Caring for Your Barista

The life of a barista is difficult enough without the addition of rude, impatient customers. Inside man Jeff Merrion reveals a series of tips to help you avoid being an asshole at your local coffee joint.

Working as a purveyor of premium coffee and tea beverages, I interact with a large cross-section of society. Most people are polite, understanding, and pass through my day like a cumulus cloud across a summer sky.

What a pity, though, that the douche bags are like a bee sting; they piss you off when they occur, and they bother you for the rest of the day with swelling and apitoxins. Maybe that metaphor is a stretch, but the point is that one asshole can ruin a day.

While I would never stoop to such deplorable pettiness as to alter the quality of a customer’s drink in response to douchebaggery, stories flutter about the grapevine like rabbits in the bramble about baristas repaying discourtesy by customers with low quality drinks.

A friend of mine who worked for a rival coffee shop told me that, when a customer was rude at the register, the register employee would shout to the barista, “Did you play the lottery today?” This was a signal to the barista to make a low quality beverage.

Now you, the consumer, might be saying, “I, the consumer, am paying five dollars in exchange for this high quality combination of espresso and milk. I deserve nothing less than the best.”

This is true, but the poor sap who is working for a pittance to provide you this luxury also deserves, if not respect, at the very least feigned politeness.

As a service to the consumer, I have compiled some nuggets of wisdom that he or she should consider when strutting up to the counter, credit card in hand.

1. Acceptable responses to the question “Hello, how are you doing today?”:

  • “Good, thanks,”
  • “Fine,”
  • “Wonderful,”
  • Even better: “Good, thank you, and how are you?”
  • Unacceptable responses include:

  • “Grande latte,”
  • “I’ll have a coffee,”
  • “What do you have brewing today?”
  • Failure to respond to the question in a polite manner may result in your beverage being decaffeinated, overheated, or thrown at you by baristas with a lack of self-control.

    2. The barista was not hired under the Americans with Disabilities Act and, in all likelihood, is not clinically retarded. There is absolutely no need to hover and watch to make sure that he or she is putting the correct type of milk into your latte. The giant “N” that is marked on the cup assures that you will be getting nonfat milk, provided that you do not ask, “Are you sure that’s nonfat?” Inquiring this is almost certain to get you a disdainful glare. If the barista is involved with the occult, it’s likely that he or she will make a voodoo doll effigy of you and torture it in the most barbarous manner possible with heated pins and needles.

    3. Unless you frequent a very small independent coffee shop, it’s unlikely that the person ringing you up for your drink has anything to do with price-setting. No, the person to blame for this is actually Mr. Market Economy. You don’t yell at the gas station employee when gas prices increase, so when coffee prices increase you shouldn’t yell at your barista. So, upon finding that your luxury espresso beverage has increased in price, correct responses include:

  • “I sure find supply and demand curves interesting. Isn’t it fascinating that this price increase is not sufficient to prevent me from purchasing this five dollar coffee beverage?”
  • “God damn it! The invisible hand has fucked me again! Oh well, my support of such a system is made tacit through my participation in it.”
  • Unacceptable responses include:

  • “[Sigh] Really? That seems a bit high.”
  • “[Sigh] This is ridiculous. People will stop coming in soon!”
  • “[Sigh].”
  • 4. This one relates to number three. Most establishments have very strict cash-handling procedures, over which the register-working minions have no control. As a result, most establishments cannot accept bills over twenty dollars. Under no circumstance is it acceptable to blame the person at the register for the inconvenience of you not being able to break your absurdly large bill. You could have gotten it changed at the bank, whose job it is to do that.

    5. For a barista on a busy morning, life is reduced to a Sisyphean nightmare: no matter how many drinks he or she gets made, there is always another ten lined up. It is a stressful job. It can suck, and, just like you, he or she can make a mistake. Bearing this in mind, the following is a list of acceptable responses to discovering your drink was made incorrectly:

  • “I know you’re busy, and I’m sorry to bother you, but this [insert silly five dollar drink name] is made incorrectly. Would you mind rectifying this error in whatever manner causes you the least stress?”
  • Unacceptable responses include:

  • “This is wrong. I’m going to need you to make it again.”
  • “This isn’t what I asked for. Make me another. And hurry, I’m five minutes late for work.”
  • All you have to do to make the interminable workday of your barista better and to compliment the quality of service you receive is to follow those few rules. It helps to realize that the person serving you is, in all likelihood, a very kind, intelligent person who wishes you no ill.

    Like most problems in life, the situation can be reduced to that great nugget of Jesus Christ: “Treat others as you would have them treat you–and remember, tips are always appreciated.”

    While he excels in most other areas, Jeff Merrion’s spatial logic falls within the lower third percentile of United States citizens. He is a Religious Studies major and, as such, has a long life of administrative assistantship awaiting him. To potential employers: Jeff makes a mean cup of coffee.