The coffee shop is one of those establishments that exists in culinary limbo. Few serve only coffee, and the role of the coffee slinger has evolved in kind, ushering in fresh opportunities for etiquette faux pas. Here, we're focusing on general cafe conduct, not the reasons your barista hates you (which could take up its own post). And while we believe in being kind to all who clock hard, long hours in the service industry, female servers face special dickishness in the workplace. We talked to several at a variety of coffee shops throughout the city. They shared the following remarkably common set of gripes.
You ask her to smile.
Let's declare 2011 The Year No One Asked a Woman to Smile. We realize that's overly ambitious, but that's how we like to live our lives! Asking ladies to smile is demeaning. Period. No one should welcome rude service, but you shouldn't expect manically perky service, either. We don't come down to the DMV, interrupt your data entry, and tell you to tap dance.
Alright, let's take a quick pause so you can get the Pavlovian Mission-hipster joke out of the way. Done? Okay, moving on. We think tattoo touching is the new pregnant-belly touching (which you also still shouldn't do), a few notches down from the nearly uncontrollable urge to over-pet Persian cats (is that just us?). Avoid the compulsion to reach out and touch the tattoo on your server's arm. Yes, it's on public display, and a compliment is always welcome, but it's just weird to be manhandled by strangers all day, no matter how kind their intentions. One server we talked to reported getting this "at least" once a week. So curb that urge.
You ask, "What's your favorite thing on the menu?"
"Honestly," one of our anonymous sources admitted,"it's just kind of an awkward question. My manager is usually hovering nearby so I'm always trying to answer in a way that won't upset him." Another told us she's vegan and doesn't drink caffeine, so it's hard for her to even find something on the menu to eat. Yet another said that her favorite thing on the menu was lousy with mushrooms, which lots of people hate. Basically, don't ever expect to get a straight answer on what you think is a very straightforward question.
You stay past closing.
One waitress recalled the time she actually vacuumed around a patron's feet, after turning off most of the lights and turning up loud "go home" music. Another told us that after announcing to the establishment that they were closed for the evening, two customers dawdled at a table, finishing their food and chatting for another 15 minutes. The longer you stay after closing, the longer you are keeping an undoubtedly bone-tired worker on the floor. They need to clean your table, put away your chairs, etc. Just ask for a to-go container and leave.
You relentlessly hit on her even after she's politely refused your advances.
Social trappings have taught you to idealize women who do things for you. (You know, like your mom ― thank you, Psych 101!) Your waitress/counterperson is constantly smiling at you, she's unfailingly kind and polite, and she's always bringing you shit. The rub, of course, is that just like getting paid to design websites or breed chihuahuas or whatever the hell it is you do, she gets paid to be nice and bring you things, and this kindness may inspire you to ask her out on a date. But once you've asked and been shot down, stop asking. Otherwise what you're doing, basically, is a form of romantic hostage-taking: You've got a captive target behind a counter who has no choice but to stand there and passively absorb your come-ons or risk getting in trouble with her boss. Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate this social minefield: If someone tells you, "I'm not allowed to date customers," she isn't secretly wishing she could. This is a fake rule. Also, don't ask for phone numbers. Just offer yours. Nothing is more awkward than being asked for your number in front of an audience and scrambling for some excuse not to provide it.
You tip with bus passes, coupons, or not at all.
The coffee slinger lives in a weird dining limbo. It's not exactly a restaurant, but sometimes there's food to be had and served. Or condiments to be delivered tableside. Sometimes there's even beer, and then things get really crazy. The point isunlike a restaurant or bar where the tipping etiquette is fairly well delineatedcoffee shop patrons tip across a spectrum. Some people always tip. Some people never tip. Some people tip for what they deem good service. And then there are those who think that since a person is stuck behind a counter, it's acceptable to dump a bus pass (yes, this actually happens) because she's not a "real waitress" and should be happy for whatever she gets. Trust us, this is both demeaning and demoralizing. You should always try to muster a dollar (preferably a 20 percent tip). Failing that, try a smile and a legitimately grateful attitude.