Eight Ways To Become A Better Coffee Shop Customer

Today we (jokingly) get to discuss being a good coffee shop customer, something that has been simmering in my brain for a little while now. In the sprawling age of coffee chains like Starbucks (and the widespread confusion it has precipitated as to the real identity of a macchiato), the quality shops have become dearer to us. The cafes and coffee bars which,
while draining our pockets, fill our need for high quality beverages and a totally different experience. I never realized that living an hour from the closest non-chain coffee shop was as wretched as it was until a sister cafe opened in the small town a few miles north of my house. How we got so lucky was beyond my understanding until someone told me that the owner himself is from our small town. He wanted to take a risk on pouring into our coffee-starved agricultural community and I love him for it. To never drive more than fifteen or twenty minutes for a cup of coffee from my favorite shop seems too good a fate to be mine, but somehow it has befallen me. "Befallen" - an apt word to describe the havoc wreaked upon my wallet. But to be able to fulfill the role of a regular? To form a habit of arriving at the shop at a consistent time on a consistent day to order a consistent thing is something I had not realized would give me as much pleasure as it does. I am willing to pay for this first-world pleasure. As I've made friends with the baristas and kitchen staff, I have learned several things about coffee shop etiquette and how to become a proper regular. My tongue remains firmly in my cheek as I sketch out a plan to follow if you want to try. Another thing I should say is that all of these points are things I learned after I'd done them. I never went into my coffee shop intending to be anything but a girl who always comes in for coffee and rather predictably orders avocado toast. For some reason the staff of my coffee shop have wholesale adopted me. I'm very happy to belong to weekday mornings and their quiet little storefront.

1.) Please tip
Much like any food service, baristas and other coffee shop people depend largely on tips to flesh out their income. I confess I had not thought terribly hard about this aspect until chatting with the staff, but it makes sense. One would expect to tip at a bar - and a coffee bar is no different, though espresso rather than alcohol, flows quickest. It needn't be much, but any bit is something and you shall endear yourself to the staff quicker if you frequently acknowledge their skill with an extra dollar. Unlike a cup of gas station coffee, there is real skill involved in making a cappuccino, a latte, or pulling a shot of espresso. It takes time and talent and is worth recognizing.

2.) Be patient and ready to learn
If you're not accustomed to a more "craft coffee" kind of shop, there's plenty to learn. The small shops do it different to Starbucks. Trust them when they tell you that if you like Starbucks, you will want to order a caramel-vanilla latte, not a macchiato. If you're unsure what you like, say so and they can guide you to something that fits your preferences. Also, be patient. Constantly returning to the counter to see if your pour-over is ready yet is not as near as productive as it is annoying. Depending on what you order, your drink might take a little longer to get out - examples of drinks that commonly take a minute are tea-based hot drinks (the tea has to steep), French press coffee, or a pour-over. Your barista has this down to a literal science. Don't worry, it's coming.

3.) Don't bother with earbuds
Of course if you go to a coffee shop and wish to be left alone, earbuds will satisfy. But I primarily have used earbuds in the past to listen to my own playlist and have decided that I'm not a fan of the signal it sends. You will likely never be bothered if you put in your earbuds upon entry, but you will also miss out on quite a lot of conversation, jokes, and all of the incidentals that make belonging to a certain place so nice. I recommend leaving your headphones in your laptop case and absorbing the full coffee shop experience: clattering dishes, hissing frothers, and the hum of daily living.

4.) Show up and stay
If you want to befriend the staff, it helps to actually spend time with them. Two mornings a week I leave early for work and take other "work" (usually my paints or a notebook) and sit for a couple of hours at the shop. My aim, of course, was not strictly the social angle, but it is nice to shake oneself out of bed and take your work elsewhere. It never fails to jolt me into a better mood for working. I tend to be more productive when I've routed myself away from home. These hours are some of my favorites. They're commonly spent in filling art commissions or sketching out my latest ideas for recipes or blog posts. An unrealized side of this is that your occupation (especially if it's something like painting) will lead to questions from other customers too. It is fun to have something like art to break the ice and lead into conversations. People really are friendlier than you might expect and always ready to pass on encouragement.

5.) Feel free to sit at the bar 
Much like not putting on headphones, sitting at the bar is an easy way to show that you want to talk and you want to be part of what's going on. While it can be uncomfortable to sit alone at a bar under some circumstances, if you have chosen a coffee shop as your own and have some reasonable employment with you, you'll soon find that it feels perfectly natural and you become a sort of household pet. Perks of being a household pet include the fact that people tend to feed you nice things and are close enough to notice when you've once again rinsed your paintbrush in your cortado. This might lead to a barista of the generous variety remaking your drink and surprising you with a hot, fresh, one. I have to admit that I used to avoid the bar until I realized how fun it can be. Life at the bar gets awkward if you're determined to be a dull stick. Baristas are people too and life can get dull for them when a stream of caffeine-hungry people file through all day and barely make eye contact. Make use of that bar and have fun getting to know the people behind the counter.

6.) Ask questions 
If things are quiet at your coffee shop (as they usually are on the early mornings when I go) there is plenty of time for chatting with the baristas. Ask them about their job, things they do for fun, how they got into the coffee scene, what they want to do with their lives, and how their banana pudding recipe quest is going. The more you talk with these caffeinated life-savers, the more familiar you'll be with the cool human creating your latte.

7.) Don't ask questions 
On the other hand, if business is booming and the coffee shop is full of people already talking, it might be least stressful on your barista if you refrain from asking questions just then. Knowing when to chat and when the heed your own business and leave them to pull shots is quite valuable. It is very hard to think about a line-up of drinks, steam milk, pull espresso shots, pour a Chemex properly, and answer your questions about soccer.

8.) Be tidy
The people at my coffee shop are saints when it comes to me bringing in my art supplies. I try to keep it tidy and not take up any more space than a person with a book, but chances are that I will make a bit of a mess as I go. Even with a tidy pan of watercolors, you are bound to have paintbrushes, pens, and an eraser in front of your artwork, not to mention your cup and your avocado toast. Be aware of your sprawl, and try to keep it contained. Then when you are finished, do try to clean up after yourself. If there's been any spillage, wipe it up. If you've finished your food and drink, take your dishes to the stand immediately and consolidate your brouhaha.

And there you have it! Eight easy steps to becoming a good coffee shop customer. All exaggeration aside, there is something really nice about the consistency of belonging to a crowd of regulars. Many thanks to the staff of Cure Coffeehouse for your patience and friendship and amazing coffee. I love you, and I'm so happy you're here. What coffee-shop has your heart? Why not thank them in the comments? I am so grateful for a place that steals my money in such a happy, coffee-flavored way!


  1. Cute post! I love it. It makes me wish I liked coffee better. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I wish I wasn't such an introvert, but I do try to tip.

  3. I just left a nice long comment and then accidentally signed out of my account instead of hitting publish. *sigh*

    Such a fun post! I don't drink coffee, but I adore coffee shops (and tea shops, when I can find them). :)

  4. This good to know, thank you for taking the time to share them! It all makes sense but I hadn’t thought of many of them though. As to the cost, being a coffee enthusiast I have been roasting and brewing my own coffee...trying my hand at the French Press and pour over as well as a few other brewing techniques (like using a Moka pot or Phin). We’ll see if it’s part of the Lord’s plans but I’ve wanted to open my of cafe someday. :)

  5. Well, that sounds entertaining and much more economical. Where do you get your unroasted beans?

    1. I order them online from various companies (I usually just order whatever is on sale). My last order was from Burman Coffee. I recently found out about a couple places within 1 to 1 1/2 hr drive that sells green coffee beans so maybe I’ll check them out.

      There is definitely something special about roasting your own coffee...it truly is an art (one which I am only a novice right now). And the whole process of roasting, grinding and brewing just makes that final cup of coffee so much better. :)