The Top Four Worst Coffeehouse Faux Pas

Helena has heard reader feedback that you want more letters, and there will be one next week. But for this week, Helena has an issue she wants to address.

Unsurprisingly, baristas at coffeehouses have to put up with a lot of grumpiness. But baristas have other reasons to kvetch. The second in a series, this column will explain the four worst etiquette blunders made in coffeehouses.

You might be thinking, “Why should I worry about this stuff? It’s not my job to mollycoddle the barista. I am paying them, after all.” But proper coffeehouse etiquette can have advantages for you, too: Not only is the barista more likely to remember you and your order, saving you time, but you may also get a little extra love. Most people have a neighborhood or workplace coffeehouse where they go again and again. Wouldn’t you rather it feel like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, versus inspiring a universal eye roll when you walk in? So here’s what not to do:

1. Multitask. “Customers talking on cell phones or Bluetooth earpieces when they’re trying to order—that’s the bane of the barista’s existence,” says Dean Falletti, a barista at Peet’s Coffee in Portland. Instead, put off that call or text message and take a second to say hello and acknowledge the barista. Yes, it might seem like basic politeness, too obvious to mention, but many forget to do it, the same way they forget to acknowledge toll collectors or grocery store cashiers.

2. Act like you’re in Starbucks. People often request Starbucks sizes, asking for a venti or grande, Falletti says. Not only does this make customers look unsophisticated, but the barista may not understand the lingo or be able to accommodate the request. James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, says folks should also forgo the Starbucks attitude: expecting to have their coffee fine-tuned to their personal requirements. That doesn’t really fly in the type of coffeehouse that is growing increasingly common, which focuses on simple drinks made with high-quality coffee rather than offering dozens of variations. In such places, which include Four Barrel in San Francisco and Abraco in New York, you’ll have a better experience if you appreciate what they’re offering rather than demand a grande vanilla Frappuccino.

3. Bother the barista. Often, one person takes the order while another makes the drinks. People often assume that because the latter isn’t directly interacting with customers he isn’t busy, so if they need to know where the sugar or the bathroom is, they approach him before anybody else. Actually, the barista may be juggling a number of different orders in his head, says Falletti. “They’re focused on making the shots or steaming the milk right. Then they have to completely derail and focus on the customer for a second.” If possible, it’s better to ask the cashier or someone else, like the person busing tables.

4. Rely on disposable cups (and lids and sleeves). Even if you recycle cups, for the sake of the planet it’s always better to reuse. Plus, reusable mugs can enliven the barista’s day, Falletti says. As with bringing your own cup to a cocktail party, it’s interesting to see what vessels people bring. “There’s always someone who brings in a weird mug, like one guy always had a mug his kid made.”

And there’s a perk to being green: Often, the barista will reward you by filling the mug, no matter what size you ordered, Falletti admits. “Sometimes you have to go by the book because the manager is there, but nine times out of ten the barista will charge you for a small and fill your 16-ounce mug.”

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. You can also follow her on Twitter and fan her Table Manners column on Facebook.