How Not To Be A Dick At The Coffee Shop

It’s not EXpresso. We do judge you for that one.
Publish date:
January 16, 2013
coffee, politeness, don't be a dick, life tips, How-To

If you are a dick in the coffee shop, I am sincerely praying that you will at some point find yourself in an apron behind a counter helping the madding crowds whose ability to function depends on mainlining French Roast.

Peel away the outer layers -- the plaid shirts, the Buddy Holly glasses, the confusing space and secret-coffee-language menu --of most coffee shops and I firmly believe you’ll find that most of us coffee professionals truly do care about the work we do and love making it interesting, not alienating, for customers.

To help you experience this love, here are 23 tips culled from many years and many shops that will keep you from being a dick and help you become the next Customer of the Day/Week/Month/Forever.


Nothing, nothing, will do more to brand you as the ultimate jerkface. Use common courtesy and give your full attention to the actual human being standing in front of you. Our interaction doesn’t need to be long and involved, but it should not include your phone.

2. Free and unlimited Wi-Fi is not a right.

It is a perk, and it is in my best interest to provide since there is clearly demand, but you are not owed the Internet as part of your coffee drinking experience. Free, unlimited Internet access? That’s what the library is for.

3. Recognize that we are running a business and we need your money so we can continue to provide you with a place to enjoy your beverage.

If our shop is your daily office, please buy things throughout said day. I don't care how small those purchases are, but they indicate that you respect and value our shop and want us to stay afloat. Or, check out the aforementioned library if you’d like a place to sit all day for free.

4. Take off your sunglasses unless they’re prescription-strength and you need them to see the menu.

Otherwise, I’m trying to provide good service and it’s hard to guess where your eyeballs are, especially when your lenses are the size of a scuba mask. Indoor-sunglass-wearing immediately pings my asshole radar.

5. If you and a friend are arguing over who’s going to pay, please, one of you, graciously allow the other one to win.

Don’t both hand your debit cards out and force the PBTC (person(s) behind the counter) to choose.

6. Speaking of paying, smooth out your bills before you hand them over, OK?

It’s also nice if you actually put said bills directly into my hand, since forcing the PBTC to reeeaaach for your barely outstretched method of payment or scrape change off the counter is kind of mean. These may seem like small details, but nothing shows scorn like just tossing your money in my general direction.

7. Don’t set your child’s bum on the counter.

Food and drinks go on that counter, some of them rather hot, and in this fast-moving environment your child’s odds of getting burned are pretty good. Also, other customers might not appreciate eau de tushie around their croissant.

8. On another kid note: thanks, well-behaved kids!

And parents who realize that a coffee shop can be super boring! And parents who let their kids drink decaf, thereby acquiring a taste for legal addictive stimulants at a young age and ensuring the future of this industry! We really, really appreciate those of you who expect your children to treat our shop with respect.

9. If the bathroom is out of soap or paper towels, please tell us.

Really. I will not be offended, or judge you for using the facilities. The same goes for any kind of mess or spill or other accident, bathroom or no, whether or not you yourself actually caused said problem.

10. See the person making strange movements around various pieces of machinery, squinting, smelling, pouring, moving fast, and calling out orders?

That’s the barista. Don’t ask them anything -- for the Wi-Fi password, can you get more milk, more ice, what time is it? -- because they are quite obviously busy doing something else. If you want your drink in a reasonable amount of time, leave them alone and let them work. Find another PBTC to direct you to the napkins.

11. Unless you have a question about coffee!

Or why your drink tastes so good! Then that barista will probably be delighted to explain more subtle nuances in the art of pulling shots than you knew existed. Ask them all about water temperature, coffee dosage, coffee origins or pouring techniques, and watch their eyes light up!

12. Good coffee is expensive for many reasons.

Accept that if you want an excellent drink you will pay a little more for it.

13. If it’s 7:55 am, I’ll assume you’re on your way to work and in a hurry.

If you’re even the smallest bit kind (eye contact is really all it takes, which is a ridiculously low standard) I’ll do my best to anticipate your order and get you in and out right quick.

14. Related: if there’s a bit of line, might I suggest using the time you’re waiting in it to decide what you’d like to order?

All the folks behind you who just want a small black are slowly seething as you arrive at the register and start hemming and hawing. And I, the PBTC, must stand awkwardly twitching, non-verbally apologizing to the irritated mass behind you.

15. However, if you truly have NO IDEA what you want, or if anything on the menu or in the store is confusing in the slightest, ASK.

It is my JOB to guide you to your personal beverage nirvana. I have had everything on the menu at least a zillion times, and, more importantly, can recommend things that aren’t listed. I can suggest cappuccino modifications that will ensure you a lifetime of your own perfect legal addictive stimulant. Just ASK.

16. It’s not EXpresso.

We do judge you for that one.

17. We also judge you for ordering an extra-hot drink.

Most shops steam milk to somewhere in the 140-150 degree range. Why? Any hotter and the milk begins to break down and scald. It smells terrible. Plus, the metal pitchers we use get too hot to hold and the milk becomes bubbling lava foaming its way out of the pitcher. Perhaps consider investing in a high-quality thermos if you want your drink to stay hot all morning. Insisting that we re-steam your drink to 200 degrees tells us that you don't care about our safety and you don't have taste buds.

18. If you add an inch of cream to your coffee, the coffee will not be as hot.

There is nothing I can do about this.

19. Tips: they’re pretty awesome.

I absolutely believe you should not tip if the service is terrible, or even it’s just meh. But if we’ve done our job well, if we’ve treated you with respect and kindness, if we’ve correctly read the vibes you’re giving off and either chatted with you or left you alone (both totally valid; I get that we’re not friends and you shouldn’t have to pretend to like me) and if you leave the shop happier than you were when you came in, please think about tipping.

It is immediately clear who has worked in the service industry and who hasn’t by watching tipping practices. Everyone who has ever stood on their feet all day serving people never hesitates to throw that extra quarter our way.

20. And even if you don't tip, respect the tip jar.

We have earned that money. Don't reach in to grab the quarters you need for the parking meter.

21. I’ll try really hard not to weird you out with the fact that I remember your name and what you drink every day.

But seriously, you come in every day. If you remember my name in return, you'll take our relationship to the next level.

If not being a dick is your goal and you do all of the above, congratulations! You've made it! But why set the bar so low? Aim for being the super-awesome customer we love, the “regular”! Want the PBTC to call you by name when you walk in, ask if you want your usual, and generally treat you like you’re awesome?

22. Then be awesome.

Pay attention to the layout of the store and how the lines work, learn our names, and maybe ask a few questions that indicate you see the PBTC as POTS (people outside the store), too.

23. Above all, please remember that if there’s something wrong with your order, your drink, the service, or any other aspect of your customer experience, I do want to know.

Really. I even want to make it right, as immediately as I can. No one does this job because they want to spread doom and gloom.

It’s just coffee, yes.

But it can be much more, and chances are pretty good that the PBTC truly enjoy chatting with you, sharing what they know and love about the things they make and sell, and like being a part of your daily routine. The best customers don’t sweat the small stuff that doesn’t matter and appreciate the human beings who do.

And we appreciate you, good customers. Thanks.