It’s not easy getting coffee…

This article on 10 Ways To Be A Less Terrible Coffee Shop Customer caught my attention the other day, for several reasons.  One of the reasons, according to this list, is that I’m apparently a great customer and the coffee shop workers are terrible, and also because I have a lot of experience with coffee houses.

My LOVEly homemade cappuccino in vintage diner ware

Coffee shops were not a thing in my town until the late 1990s.  In fact, they weren’t even really a thing in my state by that time.  I know of one local place that was in Jackson, possibly there were a few others in the state somewhere.

This town had Joe Muggs, which is the cafe connected with Books-A-Million, which only moved in around here about 1996.  However, my sister lived for a bit in Los Angeles, and as everyone probably knows was bombarded by Starbucks everywhere.  She learned about all the different espresso drinks, and when she came home, we pretty much opened a coffee-house in our basement.

That’s correct.  You read that right.  We opened a coffee-house in the basement of our home in 1997.  Our supply company was French Market from New Orleans, who supplied the machines, pitchers, and thermoses and whom we purchased our coffee, espressos, and syrups from.  The delivery guy was awesome too.  His name was Richard.  Born and raised in New Orleans.  And I’ll just clarify here that we closed at the end of 2004.

Anyway, six months later a second coffee-house opened up along our main thoroughfare in town near the university.  They were from New Orleans, decided to branch out.  Didn’t last long as people from this town were still wary of this new fangled “expresso”.

I also ended up working a bit at Joe Muggs while also working at our coffee-house, which is, in fact, how I obtained that job, because the manager and I had a discussion about my coffee-house and he was thrilled at how much I already knew.

By mid 1998, a local bakery had set up a second place of business; a coffee-house.  Then we got an Albertson’s grocery store and they had a Starbucks in it, but that entire operation left town in 2002.  Then there was Java Werks that opened across from the university, and then a drive thru Seattle Drip… and then later a second drive thru Seattle Drip in another part of town.  Around 2003 enter Starbucks.  The original one, which is still there, is near my house.  Then they opened one on campus in the foyer of the library.  Then another out west.  Target arrived, and with it they included a Starbucks, so the one across the highway from there closed down.  Seattle Drip closed, but in its place, Java Moe’s sprung up.  There is also a coffee shop/cafe downtown now.

When the coffee scene eventually hit us, it hit us hard is what I’m trying to say.  And I visited every single one of those coffee houses.  There was even one that opened in about 2000 or 2001.  She told me she was trying to be exactly like The Cubbyhole (which was my coffee-house), then was extremely upset when I turned out to be an owner of said coffee-house.  I didn’t mind, though thought it was odd.  She didn’t really want to serve me after that, so I just never went back.  She didn’t last long though.  It was really because she was trying to be like us, but that was never going to work unless she went all out.

Firstly, we were a coffee-house that absolutely allowed smoking.  Cigarettes, pipes, clove cigarettes, cigars.  We also opened around five in the early evening and stayed open until three or five in the morning.  We had local bands play.  We only served pre-packaged food, so as not to have to deal with a food license.  We made all sorts of drinks that woman wouldn’t even touch.  If a person came in and said, I want blah and blah and blah, can you make that?  We said yes.  This lady made lattes and frappuccino’s and drip coffee only.  She was also open from seven am to 5 pm.  She also played Christian music over her speakers.  There was no smoking.  There were games and books, but it was more kid friendly than a hangout for anyone.

Just think about having a non strict party in the basement of your house.  We had Halloween and Christmas parties, art gallery nights, free classes on candle making, Japanese tea ceremony, essential oil mixing.  The CD player was always open.  If you wanted it played, we’d play it.  That included Rammstein, Joan Baez, The Beetles, your local bands CD, Metallica, Nina Simone, The Doors, Iggy Pop, The Bangles.  It didn’t matter.  There were no drugs, alcohol, or lewd behavior, but we were a place you could just come and be, basically.  We even partnered with the local AA chapter to see if we were a good place for recovering alcoholics to come hang out at.  We were, so they put us on the list.  The only complaint is that when they’d all show up, we’d run through two pounds of sugar in a night.  But that’s fine.

It’s not that the lady was wrong, it was just in order to be just like us would include clientele she would not want in her establishment.  And the way she set up her establishment didn’t jive with the clientele she was hoping to garner.  Lesson?  It’s best to do your own thing.

As far as the other coffee shop businesses in town, I was always a frequent flyer with them.  Even in other towns and states I’d seek out the coffee houses.  The main thing I learned is that at least half of the workers are rude and snarky.  You can follow all the protocols and etiquette, but you’re doing something wrong, not them.

To begin lets look at #1 on this list; Know Proper Drink Order Protocol.  I know proper drink order protocol, but I can’t attest to the workers knowing it.  I’ll give the order and they always still have to ask me if it’s hot or cold, what type of milk, number of espresso shots, etc.  It is protocol that if you are not ordering anything complicated, so a normal cappuccino, you just say Medium Cappuccino.  It’s a basic drink, there’s nothing else to know.  Stating the obvious of the drink only complicates the ordering process.  If you say Medium Cappuccino, the size correlates to the number of espresso shots (two), and it’s a whole milk, and obviously hot.  It’s only if you want it different do you need to be specific on something as basic as that; Medium, 4 espresso shot, soy milk, cappuccino, extra dry, 3 pumps of raspberry syrup.

On the other hand a latte or mocha, while still a basic drink, can be served hot or iced, so that needs to be specified.  Any place I have been, most of the workers don’t know or understand drink protocol or how to implement it.  And they get fussy at you because they keep having to ask you questions, though you’ve already told them everything they need to know, accurately, and not at a fast, clipped pace.  This goes for mega large cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, and Baltimore, to places all over the south, small or large.  Places like Starbucks or other chain coffee places are supposed to be pretty uniform, but if I happen to visit one of those in a large or small city, they also don’t know how to do their job.

#2: Don’t Assume Your Barista Knows Your Order.  I agree, one should never assume that they’ll know you’re order, no matter how often you frequent that place.  This is not a problem for me.  What is a problem for me are the barista’s that assume to know my order.  They play a magicians guessing game with me before I can even get the first words of my order out of my mouth.  “No, no, don’t tell me… is it this?  or this?  How about this?”  They’ve wasted several minutes longer than it would have taken for me to just say it, there is now a line and they are fussy at me for dilly dallying.  Excuse me?  This is most coffee-houses I have been to more than once.  It wouldn’t even be so troublesome if I always order the same exact thing, which was not a difficult order, but I’m always ordering for my mother and sister, as well as for myself.  My drinks are a tad more than basic, and are forever changing.  That is a game you will never win barista.  Please, stop trying.  There is only one girl, at the Starbucks by my house, that when she sees me she automatically states the order to me and it’s correct every time.  It’s uncanny and amazing.  It’s like she’s reading my mind, knowing I’m only ordering my mothers drink that day, or my sisters drink and this one particular drink I like to order (there are about ten different drinks I order) this other day.  So, she’s awesome.  But, then she doesn’t guess, she already knows somehow.  But barista’s, don’t guess customer orders, please.

#3: Keep The Drink Casual:  I agree.  Don’t be that jerk that wants more than one super difficult drink, as in a medium half drip, half espresso in a large cup, with ice, and extra whip cream and half and half and soy and four different shots of syrup, and honey, and spendas.  What are you even drinking?  Oh my god, you want ten of those with a slightly varying ingredient to each?  Go home.  You can only get so crazy with a drink before it’s not OK anymore.  Let’s take an example of mine.  Medium raspberry mocha frappuccino, no whip, syrup drizzle.  That is a perfectly acceptable, non basic, I have some tweaks to it drink.  It’s easy, it’s not complicated.  I’m not asking them to layer whipped cream into the frappuccino.  I’m not asking for more than one type of syrup.  I’m not asking for a rainbow to magically jump out of it and explode confetti and sparkly unicorns.  You can tweak it, but don’t go overboard.  It sucks for the barista’s as well as all the people in line behind you.

#4: Don’t Talk To The Person Making Your Drink:  I again agree.  Most coffee houses have at least a double espresso machine these days, if not two of those like the Starbucks near my house.  This means that the drink maker is not only working on your drink, but someone else’s as well, and depending on the machine set-up, more.  It’s not a difficult job, pressing espresso or frothing milk, but it does take concentration.  If your mind is elsewhere and not on your work a lot of people are going to have burnt espresso, over frothed, burnt milk, and mixed up drinks.  Don’t chat up the drink maker, and certainly don’t tell him what he’s doing wrong with your drink, I’ve seen people waiting ahead of me do this one as well.  As I’ve said, that drink maker is making multiple drinks at a time.  What you think is your drink, isn’t.  Just calm down, it’ll be OK.

#5: Stop Acting Like The Busiest Person Ever:  I’m skipping the previous one, because I’ve never really seen that to be a problem.  But this one, yes.  If you are that busy and that late for something, you should have left earlier to have time to order this drink, or you should have skipped going there all together.  If you’re stressful, you’re making the workers and customers stressful.  Stress leads to snapped tempers.  Guests get snippy, workers get snippy, awful drinks are made.  You are a terrible person for all of the chaos you just left in your wake.  Don’t do it.  Ever.

#6: Get Off The Phone:  Absolutely.  I, myself, am not a phone person.  I used to have mobile service, but now it’s just a mobile that uses Wi-Fi to get on the internet, and I don’t use it anywhere near as much as most people use their mobiles’ internet.  But even if I did, and even when my phone was a phone, it most certainly is beyond rude to to be using it when you are supposed to be talking to another person; whether that is the company you are with or the person you should be giving your order to.

#7: Polite Greeting:  This one I have a huge problem with.  The article writer states that you, the customer, shouldn’t be rude.  That when the barista says, “Hello, how are you?”,  you should also respond with “I’m fine, how are you?” and not barrage straight into your order, because it’s rude.  I do agree with that.  But the problem I always seem to have, and it’s not just me, is that I do reply with, “I’m fine, how are you?” and I’m the loser who’s not giving their order in a timely manner and holding up the line because the barista gets snippy with me.  This goes out to barista’s and the company owners.  Do not say (or instruct your workers to say) “Hello, how are you?” if you don’t want a fucking return of greeting!!  It bothers me so much that I waste more of their time by saying, “Oh, that good huh?  That’s too bad.”  Then waiting until they say, “What can I get you?”  It’s probably not the best thing I could do, but I’m following protocol, do your damn job.  Or else nix that style of greeting and just lead off with, “And what can I get you?”

#8: Tip Your Barista:  This one’s iffy for me and here is why.  In America we tip, in Europe they don’t.  In Europe it doesn’t matter whether they are a fantastic waiter or not, there’s nothing for them to earn beyond their paycheque.  Here, tipping is a touchy subject.  I don’t like the system, but we have that system and it is: the waiter gets paid for their work and tipping is extra, because they earned it.  You can argue with me all you want, but that is the system, plain and simple.  I do think it sucks that the income for these workers is so low, and to work around having to pay out living wages to their workers, owners guilt you on the ticket to pay exorbitant percentages from tipping.  Like 30%.  30% is not a thing in my state.  At all.  15% is barely a thing.

It is also true to the system that sit down, food based establishments are the one place tipping is pretty much a given.  Sonic doesn’t count.  Neither do coffee houses.  Not that it’s required at a restaurant, but that is the place the system was intended for.  I will never not tip at a restaurant, no matter how bad the service.  But as par the system of tipping, I do not owe you a tip unless you earn it.  That is what tipping is all about.  You would not give a diploma to someone who didn’t earn it.  No matter if they had to scrimp and save and work five jobs to get through university.  I will fight for you to get a living wage, but I will not give you something that you haven’t earned.

But I am also not one of those people who if you didn’t tap dance and produce fluffy glitter kittens from thin air and give me something free and save the dolphins and bring a cute guy over to the table to tell my I’m pretty, that I won’t tip you because you didn’t “earn” it.  I am also not the person who begrudges wait staff for being new to the job and still learning, or if the restaurant is in the weeds, or if the wait staff is definitely just having one of those days.  Things happen.  However, if you are on form, are not having a bad day, are not new, the restaurant is on form and yet you constantly ignore our table even if we politely get your attention, you never bring us anything that we need, or you are really rude and bitchy, I will leave 5% because you didn’t earn it, you weren’t having a bad day, you’re just being a bitch and acting like the world owes you a living and that you can do whatever you want and still get a super high tip.  Nope.

Thankfully those horrid people are hard to come across, they’re normal people, doing a job and being perfectly lovely about it.  I tip 15%-20%, as per what is customary in my state.

Barista’s are the same.  I generally do tip something.  However, if the one taking my order is just super bitchy and catty and snarky, then I won’t.  If the person making my drink makes a bad drink and couldn’t care less that they made a bad drink, then I won’t.  And this does happen, just as the above scenarios, but this too is few and far between thankfully.

So, yes, I believe someone should earn the tip, because that is the system of tipping.  Actually I think we should completely do away with tipping.  Be more like Europe.  The workers paid a living wage, end of discussion.  But my standards are very laxed when it comes to someone earning their tip.  I’m really nice and laid-back and most baristas and wait staff really like me.  I’m such a Mensch (human being/nice person) that just to show their appreciation in a world full of snarky, rude, over expecting humans, they give me free stuff.  I don’t expect free things, and while it’s really nice, it’s also really sad, because these are not places that just give things away to every fifth person that walks in the door.  The general mass of customers must make their work lives truly hell if they want to reciprocate my kindness with free stuff.  I really wish their customer/work relations went much better than they currently do.

#9: There Is No Frappe:  I agree, sort of.  A coffee/espresso from McDonald’s is not a coffee/espresso drink.  At all.  I know.  I’ve tried one.  They should just ask if you want some coffee with the cup of syrup/sugar/whipped cream that they just gave you and called it coffee.  But, I can’t be upset with people calling names wrong.  There are not uniform names in the coffee shop world.  Some independent coffee shops do actually name their frozen, blended, coffee or espresso beverage Frappe.  Coffee shops also do not have uniform cup size names.  While a lot of places replicate the Starbucks tall, grande, venti style sizing, others simply use small, medium, large, while others still use vinyl records as sizing like 33, 45, 78, among other ways to be unique.  Everyone out there is trying to be Starbucks or distance themselves as much as possible.

However, apart from the wackier things like vinyl record sizes, everything’s universal.  I’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t understand that Frappe, Frappuccino, Frappa-doo-whip, Frippafrap, or any other name were synonymous with frozen blended coffee or espresso drink.  I’d also be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know that venti and large were synonymous.  If you visit a lot of different coffee places, you’re bound to mix something up, you are human after all.  So, if I, or others visit your coffee establishment and say Frappe or Venti please do not rip us a new one.  That is what is rude.  I did not tell you that your mother is a whore, so please just calm down.  Stop making assumptions that everyone walking through your door is an ignorant McDonald’s groupie.  Even if they are, you get more flies with honey than vinegar, you could expand their minds on the wonders of real espresso drinks instead of telling them to go and fuck themselves.

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