had since graduated and started in the same program as me. By that time, I was happily engaged to a woman that I met just shortly after I wrote the note. I didn't know if she would recognize me and think it was weird so I kind of sheepishly told her on the way into the building that I had written her a note a year before. She remembered it well and laughed about it. She said something like "I thought it was sweet but my friends were pretty sure you probably were crazy." I think I said "well your friends were right, good call" or something self-effacing, and that was it. After that I saw her all the time around school and it was perfectly fine.

All of that is a long way of saying go for it. Be transparent about it. Know that you will have a low chance of success, and be ready to let it go if it doesn't work.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:50 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

In 1993, Bill de Blasio asked an openly known, famous lesbian out on a date. She is now his wife of 19 years, and he's potentially the new mayor of NYC.

This is relatively a walk in the park. Ask her out for coffee. With confidence.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:57 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been on her side when I was younger in food service, as well as when I was more of a public facing librarian. It is awkward to be asked out at work if you're not into it and a little scary if the guy seems creepy (I've known friends who have "bumped into" an asker as they were closing up right outside the exit, gross), but if the person is polite and not cagey about it where you have to figure out if they really are asking you out, it doesn't really change your opinion of their character and it's reasonable to get past if the answer is no (so you can still eat burritos for lunch). If you actually reference past conversations frequently, I can at least tell you you're not creeping her out in any way, because you would be getting non-commital corporate friendliness if you were.

No funny scripts or anything. Simply say, "If it's not too forward, I was wondering if you'd like to get coffee with me sometime." You could even add an, "it seems like we get along well, " or something if you want to fancy it up. Practice in a mirror if you want so you say it like you were asking for extra quac, but seeming nervous won't change her answer if she's into you. As for getting her your contact info, this is what business cards are for. If you have some but they don't have a cell number, it would be fine to have it pre-written on the back. If you don't at all have business cards, make one up in office or photoshop for yourself, include your cell and email, and have it printed cheaply someplace. Google for a kinkos or vistaprint coupon. If you end up marrying her you can tell the story at your wedding and if you don't you have invested in future ask outs of other women; any kind of card in an envelope is too personal for asking a first date. Also, there is really no way to tactfully get her information while being rung up, so you'll have to just trust that if she says yes and takes the card she will call. If she wanted to say no and didn't feel comfortable with outright no she (well, I anyway) would have said she had a boyfriend or something. And if she says no, no matter the reason, never ask again.
posted by itsonreserve at 8:08 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

So I did (in my days of public-facing work) find it incredibly embarrassing to get asked out while I was working. But that's me. I find lots of things embarrassing because I am an overthinking beanplater.

I still vote for "Hey, {thing you'd talked about previously} is happening Sunday and I'm going to it with some friends; want to join us?" as the most gracious option if you do choose to ask her out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:10 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Isn't friending on Facebook or similar what the kids are doing now in these sorts of situations? I've spent a lot of time working in retail and seen quite a bit of asking out, even with employees doing the asking, and it seems like they usually break the ice with Facebook.

Yes, maybe it will bother her. It has bothered me or not, depending on the person. If you do it, be cool, make sure she knows no is an OK answer (even to connecting on social media).
posted by BibiRose at 8:43 AM on October 3, 2013

Mod note: Constructive helpful answers folk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:45 AM on October 3, 2013

After I replied, she said something in a low, uncharacteristic tone of voice about having no life

if you can't tell us what she actually said, we couldn't possibly tell you what she meant.
posted by spaltavian at 8:54 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Splatavian just made me think - maybe the reason why she said she "had no life" was not about you at all. It may have been more of a generic complaint about not having time for fun, you know? I know that sometimes if I ask someone how they're doing, and they are doing all these crazy cool things that I am either too broke or too busy to do, I feel a little inferior that my big weekend plans are nothing more than, "uh, laundry, I guess?" and I start going into a whole what-am-i-doing-with-my-life funk, and...yeah. As for that look you and she exchanged, that could have been either "oh shit, I hope he doesn't think I'm a debbie downer," or "....wait, he's looking at me, why is he looking at me?"

But Splatavian just pointed out - if you've been basing this whole plan on that one incident, it may indeed just have been small talk. This does not prevent you from a casual "so I'm doing [cool thing x] with my friends if you want to come" kind of invitation, but it does open up a possibilty for a thanks-but-no-thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2013

These songs can help you decide what and what not to do:
Taylor the Latte Boy
Taylor the Latte Boy Rebuttal
posted by Wordwoman at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Continue to be friendly for at least another month or so. Listen more than talk, if possible. Then, maybe "I'm assuming that someone as nice as you has a sweetheart, and also that the answer will almost certainly be no, but if you ever like to get a coffee, I'd like to get to know you."
posted by theora55 at 11:44 AM on October 3, 2013

She's just being friendly. She's at work. You don't seem to know a whole lot about her as a person, from what you've described, just as a cashier.

Then, I walked over to the utensils and stuff and puttered around for like a minute, and then I turned back to the register rather abruptly (and intentionally), and she was watching me, and we locked eyes, and she had an unreadable expression on her face. I tried for a friendly smile and headed out.

You abruptly started back to the register? That unreadable expression was probably concern. As your cashier, you might have had a complaint about her service. She might have been worried you were gonna to complain to her manager about the "no life" comment.

Don't ask her out.
posted by RainyJay at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2013

If your conversations never deviate from the subjects and circumstances of your presence there, "latte again, huh?" "how's your week (of working nearby) going?" "pretty cold today," then she's probably just being nice. If you try to extend the basis of your conversation outside of the world of your interactions, "'Blue Jasmine was pretty good," "I'm stoked about exhibition X at museum Y," etc., you can see if she picks up on it. Above all, play it cool, throw out some opportunities to engage on a wider basis, and don't press it.
posted by rhizome at 12:03 PM on October 3, 2013

just ask her if she wants to get coffee sometime and slip her a card with your name & number. i wouldn't say this

Like, could I say to her, "If you say, 'Let's get coffee,' I will say, 'Yes.'"?

because it's like you want to ask her out but are putting the onus on her. be direct and ask for what you want whether verbally or in a note. if you are lowkey about it it should be fine.
posted by wildflower at 1:27 PM on October 3, 2013

I was recently in a situation like this where I had been having friendly conversations with a cashier and wanted to ask her out, but I always saw her in the middle of the lunch rush and it was going to be kind of hard to ask her out without everyone being aware of what I was doing. So I just wrote a note that went something like this, "Hey [name], if you're interested in chatting for more than the time it takes to order [specific food item], hit me up sometime: [phone number]. Hope to hear from you soon! -[my name]" and slipped it to her. She texted me a few days later.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 1:44 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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