As someone who was once employed in the coffee crafting arts, I can assure you: being a barista is an extremely difficult job. You have to deal with people at their crankiest every morning, endure days on end watching people pretend to work amid the glow of their laptop, and create delicate works of foam-based art that only, like, 98% of customers even bother to Instagram. A good barista might be a little snobby, but most are at least surface-level friendly.
But there is some coffee shop behavior that slowly chips away at the friendly heart underneath that gloriously asymmetrical haircut. Not outright abhorrent behavior, mind you, but little things that customers probably don’t realize are a nuisance. If you’re innocently going about your coffee-shop experience while engaging in the following behavior, you’re very likely urging a slowly simmering resentment into a hard boil.
Asking them to change the music
A barista’s musical choice -- when they’re actually allowed to make them -- is generally carefully considered, or designed to quell the insanity of enduring a full day’s worth of caffeine-addled customers either in a rush, or in no rush at all. If you really want to hear that ambient dream-pop bullshit you can’t get enough of -- or, God forbid, your own shitty band -- maybe use some headphones. But while we’re on that subject...
Cranking your headphones louder than the in-house music
This is actually just practical health advice, as cranking your noise-canceling headphones to the point that they’re drowning out the sound in the public space is really bad for your hearing. For a barista chilling at a counter -- or anyone else in the coffee shop -- the muddled junk bouncing off your inner ear and into the room is worse than the sounds of a donkey loudly choking on an apple.
Hovering at a crowded counter while waiting for a drink
We get it. You’re in a rush. Your half-soy, half-hemp milk, quarter-decaf latte is queued up. But that doesn’t mean you need to lunge at the counter every single time you see a glass touch down. Even more annoying is a barista having to reassure you with each drink that yours is coming. Weirdly, this usually applies to daily regulars who the barista calls by name, or at least by their dumb-ass order.
While it’s totally cool that you’ve chosen to chill at the coffee shop like some sort of extra from Friends, there’s little more obnoxious than a person who decides to binge watch an entire season of Friends from the prime real estate of a coffee shop couch. Yes, even if the headphones are in... the sudden, jarring laughter that emerges every time that wacky Gunther shows up simply makes you look like a crazy person staring at a phone.
Being way too familiar
Like a bartender, regulars come to know a barista pretty well, especially if they’re the type who sets up shop for the day. Customers love to chitchat, and a good barista will engage. But there are some regulars who get a little too familiar, gleaning information during the course of casual daily conversation and putting together a piecemeal life story for the barista, transitioning from friendly regular to potential stalker with alarming speed. If a barista wants to hang out after work, let them make the move. If they want to talk about their personal life, they will. But needling them with personal questions is the epitome of interrogating a captive audience. They’ll still be friendly if you remember the names of all their exes, their birthday, and their favorite songs. But they’ll also be slightly uncomfortable. Which is to say, maybe don't send them friend requests at 3am... again.
Cofficing all day without buying anything
Cofficing comes with its own set of etiquette, and breaking most rules -- including dominating large tables by spreading stuff out, taking conference calls on speaker, running wires all over the place like a cat’s cradle -- go beyond simple annoyance and into the realm of straight-up pissing them off. But most things can be alleviated by simply, you know, ordering stuff. If you’re going to be there for eight hours taking up real estate, it should go without saying that just getting a small coffee and calling it good isn’t really acceptable. Every hour or so, go order something. A refill. A croissant. Something to warrant your presence. Oh, and tip. If this was a bar, this wouldn’t even be a question.
Jamming all your trash in your glass
Honestly, this one’s at least rooted in trying to help. You cleaned up after yourself like a good human being, and you should be proud. But that little latte cup isn’t exactly a trash can, and jamming napkins, creamer containers, sugar wrappers, and stirrers into it eventually means the barista -- who, mind you, is also the dishwasher -- has to un-jam that package, which generally means scooping coffee-soaked napkins out of your backwash-laden glass. Again, you were kind enough to clean up. But maybe use a real garbage can.
Ordering like you're at Starbucks
One of the most amazing passive-aggressive revenge moves baristas love to pull is delivering a real macchiato -- just a shot of espresso with some foam -- to somebody who is clearly looking for a drink loaded with enough caramel to send Charlie Bucket into a diabetic coma. Point is, yes, they know what you mean when you say venti. But if you’re not at Starbucks and utter that word, you’re likely going to cause a barista to strain a muscle from an eye roll and play dumb, which will in turn annoy you. It's a vicious cycle.
Asking them to watch your stuff
It makes sense. Coffee makes you poop. You’ve been working from the coffee shop for hours, putting the finishing touches on your screenplay or whatever. Nature calls. You don’t want to pack up your computer, grab your bag, and take it with you. Thing is, it’s not a barista’s job to keep an eye on your stuff. Imagine how many beautiful pieces of cappuccino art have been ruined by a polite barista who feels obligated to keep one artistic eye on $3,000 worth of your personal electronics. That’s a damn burden, and one that no self-respecting barista should be expected to do. They probably will, but they won’t be happy.
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Senior editor Andy Kryza spent the better part of a decade as a barista. He intentionally refused to master the art of foam art. Follow him to ugly coffee @apkryza.