Ask an International Etiquette Expert: National Coffee Day Manners: What Our Baristas Want Us To Know

09/29/2016 05:55 pm ET
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Across this great country, our coffee shops are some of our favorite destinations, indeed even obsessions. Especially in Austin, we adore our local coffee hangouts like Cafe Medici or Mozart’s, where the pastries and Lake Austin view are as cherished as the artful coffee designs. The popularity of the coffee house brings modern manners into the blend so we can all enjoy this shared experience. It’s all about the unwritten rules of the coffee house comfort zone. As an international coffee drinker, traveling the US from coast-to-coast, consider these tips for best practices.

1. Early Decision: Make your coffee decision before it’s your turn to order. Not sure? Step to the side, and ask if the customer behind you wants to order next. Commuters, business professionals, and travelers pop into coffees shops in a flash. The baristas are in ‘the zone’ processing orders at lightning speed. Don’t hold up the line.

2. Payment ready: Have your payment in your hand and ready to hand to the barista when it’s your turn. Cash transactions take more time than debit, credit or gift cards.

3. Custom orders: when placing a customized order that varies from the drink list, speak clearly and slowly so the barista may hear to write correctly. If the barista needs clarification, do so politely. If you need room for dairy, ask for ‘with room’ to avoid pouring off liquid later.

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4. Several drinks: When ordering two or more coffee drinks, know that your drinks may be ready after the customers in line behind you. Barista’s often prepare an entire customer order, while another barista prepares the next customer’s order. Remember larger orders are more time consuming - it’s not poor customer service.

5. Names: Be gracious if your cup name is incorrect. In a bustling shop, noise levels make it tough to hear perfectly. When I’m traveling and say ‘Sharon,’ baristas hear ‘Susan’ 50% of the time. There are numerous ways to spell Sharon: Sharron, Sherron, Sharan, and Sharonn so be flexible. At the shop where I’m a regular, this rarely happens; however when it does, I don’t comment and instead just smile.

6. Cell phones: Stay off the cell-phone when it’s your turn to order. Time your calls for before or after ordering, finish the call, don’t answer or if you must, place the call on hold. It’s mannerly to give your complete attention to the barista with a greeting. Studies reveal that insecurity is associated with rude and/or disrespectful behavior.

7. Waiting & Pick-Up: Make room for your fellow customers to pick-up their steaming-hot drinks. Sit down, or stand back from the pickup counter while waiting. When your order is ready, confirm it is yours and read the cup name. When you have your drink, go to the condiment counter to make additions. Avoid doing this at the pick-up counter with a lid-less hot coffee where you will get bumped and spill on yourself, the barista, or loved ones.

8. Sharing Space: Politely share the space and avoid the ‘boarding house’ reach at the coffee station. Timing is everything when reaching for cinnamon, chocolate, cream, skim milk, sweeteners, sugar, napkins, stirrers, and straws. Share your gratitude with a polite ‘Good morning’, ‘Pardon me’, and ‘Thanks.’

9. Clean: If you spill coffee, cream, sweetener, or sugar, please clean the counter. Bumping into black coffee on the counter-edge while wearing a winter-white suit is a game-changer. With large floor spills, alert an employee.

10. Emptying liquids: If your cup is too full, place the lid on and ask the barista to pour off the excess. Avoid pouring liquid in the trash because sharp items like stir-sticks puncture plastic bags, allowing liquids to ooze onto the floor. Slippery floors are hazardous for everyone. Besides, who wants sticky designer shoes?

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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