“Coffee etiquette [rule] number one: Baristas can't fix all of the problems, but we try our hardest.”
Like most people, I’ve spent a fair share of my time in coffee shops, working amongst the ambient sounds of coffee beans grinding and customers yelling about how their chai latte is too hot. One of my other coffee shop favorite pastimes, though, is chatting up baristas about their on-the-job experiences. While I’ve picked up quite a few tips and tricks for perfecting foam art from these conversations, the most important thing I’ve learned is that despite the fact that many people frequent coffee shops on a regular basis, most of them don’t necessarily do the right things to be good patrons of these fine establishments.
Luckily, I’m here to help you avoid being one of those people that baristas laugh about—or roll their eyes about—on their work breaks.
I consulted seven current and former baristas about some of the biggest (and largely unanswered) coffee shop etiquette rules, and they were more than happy to answer. Below are six questions you’ve probably wondered to yourself but have never asked about proper coffee shop behavior, as told by the people making it rain vanilla lattes and nitro brews.
How often should I order food and drinks if I’m camping out at a coffee shop?
Across the board, one sentiment is clear: Ordering a single venti iced coffee isn’t enough to justify you taking up space in a coffee shop for eight hours.
“If somebody is taking over a table for a long period of time, [he or she] should buy things on a regular basis; every hour or two [that person] needs to buy another coffee, or a pastry, or something,” says Kendra Long, who’s been a barista on and off for the past seven years. “If it's a busy day and you're taking up space that new customers need, you’d better be making it worth it for the restaurant.”
While there was debate amongst the baristas as to how much food and drink was enough, buying another beverage every two hours and eating a meal if you’re sitting there for a full workday appears to be the norm.
Do I lose my table if I get up, and is it okay to get someone to watch my stuff?
Hey, we all have to go to the bathroom from time to time (especially if you just downed three black coffees in five minutes). The question is, do you lose your table by default if you get up? And—if not—is it okay to trust someone else to watch your belongings?
The general consensus from the barista roundtable is that yes, it’s perfectly fine to ask someone to watch your table while you get up for a few minutes. If you can help it, though, try and get a fellow patron to do it and not a busy barista. “A couple times customers have asked me to watch their belongings, and I knew nothing would happen to them, but I should've said no because it was impossible to keep a constant eye out while doing the job,” remembers Daniela Zapata, a former barista from Miami.
Even more importantly, however, don’t leave your table unattended for more than a few minutes at a time. “Be conscientious of how long you’re going to be out for,” adds Eric Aldieri, a barista in Philadelphia. “Using the bathroom is one thing, but there have been times when patrons leave their things at a table while they go to the bank, pick up a friend, or run other undisclosed errands, and that gets a bit excessive.”
On the flip side, if you see an open table because that person left to make the world’s longest call, it’s okay to ask if you can grab it. “If [someone’s] gone for awhile, like they stepped out to take a phone call and it's going on for 30 minutes, then saying something is totally warranted,” explains Michelle Johnson, a Phoenix-based barista.
Is it rude to tell a barista that the half & half (or the Splenda or the soy milk) ran out?
There’s no feeling of anguish quite like picking up a pitcher of cream or milk and realizing it’s empty. However, the coffee shop’s entire team seems ridiculously busy. What’s an obsessive coffee drinker to do?
Long recommends telling a barista about the problem ASAP and “maybe even bring [the empty container] to the counter for us so we can refill it sooner.” And an obvious but important reminder: Don’t forget to say thank you once the barista tops off the pitcher.
When am I becoming an outlet hog?
If you break into a sweat just thinking about giving up an electrical outlet in a crowded space, it’s time to loosen up a little bit.
“Limit yourself to one outlet at a time,” says Aldieri. “If you’re computer has been plugged in for a while, and you notice other patrons struggling to find a charging spot, offer yours up.” Let’s be real here, you don’t need to have all of your electronics charged to a perfect 100% for the full day.
What should I do if the wifi goes down?
It should go without saying, but don’t yell at baristas if your wifi cuts out; it’s not like they’re maniacally sitting behind the counter plugging and unplugging the router just to mess with you.
“Mention [the wifi] to the baristas, but don't ask them to fix it,” says Jon Bailey, a barista from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “They aren't IT people, they most likely don't have access to the router, and they could probably be doing other things.”
And sometimes, yes, the wifi really is that bad in certain coffee shops; the baristas say you can either deal with it, do work that doesn’t require the internet, or take your laptop elsewhere.
What if I have very particular specifications for my drink?
Fact: No two coffee shops are alike, and not every beverage tastes like Starbucks drink. “Don't go into an Italian coffee shop, order a half-sweet tall vanilla bean non-fat latte, and get upset when you don't get quite what you were expecting,” says former Vancouver-based barista Nathan Shubert.
Luckily, there’s an easy fix: Just ask.. “Please do not be embarrassed to ask your barista questions about drinks before you order, particularly if it’s a coffee shop you haven’t been to before,” explains Aldieri. “We much rather address questions before we make you your beverage than after it’s already made.” That also means managing your expectations and understanding that everything tastes a little bit different no matter where you go.
And above all, barista Regan Blissett puts it best. “Coffee etiquette [rule] number one: Baristas can't fix all of the problems, but we try our hardest.”
At the end of the day, we all just want good coffee, right?