Coffee shop etiquette

First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 5 (August 4-17, 2015): 13

I used to dislike the smell and taste of coffee. Over the years, however, I find myself arranging meetings and study dates at coffee shops.

What started as an occasional drink of the bitter-tasting liquid out of a ceramic mug (during my early college years) has evolved into a newfound appreciation for rich, aromatic, fresh coffee.

How to become a welcome regular at your local café? Here are some suggestions:

Speak up when ordering. If it is a loud and bustling venue, the barista may not be able to hear you. No need to shout, but do modulate your voice over coffee grinders and music. Also, make up your mind what you want before getting in line.

Avoid complaining. We Tsinoys are frugal. We scrimp and save whenever possible, but complaining about outrageous prices to the staff will not help. Krizzadel Gomeceria worked as a barista in Makati for six months at a popular global coffee chain. She explains that ethical sourcing (ensuring that suppliers and workers are treated well and paid fairly) creates more value for its products. As well, the price of your cuppa covers the cost of other stuff, including free water and milk refills, wi-fi connection, comfortable furniture, relaxing music, free parking, and use of the restroom. Likewise, do not complain about the wait time when your food or beverage is made to order. Gomeceria recommends drinks from the frappuccino line for impatient customers since these take less time to prepare.

Be patient and pay attention. Put your phone down while ordering, and be mindful while waiting. Avoid going outside and missing your order being called.

Do not use speakers. Whether for entertainment or work, limit interruptions for yourself and distractions for others by using headphones. Headphones help create a personal workspace by drowning out background noise.

Order every two to three hours. Another friend of mine drank free water and free milk for his entire stay, while making use of free parking. After a few weeks, staff eventually kicked him out. The least you should do is order a drink or meal every few hours. If you are with a group and planning to occupy tables, ask everyone to buy something. Side note: Don’t take utensils home either.

Be reasonable about wi-fi use. Do not hog bandwidth by downloading torrents of movies. If you are nitpicky about wasting time (like me), save important documents on your laptop or phone, instead of downloading large files over the Internet. This is more productive and will not slow the Internet down for everyone else.

Do not hog power outlets. I patronize a busy café that caters to mostly students, and although many outlets are available, there are customers who forget to share! It is common sense to plug in only when you need to (for example, when your laptop battery is nearing 15 percent), and to use only one outlet. If taking a laptop with you, bring your phone’s USB cable as well, to charge your phone (if you need to) from the laptop.

Do not take up a large table for yourself. If the place is getting crowded, it is time to share. Take your bag and other stuff off that extra seat, place them on the floor or on your lap, and hang your jacket over your chair. Let someone else sit at your table too.

Be nice to everyone. Share a kind gesture like offering seats or sharing an electrical outlet. In case of minor spills, ask for napkins instead of waiting on busy staff to accommodate you. As a courtesy to both staff and the next customer, return furniture to their proper places after rearranging them.

Trust the barista to take care of you. If you have questions about the menu, or prefer a specific brew to your coffee, inform the barista. “Customers shouldn’t be afraid to tell us exactly how they like their coffee, since we want to get the customers’ drinks right every time,” Gomeceria says. “Also, they shouldn’t hesitate to ask about coffee and other stuff they’re curious about. There’s so much their barista can share.” The staff feel good when you feel good. Tips reward and encourage good service, so don’t skimp on tips if you enjoyed your stay. “It’s always a pleasant surprise when I find out how much a customer enjoys the service I provide as their barista,” Gomeceria says. “We’ve had regulars who treated us like old friends. It’s just amazing to know we’ve made a connection with all these nice people, and that they appreciate our efforts to provide the best service and the best drinks possible.”