Former Barista Tells All: 5 Tips to Ordering Drinks like a Regular

Posted by / Monday, February 18th, 2013


That's a whole latte caffeine right there. Photo credit: Lorin Drinkard

As a longtime drink maker + register girl at the Boo (or the Moose, as my pops lovingly refers to it) + all-around coffee obsessor, I’ve learned a thing or two (OK, five) about how to make sure your order is more put together than a storefront display on Valentine’s. Here we go.

1. Drink. name. first. Unbeknownst to folks on the other side of the counter, many registers (like the ones at Caribou) require punching in latte/BOTD (brew of the day)/mocha before any caffeinated sub-titles can be added. That means prior to the nonfat, soy, extra hot just-like-you-like-it verbal extravaganza, get your actual beverage title out there. Otherwise, they’re just thinking, “Uh huh, just tell me the drink…Americano? Hot chocolate? Justtellmeyourdrink…”

2. Hot or cold? It’s the middle of summer, sweat is beading around our faces thanks to the July heat pouring in through the open garage door (That’s how we rolled in Shirlington!). Great for dog-walking customers – they can tie up their pooch, walk a few feet to get a drink while not actually opening a door. Unfortunately, work aprons aren’t thin or, uh, breathable so outdoor humidity is the worst (steamed milk facials, oven blasts, hot tea overflow). Believe it, though, that just when you create another iced latte, the drink-bearing customer will return with their beautifully condensating beverage and say,

“Oh yeah…I wanted this hot.”

When you have a screen full of other drinks to be made, this poses a bit of a time-to-drink problem.

Save your coffeemaker some sweat – and yourself a glance through slitted eyes – by stating up front if you want it hot (coffee, tea or mixed bev) or cold (anything but a cappuccino can be iced, since a cappuccino is basically Italian for “gobs of foam produced by steaming milk.” Erin, I’d sign your petition).

And by coldblended or over ice?

As much as they’d like to be able to read your minds, it’s not a gift that everyone has. I once tried guessing drink orders as customers walked in – oh, he’s definitely a medium latte, extra shot. She has got to be a soy cappuccino, dry. All I can say is that some people order surprisingly different drinks than one could expect. Never judge a customer by his or her beverage.

But you should check out Bitter Barista and the snazzy coffee-related rantings there, such as:

No. 129: If you order three Americanos and watch me make them, then the words “oh, I wanted those iced” become inconsequential.

3.    BYOMug Etiquette:

        a.    Lids off. For health standards–and barista’s sanity–whip off that top before handing over your travel mug. Pinky promise your order will still be steaming by the time it’s called out at the bar. I cannot tell you how many times screw-off lids have failed to separate from the tumbler and have fallen–hit the floor, in milk pitchers, on the counter. Sure, we wipe it down/sanitize the bar as we go, but do you really want counter-flavored coffee? 

       b.    What’s inside? When three-day old dark roast is sloshing around and it needs to be tossed, give a heads up. Already have a perfect concoction of half & half to raw sugar? Let your barista know that, too. Otherwise #accidentaltossage. As in, SURPRISE, it’s a waterfall of cream

4. Say NO to cellphones. ***This should actually be Tip No. 1, seeing as it’s one of the biggest pet peeves for baristas: customers who are chatting it up on their iPhone, then get to the register and continue carrying on about groceries to buy, who is walking Pugsy, while the line of waiting customers continues to grow. Listen, I’m all for catching up, phone dates, making appointments but we’re just trying to serve you.

Help us help you–put the Android/Blackberry down and tell us what kind of drink we can make.

Your mom/boyfriend/auto shop will understand. Heck, buy them a drink, too. Just get their order before you get to the counter. In the middle of something? Acknowledge the register and motion for the person behind you to step up.  

If you’ve made it this far in the ordering process, congratulations! You are well on your way to becoming Best Coffee Shop Customer of the Century.

5. Show your gratitude. Yes, your drink + coffee cake + newspaper  or cinnamon gum may run up to $6 or $7. This is not a reason to tip any less for your espresso shot-pouring pal. Let’s be real; the tip bucket, divided by employee/shift, is probably used for essentials like groceries and gas money (I know mine was). 

And here’s a little secret: big tippers = extra espresso shots, bigger smiles from employees and all-around faster/better drinks.

BONUS: Don’t order decaf at 6 a.m. Just don’t. We shudder at the sound of the ‘D’ word. But you’re missing out on all the goodness that is caffeine. This pretty much sums it up. 

For more barista tells all, check back on Gut Check next Monday afternoon, where we’ll be discussing coffee-tique (the etiquette of coffee shops). 

We want to know: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in a coffee shop? Tell us your story below. 

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2 Responses

FormerBarista Says:

As a former Starbucks barista the idea that you’re entitlted to a tip is ridiculous. You’re already getting paid $8+ per hour, not the $2.75 a waiter is making. Not to mention you’re not running around. I’m not saying you should never tip, but I would think a dollar a week is enough.

SW Says:

@FormerBarista: totally agree. I’m getting tired of seeing more tip jars and tip lines on credit card receipts at counters — feels like more people are holding their hands out these days. I like tipping when I want to, but I dislike being guilted into tipping.

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