9 Ways to Practice Good Manners at the Coffee Shop

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Linh Nguyen)

Coffee shops used to be the place you just went to hang out on a lazy Sunday morning, throwing yourself down in the overstuffed chair probably bought at a garage sale. But nowadays many cafes are precise operations — every drink, food item, and fixture carefully plotted and planned.

Sometimes these places can even come off as intimidating, especially if you get a condescending barista. Blah, right? But good manners on everyone’s part will get you a long way. Here are nine essential ingredients of good coffee shop manners.

Manners Go Two Ways

I’ll stop here and say that there is no reason for baristas or anyone in a cafe to make you feel bad about yourself; if they do, turn around and leave. People working in the coffee profession have the opportunity to help you explore the wide world of coffee, and as such, the good ones are helpful, welcome questions, and serve your coffee with a smile.

However, because a lot of these people take their coffee seriously, and sometimes their customers don’t, there can be some clashing. Just as your barista should treat you with respect, you also have the opportunity to be a respectful customer. This is a two-way street, after all.

So today we are going to talk about coffee shop etiquette; the things you can do to ensure you have a positive experience, at even the geekiest of cafes. Really I could just have you watch this Portlandia sketch:

But I’ll give you my tips as well.

9 Ways to Practice Good Manners at the Coffee Shop

1. It’s polite and good manners to ask lots of questions.

If you don’t understand something on the menu, ask. This is how you find out if a coffee shop is good or not. The good ones answer your questions, help you to better understand what they are doing and what they are serving. Don’t know if you should get the Kenya or the Guatemala in your pour-over? Ask what the barista’s favorite is.

2. Refrain from using your phone while ordering.

The barista is a person; he deserves your undivided attention when ordering, not just pointing at the board and grunting like a caveman. No texting, talking, or Instagramming. That can wait five minutes until you have your coffee in hand.

3. It’s OK if they’re not serving what you want.

Just because you want a hazelnut soy latte with unicorn shavings doesn’t mean the cafe has all the ingredients on hand to make one. If they don’t have the ingredients to make the exact drink that you want, it’s not a personal attack on your preferences; they are allowed to serve what they want, too. No need to yell or get cranky; you are welcome to take your business elsewhere if you so desire.

4. Respect the work of your barista.

The days when being a barista was just a job that you picked up a few hours a week because you needed to pay rent in college are over. Most likely the person across the counter making your coffee takes their profession seriously, and that means you should take your drink seriously. I don’t mean in a this is the most important cup you’ll ever drink in your life kind of way, but at the very least, appreciate what’s in the cup in front of you and acknowledge that the person put some effort into making it. No walking over to the trash can to

dump out a little

5. Leave a tip.

Don’t be that jerk.

6. Be mindful of your wifi time.

A cafe is not a spot for you to sit and hang out all day while refilling a $2 cup of coffee. Unless, of course, it’s branded as such. Sure, some people feel at their most productive while they are working in a cafe (I do!), and that’s fine, but it’s important to be reasonable and self-aware about the amount of time you spend doing it. Hang for a bit, do some work, and then if a couple of hours have passed, either get more coffee (and probably a piece of cake, which you are craving by now anyway), or just head to another cafe.

And remember that some of the best cafes are the ones that are community hubs, the places that people come to interact with each other. Maybe for just a few minutes you could shut your computer and be a part of that. You never know who you’ll meet.

7. Don’t be messy.

The people working at a cafe have better things to do than clean up your brownie crumbs. Please eat and drink like a responsible person, and if you spilled a little, be kind enough to wipe it up with a napkin.

8. Take that call outside.

I don’t care if it’s a business call or catching up with your best friend — no one in the cafe wants to hear it. If you really must take a call in a cafe — for example, you’re a freelance journalist and you’re doing an interview and there is nowhere else to go (been there) — be as quiet as humanly possible and keep things short and sweet.

9. Practice random acts of kindness.

Pay for someone’s coffee. Give your barista an extra-huge tip. Leave a book with a note that says “free” on it. The world would be a better place if we were all a little nicer to each other. And you never know when that good cafe karma is going to pay off in the future.

What are your coffee shop pet peeves, when it comes to etiquette?