Coffee shop etiquette: What Charlotte’s baristas wish you knew

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Summit Coffee
Photo by Elena Rogers
Summit Coffee

The comfort of a coffee shop combined with the physical and psychological need for caffeine may not always bring out the best behavior in humans. Customers may treat the space and the people in it with less respect than intended. All you learned in kindergarten is forgotten.

Etiquette expert and Charlotte local, Aimee Symington, owner of Finesse Worldwide, reminds customers to greet baristas, stay off their phones while ordering, clean up after themselves and be aware of the space they use.

But what if coffee shop baristas and owners had the chance to write specific etiquette tips for the customers who frequent coffee shops? What would they want us to know?

Several coffee shop owners and baristas shared their thoughts — some with reluctance, others with zeal — with CharlotteFive:

(1) Be ready to order.

“Please don’t ask the barista what their favorite drink is when you don’t know what to order. Our individual tastes in coffee is very subjective. Help us help you so we can narrow down the perfect drink to make you.”

— Caryn Bedford, coffeehouse manager, Smelly Cat Coffeehouse & Roastery, 514 E. 36th St.

“To keep the queue flowing and guests happy, we like for customers to know what they would like to order when they reach the front of the line. Of course, our baristas are naturally jovial and conversational and are happy to answer necessary questions, but when possible we really appreciate when guests have made an early decision. After all, we all need our caffeine, and quickly, in the morning.”

— Todd Brinkman, director of eats and drinks, Coco and the Director, 100 W. Trade St.

“Tell your barista the size of your drink before placing a (complicated) order. That way your barista is able to grab a cup and write what your drink is instead of having to remember everything you said without writing it down.”

— Autumne Thomas, manager, Public Grounds Coffee, 21314 Catawba Ave., Cornelius

(2) We’re not Starbucks.

“Please don’t order a tall, grande or venti anything. We prepare our drinks in the size they will best be enjoyed, and the only difference between a grande or venti is the amount of milk; the amount of espresso is the same. If a jolt is what you need, a smaller size will likely do the trick.”

— Pamela Rucker, operations manager, Coco and the Director

“The Starbucks menu is not standard for all coffeehouses. You will more than likely not find those same beverages at your local independent coffee shop.  Please don’t expect us to know those specific specialty beverages they make.”

— Cheyenne Villalobos, barista supervisor and Caryn Bedford, Smelly Cat Coffeehouse

Public Grounds Coffee
Courtesy of Public Grounds Coffee

(3) Ask questions.

“Tell us your preference. Good is subjective, but if you can communicate your preferences, a barista can better direct you to an item on the menu that is hopefully good to you. If you don’t know how to communicate what you want, ask questions.”

— Lindsey Pitman, barista/owner, Trade and Lore, 3306 N. Davidson St., and 933 Louise Ave., Suite 301

“Ask for advice: If a guest knows what they like and is uncertain, it’s our job to help steer them in the proper direction. We’re always happier when you get exactly what you came in for, even if you didn’t know that’s what you wanted.”

— Staff, Queen City Grounds, 644 N. Church St.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are so many awesome coffee shops in Charlotte, and they’re all different. There’s no shame in not knowing what someone offers; your barista is there to help you get the drink you want.”

— Michelle Yow, Director of Education, Not Just Coffee, 224 E. 7th St., 222 S. Church St., 421 Providence Rd., 2000 South Blvd., 2230 Park Rd., Suite 102

(4) Coffee is not a fast-paced process.

“Don’t rush your baristas, they are concentrating on a lot of variables to make the best drink possible. Temperature, time and ratios all play a role in caring coffee and tea shops. Convenience always dampers quality when it comes to coffee. Great coffee doesn’t just happen. Baristas are more akin to sushi chefs than to fast food workers.”

— Reuben Silberman, owner, Mugshots Coffee & Tea, 255 Clanton Rd. and 4 N. Main St., Belmont

“Be understanding: if the shop is busy, please bear with us. Each espresso drink takes at least a minute and at most we can pull 2 shots at a time. If there’s a backup of 10 espresso drinks in addition to teas, drip and blended drinks, it’ll take a bit to get everything out properly. A good coffee shop makes sure quality drinks are being sent out, no matter how busy it is.”

— Staff, Queen City Grounds, 644 N. Church St.

“We try our best to always give a customer what they want. Speed sometimes isn’t a thing when we want to give them quality.”

— Cheyenne Villalobos, Smelly Cat Coffeehouse

“We’re humans, we’re fragile, and we’re doing our best. We’d love to make a real connection with you so we can keep making our cafe the place you find solace and rest in an otherwise crazy life. If there’s a line out the door, we promise we’re moving as fast as we can to bring you a cup of coffee to slow down and relax with. Oh … and tips are how we are able to make rent.”

— Caleb White, coffee maker, cup orderer, Brakeman’s Coffee and Supply, 225 N. Trade St.

(5) Coffee may be my career.

“Being a barista + working in coffee is a career, and an awesome one at that. There are so many pieces behind the scenes that make your experience at a coffee shop, and baristas are one of the most important pieces. They train and work hard and care about their craft.

“So when you visit a coffee shop, don’t assume that a barista is there waiting for the next big thing, assume instead that they’re learning about the huge world of coffee and growing and are excited about what they’re doing.”

— Dora Callahan, director of retail operations, Summit Coffee, 128 S. Main St., 120 Patterson Court Circle, Davidson

(6) Make the coffee experience social.

“Baristas want to share with you in the social reciprocity of the encounter.”

— Toby Foreman, owner HAERFEST COFFEE Roasting Co., 348 Crompton St.

“I wish that people would spend more time engaging in coffee shops rather than just working on computers. This really becomes problematic when people spread across a four-top by themselves. Share the space!”

— Chandler Wrenn, owner, Hex Coffee, 125 Remount Rd.

Not Just Coffee
Photo by Destiny Yoder
Not Just Coffee

(7) A complicated order is OK with us.

“Don’t worry about modifiers: If it’s complicated that’s OK — we’re happy that you chose our shop and are happier to oblige.”

-—Staff, Queen City Grounds, 644 N. Church St.

(8) Do your part to keep the space clean.

“Clean up after yourself, if you spill cream and sugar on counters, don’t just leave it. Don’t dump cream and sugar on counters. Throw away your waste from sugar packets and stir sticks. You’d be surprised what people just leave on counters. In the bathroom, wipe down the seat if you miss and out it down when you’re finished.”

— Tony Santoro, owner Enderly Coffee Co., 2620 Tuckaseegee Rd.

“Dirty dishes: keep an eye out for a trash can and bus station. Putting dirty dishes in the service counter next to fresh food or drinks isn’t appealing to those picking up their orders.

“Spills: they happen. Grab an employee, and we’ll mop it up and put out appropriate wet floor signage. Everyone does it — don’t be embarrassed.”

— Staff, Queen City Grounds

(9) Check your drink to make sure it’s the one you ordered.

“My pet peeve is when people take the wrong drink. Sometimes they assume the next drink is theirs when waiting because someone may have gone to the bathroom or stepped away for a minute. This causes issues with us because we then have to remake the drink that they accidentally took. They may get upset because they’re drinking something they didn’t order and don’t realize it’s not their drink.”

— Louisa Kleto and Jimmy Kleto, owners, Central Coffee Company, 719 Louise Ave. and 1700 Camden Rd., Suite 101

Responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

7 COMMENTS

  1. 100% agree with pretty much all of these! Both as a customer and a former barista.

    However, there is a pretty stark difference in attitude between the people who answered #1 (the first two answers) and the people who answered #3 lol. #1 comes across so much more transactional, vs #3 where the interaction between barista and customer is more conversational. I don’t blame them for just wanting to get customers out the door, especially during rushes, but customers should still feel like they can ask the barista for opinions on drinks to try. Maybe it is just personal preference, but when I used to be a barista I always valued the interaction with customers. Especially those who were new to the coffee shop and had questions or wanted my opinion on drinks. I liked helping people explore their options and not feel rushed just to make a decision so that I can get on to the next person in line.

    • They ARE contradictory. You’ll notice the comments made under 1 and 3 are made by different coffee shops. As “addicted to coffee” points out, the shop employees are looking at it from different angles. One set is thinking of efficiency…the 2nd set is thinking of customer experience (which is the better way to go).

  2. I can understand demonstrating common decency as a customer, but many of these suggestions are about making the employee’s experience better. Not necessarily the customer’s. The customer is still the customer.

  3. Coffee is not the same at a local coffee house as a Starbucks…Who figured this out???
    Just go to SweetDeels.com before picking up your coffee and save a few bucks and win some FREE MONEY.

    SweetDeels.com

  4. I love it when a service industry tells paying customers what is expected of them.

    By the way, I’m still looking for Chik Fila‘s rule book on ordering from them and the pet peeves of the counter staff…but can’t seem to find it.

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