Monday, January 31, 2011

Cafe Etiquette

At this point, so many writers hang out and write at coffee shops that it's practically a cliche. But let's face it: coffee shops are a great place to write. So for those of you who have never worked as a barista, let me give you some tips to make sure that you always enjoy your time at the cafe, and your friendly, neighborhood coffee drones remain happy to see you whenever you walk through the door.

Rule One: Always, without exception, Buy something. If you're going to hang out in their space, especially if it's for more than an hour, it's rude not to "rent" it from them. After all, they're there to run a business, not give you free wifi and water. It doesn't have to be much. If you don't like coffee, get a tea. Don't want something to drink? Get a scone, a muffin, a sandwich. Just spend some money.

Rule Two: Tip well. If you're eating up their table-space with your computer day in and day out, please make sure you tip. I prefer to give a dollar per transaction, but it doesn't have to be THAT high. Fifty cents on a large coffee is still good. Just don't give them a handful of pennies. But these folks don't make coffee because it's a great hobby. They're actually trying to make a living. And they ARE going to talk about you when you're not around. Would you rather be the guy/gal who's fought over because you tip well? Or the guy/gal who makes them cringe whenever you walk through the door?

Rule Three: Control Your Kids! This cannot be emphasized enough. The coffee shop is not, I repeat IS NOT!!! a jungle-gym, daycare center, babysitting facility, etc.. If you want to take your kids, that's great. It's important to spend time with them, but instead of letting them run around, scream, knock things off of the shelf, and wreak havoc, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to behave in public. Inside voices, manners that don't drive the other customers bonkers, how and when to control one's energy: all of these are great lessons to be taught in a coffee shop.

Rule Four: No One Cares About Your Book. I've read this one before, but it bears repeating. Unless the barista asks you specifically, they don't care, and they have more important things to do than listen to you prattle on about your novel. Your beta group is where you need to go to get feedback, advice on what to do next, etc.. The coffee drones are too busy. And if they're not too busy, then they don't want you wasting their free time. Wait until they ask you to tell them more than, "Yeah, I'm working on a book." But even then, they probably won't care until you're published.

Rule Five: They Know More About Coffee Than You Ever Will. That's a fact. Unless you own a plantation, coffee shop (that didn't get run into the ground), or roasting house, they will ALWAYS know more about how coffee should be prepared, how it's prepared at that cafe, and how your inane, snobby, specialty drink got invented in Venice in 1953 to commemorate the return of some painting nobody's seen since that day. As I said before, they're there to make a living, not hear a historical lecture.

Rule Six: They Know How To Do Their Job. Unless they're new, in which case, their coworkers are going to help them. Really, they know what they're doing. And if you've never served coffee, then you don't know better. If one barista is better than another, then it's understandable that you would rather get coffee from them. But don't try to "train" them. They see the spill on the counter, they hear the buzzer going off that tells them to rebrew the coffee, and they know how to make a cappuccino just the way you like it. If it takes a try or two, especially if they're new, show some patience... and tip them for trying. They'll REALLY try in the future.

If you follow those rules and just use common sense manners (please, thank you, etc.), then your neighborhood baristas will love you. And you may even get free drinks every now and then. But make sure you tip for those, too!

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