Small Details Make A Difference


Ever overlooked a detail or powered through an exposition paragraph because you thought it didn’t matter?  What about fudging the specifics of a process because you were too lazy to look it up?  How about settling for something approximating the description you really wanted because thinking of the right word was taking too long?

Yeah… same.  

I do it all the time.  

But it’s always a huge mistake, because oftentimes it’s the smallest details that make the biggest difference.

A few days ago I sat down to write in my favorite coffee shop in Chinatown: La Colombe (sorry, Compass Coffee lovers).  I’ve always loved La Colombe.  I even wrote a joking post about coffee shops while sitting at my favorite table last year, How to Write in a Coffee Shop. But I could never really put my finger on why I liked it so much.

(Side note: What is up with that idiom – ‘Put my finger on it…’?  I mean was some guy just sitting around one day in front of a list of ideas, red in the face, grumbling, and trying to point to the correct one during a board presentation but couldn’t because he was too drunk or something?  Dude then proceeds to throw his hands up in the air and shout, ‘Ahhh, f*** it. I can’t put my finger on it.  I give up.’  Because in my head that’s where the phrase comes from.)

Anyway… I went through a list of the reasons I liked La Colombe so much: the coffee is great, the seating is perfect – I can always find a small table to set up at and write, the staff is helpful and extremely friendly, everyone there is polite and studiously working on one project or another, the lighting is great, etc., etc., reason #10, reason #11, whatever.

Last weekend, though, I finally saw it.  I saw the one little thing that really brought it home for me.

As I sat at one of my favorite small tables, headphones in, computer screen alight with its lively blue glow, I stared across the coffee shop and tried to think through the scene I was about to write to figure out where I wanted to start.  One of the baristas stood in my line of sight, restocking the refrigerator in front of the main counter with cans of La Colombe coffee that people can take to go.  He was moving very slowly – very deliberately – so I took a second to watch.

A large cardboard box on the ground before him, he removed the cans one by one, placed them neatly in their row, and took an extra 2-3 seconds spinning each can so that the logo and the description of the type of coffee it contained faced outward, perfectly centered.  It was slow going – I’m used to seeing most people in other stores just grab cans out of the box and shove them in the fridge two or three or four at a time.  This was much different.

At first it seemed like a waste of time – a small and unimportant thing to do – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how important it truly was.  Everywhere I looked in La Colombe I saw more of the same – centerpieces perfectly placed, straws symmetrically stocked in their holders, napkins neatly piled in their dispenser, milk, cream, and half-and-half jugs arranged in straight rows… even the cookies and muffins in the display case were artfully arranged.

That’s when I realized what I like so much about La Colombe:

The people that work there care about the details.

In the specific case of the La Colombe fridge, taking a few extra seconds to line up the logo and description so they faced outward could make all the difference.  It could be what separates a customer looking at a row of disorganized drinks, unsure of what they are or what’s inside, and turning away, from a customer looking at a row of drinks, immediately seeing and understanding what each one is, and thinking, “Oh, this sounds great, I think I’ll try one of these.”

In a broader sense, it helped me understand just how important and powerful taking a few extra seconds, or minutes, or even hours to do the best work possible, even in the smallest of settings, can really be.

Details matter.

What do you think?  Are you a fan of the details?  Can you think of any place or book that you love because certain details really stand out?

4 comments on “Small Details Make A Difference”

  1. Yes! So true, David, in every realm of life. People who care about what they are doing (whatever it is) can make such a difference. Small but powerful. If you’re ever in my area, Carmel Coffee Roasters is the place for you!

  2. There are so many coffee places around that for one to stand apart from the crowd they have to go that extra step, or precisely placed napkin 🙂

    There are even more books out there than coffee places…

    I can spend a ridiculous amount of time finessing one sentence. Few people notice a well crafted sentence, but everyone notices a badly written one. They jump out at the reader, ruin the flow of the story.

    So, yes, details matter 🙂

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