The Cafe Customer's Code of Conduct

Wednesday, 19 December, 2012
Glenn is a regular in the Durban coffee scene. A school teacher by profession and a trained barista, Glenn is also a respectful customer and purveyor of great coffee etiquette. Here, Glenn gives us an insight into the 5 things that he expects of us, as patrons of the wonderful establishments that serve us daily.

See more of Glenn's work at

The Cafe Customer's Code of Conduct
All words by Glenn Harpur

People are always telling coffee shop owners how to do their jobs (“Be friendly,” “Be hip but not pretentious,” “Gimme wi-fi”, “Make my milk hotter –no, colder – no, hotter,” “Stop employing guys who wear skinny jeans,” “Employ more girls who wear skinny jeans,” etc, etc – but, I reckon customers can be just as annoying as grumpy waiters and managers. Think about the guy (or girl, because in this liberated age, women are allowed to be just as annoying as men) who sits for hours, sucking his local café’s bandwidth dry, over the same cappuccino he ordered three hours previously, and who then leaves a five per-cent tip because, “Well, come on, bro, I only had one cappuccino.”

Are you aware that some primary schools have actually started issuing their pupils’ parents with spectators’ codes of conduct? As hard as it is to believe, there are grown men and women (but mostly men of the pot-belly-and-Teesav variety) out there whose lives are so sad and small, who have so little going for them in the adult world, that they get oh-so-very-angry at their tiny tots for not tackling and rucking hard enough. Now, granted, I’ve yet to see anyone actually shout at a barista over a poorly-pulled espresso, but I do get the feeling that a sort of Customers’ Code of Conduct might be helpful. I’m all for accommodating customers – I am, after all, a customer in almost all of my coffee shop related exchanges – but, what about the people behind the establishments that so many of us regard as second homes?

Here, for what it’s worth, is my Café Customers’ Code of Conduct.

1. Remember that it’s a business

It’s called a coffee shop because it is actually, like, totally a shop – as in, somewhere where you exchange money for goods. As often as the proprietor may have told you that “You’re welcome to stay as long as you want,” what you’re not hearing is the silent “to keep ordering stuff” that finishes off that sentence. Yes, coffee shops should be places that invite people to linger and take in their surroundings, but that is not an excuse to occupy a seat for an hour-and-a-half over one slice of red velvet cake. I try to make a point of ordering something every forty-five minutes or so – be it a new cup of coffee or something to eat. I think that’s just good manners. After all, if the owner wanted simply to host daily tea parties, he (or she – gosh, this is tiresome) could probably do it much more cheaply from home. There are overheads to pay, supplies to be bought and, at home, mouths to feed. “Bums on seats, laddy, bums on seats.”

2. Make life easy for your barista

Once upon a time, I went to Italy. I was surrounded by Italians. You know what I liked about them? Their confidence. The attitude of the average Italian restaurateur, in my limited experience, is, “I am the expert – that is why I own this place and you work in a bank. When I come to your bank, I will take your advice, but when you walk into my restaurant, you will take mine. Why? Because, just as you spend every day with numbers and graphs, I spend every day with these ingredients. I know how they are best served.” Depending on the café, being a barista can be a stressful job – on a busy day, you’re basically an air-traffic controller – one eye on the shots pulling, two hands engaged in steaming the milk, one eye on the machine printing out the orders, each ear tuned to a different waiter mumbling and sweating instructions at you (and you don’t even get tipped, most of the time). The last thing your long-suffering barista needs is to see an order-slip asking for “five cappuccinos, but in the latte cups, charged at the same price as a piccolo latte and served with the foam on the side.” It’s one thing to ask a bad barista to make your next cappuccino a bit cooler, but it’s another thing altogether to expect him to rewrite the menu on the fly. Remember, baristas are people too.

3. Complain

While, in light of the above point, this doesn’t seem to make sense, I believe it’s very important to let people know when standards are slipping. It’s impossible for a café owner to check every drink before it is served and you’re not doing anyone any favours by letting a slack (or merely human) barista sully the reputation of a well-regarded institution by sending out sub-standard coffee. Just remember the above point about baristas – it’s tough out there, so be nice!

4. Compliment

Waiters get all the glory. Granted, they also take a lot of the heat from difficult customers but, let’s face it – in the case of actual coffee-focused coffee shops, they’re much more expendable than the men and women behind the grinder. The problem is that, being stuck behind the bar, they seldom get to interact with their customers/fans, so don’t forget to pop by the bar on your way out to thank whoever just made your day.

(On that note, it’s been heartening to see tip jars for baristas starting to appear in some cafés.)

5. Don’t ever, ever call it eXpresso. Please, for the sake of everyone involved.

Poster via Dear Coffee I Love You.


Thank you to Glenn for his thoughts on the cafe experience we love so much. What are your thoughts on the subject? Leave comments below!

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!