Whilst sat in my local coffee shop a few weeks back trying to work out precisely which etiquette faux pas really got me riled, I had a bit of a brainwave whilst getting rather frustrated by the small child stood on the same seating I had parked my bottom to enjoy my Cappuccino, staring intently at me whilst picking his nose. Lovely. The parent couldn’t have cared less and I had to avoid awkward eye contact with this golden nose treasure seeker for quite some time. More than mildly annoying.
This was just the start of my thought process on Coffee shop etiquette.
It was a lightbulb moment, being a user of coffee shops and making them my pop-up office from time to time, I realised that there’s a lot to be said when it comes to coffee shop do’s and don’ts and how to (and very much how not to) behave.
Not only can certain faux pas be noted from a customer perspective, but also very much from your disgruntled barista too, of which I spoke to a fair few (quoted anonymously below) around the county, as well as around our fair country to get their perspective on this well (or not so) mannered topic.
Costa Coffee in the UK have started to change their wifi password every hour, printing a fresh password on drinks receipts to ensure that their customer doesn’t just camp for free. Personally, I think this is a cunning idea and I won’t knock them for trying it, I’m actually all for it. We are all guilty of making cafes and coffee shops our own personal office space, myself included, so with this concept I do believe some rules should be adhered to so as not to make enemies with your local coffee pit stop – it’s not a free office facility, it’s their business too, so don’t take advantage.
I think as customers, myself included, some lessons can be learnt here.
Firstly, for the love of the cake gods, buy something!
And don’t take your own food in either, you wouldn’t walk into a pub with a Big Mac Meal and proceed to eat in front of them now would you? Well, I would at least hope not!
Don’t change your mind on your drink order mid-stream.
Know what you want and stick to your decision, it costs the shop money and time to change your order half way through. And don’t take anything away from the counter until you have paid for it, it can confuse the staff if they haven’t accounted for everything, give them a little time and respect for a tricky balancing act.
Build up a relationship with your barista.
If you camp in the same place regularly, talk to the staff & owners, build a relationship and show your support – tell your family, followers, friends and even your colleagues about this fantastic place should they ever have a need for a drink or something to eat. This also goes for fellow customers, don’t ignore people, acknowledge them, especially if you come across them on a regular basis, you never know who they are and where a conversation may take you both, so use this networking opportunity positively.
On the same note, if you are a regular customer, please consider tipping.
Some small/independent coffee shops use their tips to take a team night out once a year instead of dividing out 50p a week for peanuts. If you visit a lot, leave some change, it’s a good thing to do for them… and for you. Or at the very least give your GOOD feedback when you have it, as we are all guilty of only complaining and giving bad feedback!
Don’t take up a large table for yourself.
If there is a communal table, use this to free up a space for a larger group if there is this option to do so. If you do sit on a larger table by yourself, don’t place your items on or in front/behind other chairs or spread out so nobody can share your space, it may be required during peak times. This also goes for pushchairs, suitcases and bags, show some consideration people!
Nursing a glass of tap water for the entirety of your stay is not cool.
Again, you would think this goes without saying, but it seems it’s a common occurrence and one that is simply not OK when spending hours plugging in your laptop and making yourself quite at home – See the first point for a refresher(!) And if you do want to plug in your laptop, ask the venue if it’s OK to do so, their electricity bill is already sky high, so again, be thoughtful here.
On the same note, you may want to stream live TV whilst sat drinking your Mocha, but are you aware that if the venue is not the owner of a TV License and you are watching whilst plugged into their walls, then they are liable?!… Yet another perfectly good reason to ASK before plugging into their establishment.
If you fancy typing away to some tunes, please put on your headphones.
Apparently the newest way to annoy the general public in epic style is to listen to your new “Eminem” Album on full blast, through your tinny iPhone speakers. Not cool, plug in, make yourself a little worse off in the hearing department and don’t make other people endure your own weird taste in music.
On the subject of sound, speak up when ordering your coffee.
If it’s a loud or bustling venue, sometimes the staff may not be able to hear you, no need to scream it out, but don’t whisper your order so it frustrates everybody involved.
It wouldn’t hurt to help clear away your table if you can.
Even to just put everything on your tray or stacked on your plate ready to be picked up, rather than leaving everything spread messily around the table. Some coffee shop owners don’t like you to bring it to the counter as they may have nowhere to put it when busy, so this goes back to building a relationship with your barista once again, find out how you can help them.
The “Im paying for this, so I don’t need to clear it up” attitude is not welcomed.
Especially for smaller venues with stretched staff levels in peak periods, show some common courtesy.
If you spill your food or drink on the table, it doesn’t take much to grab a napkin or ask for a cloth, truly.
Don’t complain about the price without knowing the product.
Apparently this is a regular problem and people don’t understand the quality that goes into beverages or into food, especially cakes. This isn’t helped by supermarket treats costing a fraction of independent venues, but trust me, there is a huge difference in quality. On the same note, don’t complain that the service is slow when your food is made to order and you aren’t in a fast food restaurant.
Don’t steal the teaspoons. Really.
I can’t imagine how much money is spent each year on replacing stolen teaspoons alone, not forgetting coffee cups, milk jugs, sugar bowls, napkins and cake forks… I wonder if anybody has actually conducted a study on the loss of teaspoons in the UK?!
You really can’t get away with ordering a pot of tea for one… for 2 people.
Then ask for hot water to top it up! Do you honestly want to be at the receiving end of the “death stare” from your waitress?!
I’ve since seen a man order an “Americano” with a spare cup, share it with his wife, then open up a box of shop-bought ice creams and proceed to make the venue their own kitchen for an hour, even making use of the bathroom facilities with their 4 equally arrogant children. I didn’t quite believe people did this until I saw it with my OWN EYES!
We’ve heard this one before, but don’t order whilst on your phone.
It’s just plain rude, either step away until you are ready to speak to the person in front of you or wait until you are sat down to take that all important call. Also keep conversation to an acceptable level, nobody needs to hear what you told your doctor this morning or how much money you are making whilst sat here drinking your hot chocolate – we don’t care!
Don’t assume you are wealthier/smarter/better off than your server.
Some baristas are grade A students, with degrees, they may even have their own business on the side, so don’t talk down to them, why on earth would you feel you needed to?!…
These rules don’t just stop at business people or writers in need of a semi-permanent retreat, this goes to any customers, including those taking children for a treat.
If you are bringing in baby food – please clear it up after yourselves. It’s really not OK to expect staff to scrape mushed bananas and raisins from the chairs. This goes without saying surely?
Don’t feed your child their own food. Fruit or a favourite drink may be OK if the shop doesn’t sell it, but ask first out of courtesy. Cookies out of a bag, cake or ice cream from the local supermarket is not on if this is what your chosen venue is selling. And whilst the kids are eating, don’t let them run around pressing noses up against the clean glass shelves or scoot around on those horrendous scooters.. it’s not a playground.
And lastly, say thank you.
With a smile to make it even more pleasurable for you and for your coffee wizard! It costs nothing to say and will make for a nice experience all round, especially if you have been a pain in the panini whilst visiting! And if you KNOW you have caused problems, apologise. I’ve done it myself before and I would hope that it helped to diffuse any awkwardness.
Are you a “coffee shop camper” or a disgruntled barista who has to endure bad behaviour from customers on a daily basis? … I would love to know your thoughts below, so do leave a comment.
With special thanks to all coffee shop owners and baristas involved in the research for this article, they know who they are! It’s been amusing and some comments I haven’t felt that I can write due to their serious passion and hatred towards certain mannerisms, but I feel this gets the point across perfectly.
One of the chaps I spoke to even shared this story with me, so if you have a wicked sense of humour, like myself, then you may find this coffee shop tale very amusing indeed!
Visit my etiquette workshops page for more information on my offerings too.
As an American (living in the UK for 21 years) who is opening up a coffee shop soon, I completely concur with the idea that people should bus their own tables in a coffee shop….something that is not done in the UK, but is done in the US. I’ve brought British friends of mine to the US, and after a coffee out somewhere, I practically have to beg them to take their things from the table and place them either in the trash or in the washing tray near the entrance on their way out. This leaves the place neat and tidy for the next customers. Oh, how many times I’ve walked into a coffee shop in the UK, even Starbucks, to find all kinds of s**t on the tables. I just think that the British in general have less respect for public areas and are brought up to believe that “someone” will pick up after them. So if you come to my coffee shop, you can expect a washing tray/bin near the entrance to put your dirty cups, etc, a trash bin to put your recylables, and me….watching over who buses his/her own table and who doesn’t. Yes, I will say something if you don’t.
OOh controversial, I like it! Where will your new coffee shop be Rick? Cambridge?
I look forward to seeing more from you on your etiquette tips as a coffee shop owner… do post a link to your new gaff below should you desire, I will come and try it out if close enough!
Miss Sue Flay
I completely agree Sue. I was at a coffee shop in Luton airport recently and the amount of people spreading out on exceedingly large tables and one of the busiest times of the day was unbelievable! And when I went to clear my own cup away, the barista looked at me as if I was alien…something has to change!
Wow, that’s not shocking to hear though. I saw a family turn up at my local coffee shop a few weeks back, order one Americano with TWO cups so they could share it, then proceeded to open their own box of shop-bought ice creams, make a sticky mess, leave the rubbish all over the table and use the bathroom facilities with their 3 equally rude children for the next 20 minutes. I couldn’t quite believe what I saw and the owner in question just smiled at me, knowing about this piece I had just written. They get this sort of behaviour a LOT, it’s just not on.
You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. One of my biggest pet peeves is people bringing in their own tea bags without even thinking to check if that’s ok
Ivana, do people really do this?? So they ask for a glass of hot water for free basically, then add their own teabag?… What are these people on?
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