I started working at a coffee shop back in November. Initially, I expected the job to change my work ethic and teach me a lot about the industry. After a few weeks, though, I began to see that I could learn more about people through my daily experience with them as customers if I just paid attention. Then, I found out people can be grumpy, sometimes rude, and surprisingly disrespectful in certain situations. At this point, I started to want to be a better customer than those people, to show the things that I hadn’t seen in those at my job.

Now, for the average traveler, coffee drinker, of even frequenter of a local café, it might seem perfectly acceptable to walk in, quickly say hello, and then tell the person behind the counter what you want. The wording on the second part of that sentence is very particular: tell the person what you want. Because really, when you think about it, you don’t care about them. All you want is to get that sandwich or cup of coffee so your day can be better. All you want is to be a consumer, living your happy little life behind a wall.

Not everyone is rude to the barista or waitress. Some people have bad days, I know. However, this article is the average barista asking average customers everywhere to simply care more. How might you go about this? Good news! I’ve collected all my ideas on how to be a better customer (and consumer) and put them in this post. I’ve even made it very easy to read in list form.

Penderworth’s Tips for Being a Better Customer (And an Affable Person)

  1. Don’t act like you “own” any place you frequent, no matter how often you’re there, unless you’ve actually invested in it or someone has given you explicit permission to do so. You can’t just assume you have seniority in a public place.
  2. Ask the person behind the counter how they’re doing on this fine day and maybe give them a compliment about their t-shirt. Even if you don’t care about them at first, forcing yourself to ask will eventually bring you round.
  3. Before you go to write your ridiculous Yelp review about why the food was bad and your day has been ruined and everything in life is meaningless, at least try to think about things from the server’s standpoint. Consider that their grandmother could have just died — I once met a service station clerk in tears because her husband died that morning — or that they are having a hard time with their significant other. Consider that, if this were you and you didn’t want to share what was going on, there are things that would make your day better, and then try to encourage the server, clerk, or barista.
  4. Do not walk in, glance at the menu, and say, “Hi, how are you? I’d like … ” That is the most annoying thing to hear as the person behind the counter. I ask people how they’re doing and they answer me with “I want” or “Can I get a”. Other people who work at my coffee shop say, “People are just like that. They don’t care about the guy serving them coffee.” Let’s change that! People don’t have to be “just, like that”.
  5. Rather than beginning the conversation with, “I’d like”, “Can I have”, “Can I get”, “I want”, or “Make me a” begin your request with, “May I please have”, with or without the please. “Can I” is an insult to yourself, implying that you don’t know if you possess the ability to “have” something. “I’d like” is grammatically incorrect (yes, I know this is the way of oral communication) and ends up being a statement more than a request. You can use “I’d like” as a response to the typical barista question of, “What can I get started for you today?” but otherwise it’s silly.
  6. If there’s a problem, don’t sit there and talk to your friends about it. Instead, tell the employee what’s wrong and just ask for what you need. If the coffee doesn’t taste good, a refund will likely be issued and an apology given. You can write a review telling the whole story, rather than giving the business a measly one star for bad coffee.
In the past, I’ve worked in retail for one year, lifeguarding for two, cleaned a wood shop and shoveled the snow there for three, and written controversial articles for a newspaper for about three months. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of the flak, to listen to people and their problems. The worst thing, though, is when they don’t even care to tell you why they’re so unhappy. The time when you try to elicit some sort of response and all they do is sit there silently with a detesting expression on their face.

One of these days I’ll write about being a better employee in the service industry.