Alternate title: Things to consider the next time you’re in a coffee shop.
I have now been some form of barista for over a year, and have been a full time one for nearly four months. It’s not all fun and foamy leaf art, however. Below I have compiled the six categories of considerations for if you don’t want your baristas to hate you.
Look, I get it. In most coffee shops, unlike in a traditional restaurant environment, the baristas do less traveling to and interacting with customers, and thus most customers aren’t cultured to tip similarly. That’s fine. Obviously I don’t expect 15% for every cup of coffee I pour, because that would be insane. Even though my coffee shop also serves food (in which case I DO act as a waitress, and hostess, and table busser), I’m just going to broadly talk about how to tip your barista. Follow these steps, and you’ll be the darling of most every coffee shop worker in the world:
- If your drink takes more than thirty seconds of work or my visiting more than one station of the barista area, tip a little. A stray dollar, the coins I just gave you in change, etc. This includes all lattes and cappuchinos, as well as mochas and any other variation of coffee we’ve come up with. I don’t expect a tip if all I do is pour you a cup of brewed coffee or grab a cookie from the case. But if I have to grind espresso beans, measure out shots, steam milk perfectly, then pour you a beautiful leaf design directly into your cup, fifty cents should really not be too far out of the realm of possibility. This rule also applies when it’s five to ten minutes until the store closes, because making your drink will probably put me behind on my cleaning duties.
- If there is a line behind you but I still have to spend more than thirty seconds taking your order (for instance, if you keep changing your order or asking questions about the menu or are really slowly deciding which cookie/truffle/pastry you want), tip a dollar or two for my trouble. At the point that you’re taking up more than your socially-allotted time, you’re becoming a problem to me and everyone around you, and the least you could do to show how appreciative you are that I’m still being nice to you is to give me a buck to split between myself and my two coworkers.
- If I remember your order and you like that about me, tip me a little. I don’t need a whole dollar for this one, but hey, if I brightened your day by remembering you and your favorite drink, don’t I deserve a couple of cents?
If I bring you your coffee or otherwise go out of my way to help facilitate your needs other than just making the drink and putting it on the bar, tip me at least a dollar. It is not part of my job description to hunt you down with your drink or run errands for you- all I have to do is take your money and make the coffee. Reward my extra mile, otherwise you don’t get to complain the next time a server doesn’t. It’s not MY generation that’s become less polite- it’s yours. You are breeding this generation of apathetic service workers, because when we don’t get rewarded, even with a smile and fifty cents, for doing nice things that take time out of our otherwise very busy day, then why would we continue doing it? I got student loans to pay off.
- If I make more than two drinks for you (usually, this means you’re ordering coffee for an entire office, or group of office workers), tip me. I don’t care that you had to pay for each drink with different people’s crumbled fivers. I deserve at least two bucks for making eight separate lattes, all with different kinds of milk and numbers of shots.
2. Proximity to closing
I‘m gonna let you in on a secret right now- only about 50% of a barista’s job is dealing with customers. Though it may seem like all we do is stand around and serve you piping hot, delicious caffeine, in fact there is a lot going on behind the scenes. This is never more of an issue than when it’s getting within a few hours or minutes of closing the store. In addition to the basic “cleaning up after everyone” (you know, like cleaning the bathroom, wiping down the tables and counters, pushing in chairs, sweeping and mopping the floor), we will usually be brewing iced tea and coffee for the next day, refilling things, restocking cups and coffee beans and toilet paper in the customer bathroom, doing dishes, and basically setting up the store so that the people opening the store in the morning just have to unlock the doors. When you come in near to when we close, please, for the love of god, be courteous. Recognize that despite our still being open, there are some things you just can’t expect from us at this time of day/night. Here’s a good starter list of considerations:
- Don’t be upset if we’ve sold out of something. We opened the store twelve hours ago- obviously other people have stopped by. Also, yeah, the coffee might not be as hot as it was in the morning, because we are not going to brew a fresh pot ten minutes before we close, just to pour one cup and then dump the rest out. If your baristas are competent, the coffee shouldn’t be lukewarm or cold, but it’s also not going to be the freshest coffee you’ve ever tasted in your life. Get over it.
- Don’t ask for “to stay” cups if it’s within half an hour of the store closing. Not all coffee shops have this option, but if yours does, don’t be that guy. If you make us give you a mug for your drink (or, shudder, MULTIPLE drinks), that means we’re going to have to stay at least an extra ten minutes of our shift to do those extra dishes. Is the coffee REALLY that much better in ceramic that you had to inflict your very tired baristas to a longer shift? No. It really isn’t.
- Sometimes, we take things down/put them away before the store closes. This doesn’t mean we can’t go get them for you (see: milk/creamer, sugar, pastries, etc), it just means that the more we can do before we’re officially closed, the earlier we can go home and rest our screaming feet. It might take a couple extra seconds for you to get the half and half for your coffee that you find at the milk station any other time of day, but trust me, you will survive.
- If you can help it, don’t stick around anywhere up until they close. I was guilty of this before I worked in the industry, but now I understand why that kind of makes me a terrible person. When you take up not only a barista’s time right before they close the store, but also a table and a chair, you are actively in the way of them cleaning the store/floor/seating area, so they are limited in their productivity. The only way it would be appropriate for you to hog an area up until the moment the doors have to be locked is if you’re friendly with the baristas and they don’t feel weird mopping under the table you’re sitting at without you getting upset that their cleaning duties are upsetting your serenity.
3. How to read a menu
Cafes and restaurants have these things called “menus” that lay out exactly what you can and cannot order at their establishment. It’s one thing to ask for a subtraction (“can you make this without onions?”), but it’s an entirely separate issue to build your own entree that is nowhere on the menu as an option. Don’t get mad at me when I tell you that just because we have flour and eggs in the kitchen doesn’t mean we can make you a cake. We serve what is listed on the menu. End of story.
Worse, though, is if you have to ask your barista what kinds of drinks are available when there is literally a menu right in front of your face. You are holding the menu in your hand. Why don’t you just look at THAT, which has a comprehensive list of everything in my power I can make you, rather than have me list every variety ever? Asking what something is is fine- ie “what’s the difference between a cappuccino and a latte?” But asking me what kinds of iced tea we have WHILE HOLDING THE TEA MENU seems a bit of an unnecessary addition to our interaction. This is especially annoying if there’s a line behind you.
4. How to order
My job is 20% making drinks, 20% ringing people up, and 60% asking follow up questions to peoples’ orders so they don’t get upset when I can’t read their minds. Seriously. Walking up to the counter and ordering “coffee” is not nearly specific enough. If you want to really thrill your cashier/barista, specify the following things immediately:
- what kind of drink (brewed, decaf, latte, iced tea, hot tea, etc)
- the size
- if you want milk (or room for milk, or milk on the side)
- what KIND of milk (soy, whole, skim, almond, etc etc etc) (this is especially important if you absolutely MUST have one kind. Don’t get mad if you’re lactose intolerant and wanted almond milk but I gave you whole milk because that’s the standard and you didn’t specify)
- how many shots of espresso you want (if applicable)
- Iced or hot
- to stay or to go
- any other particular quirks to your order
I spend most of my time at register asking a series of questions to get these exact answers that you could have just given me with your initial order. It’s your job to order, it’s my job to make the coffee. So if you just say “i want a latte”, but what you REALLY want is a “large, two shot, half-caf iced almond milk latte to go,” you can see how this might take a while.
One of the things that makes me die inside a little bit is when people add the prefix “just” to their orders. “I just want a triple shot large cappuccino with no foam and exactly eight and a half pumps of toffee syrup.” Here’s the thing: unless you have BEEN a barista, and sometimes not even then, you probably have no way of knowing how complicated or frustrating your order is. So when you begin your order with “just,” I get excited, because it sounds like it’s going to be easy and not demoralizing. But when there’s a line behind you and you’re telling me that you “just” want three double shot cappuccinos, which will require taking up every section of our espresso machine, I reserve the right to refuse service, because that is “just” uncool. Don’t get my hopes up like that, man.
The only acceptable times to start an order with “just”:
- If the person (or people) in front of you ordered multiple drinks that took a while to make, and you’re only ordering one thing.
- You’re only ordering brewed coffee
- You’re only ordering a cookie, or a pastry, or a something I can grab from the case and hand directly to you.
6. Regular etiquette
Being a regular is great. I was a regular at Borders first (may you rest in peace), then Maggie’s Buns in college, and now at Le Paris Dakar in Brooklyn, and I love it. I love when people remember me, and my order, and care enough to chat for a bit to recognize how often I’m there. And now that I’m a barista, I also love having regular customers. It’s fun to have their drink ready before they make it to the counter and watch their faces light up. HOWEVER. It’s not always so cordial.
There are a few things you need to know about being a regular, because, contrary to apparently popular belief, being a regular does not make you entitled to literally anything extra.
- Just because you know us doesn’t mean we know you. There’s morecustomersthan therearebaristas, so forgive us if we don’t immediately recognize you, because there are just SO MANY OF YOU. We deal with more than three hundred customers a day, and after a while your faces might blend together. Of courseyou’llwantto be remembered, but we can’t promise anything, so don’t get snippy if we forget all the quirks of your order without you telling us them again because you just assume we’ll know.
- Subpoint- Sometimes, we have new people working, and they probably won’t know who you are or why you usually get a discount or an extra shot or whatever. Do not get mad at them. Why should they know who you are? Do you think we have a wall of photos of our regular customers that new baristas have to memorize before their first shift? How self obsessed are you?
- Coming in a lot does not mean you get special treatment. If you’re really nice and tip a lot, well, that’s a different story. But if you just come in a lot, maybe tip once in a while, yeah, I’m not asking the chef to stay late to make you lunch because you forgot the kitchen closed twenty minutes ago. I’m also not going to serve you an omelette after our breakfast menu has been taken down. Why not? Refer to number 3, above, on how to read a menu.
- If we normally remember you and your order but we don’t for some reason on another day, it’s probably because we’re tired. As previously mentioned, only about half of our jobs consist of helping customers, and we deal with a massive amount of those customers per day. Of course you deserve good service, just like everyone else, but if we can’t go that extra step one day, be empathetic, not rude.
- SPEAKING of rude, if you are a regular and you are regularly rude or a chore, we probably gossip about you when you leave. I don’t care how much money you spend here on a given visit- if you complain constantly and force us to do extra work without so much as a “thank you,” god forbid a tip, sorry, but we definitely don’t like you.
This became much longer than I initially anticipated. Maybe I’ll make a condensed version as a video sometime. Also, for those of you counting, I posted more blogs in the last week than I posted in the last three months. Whoooops.
Comment on this post with more barista woes or things you think I might have forgotten 🙂
Edit: My manager Therese points out that one thing that makes you a terrible coffee shop customer is TALKING ON YOUR FREAKING PHONE WHILE ORDERING. WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THIS.