Coffee Etiquette — Complete Guide to Coffee House Manners

etiquette of coffee


By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

The coffee shop has become an institution, even an obsession, as people search for their favorite cup of coffee and then, once they find it, return again and again. Shops range from the mega-chain Starbucks to casual hipster hangouts to boutique spots where the gourmet sandwiches and pastries are as craved as the artful coffees. With the rise of the coffee house has come new coffee etiquette so this shared experience can best be enjoyed by all.

Coffee Etiquette Makes Good Coffee Great!

News travels fast through coffee land, and if there’s good coffee someplace, it doesn’t take long for the word to spread and the coffee house to get busy. When places get busy, everyone has to work together to balance the caffeine energy with common courtesy, or the experience will make even the best coffee taste bitter.

It’s all about knowing and using the unspoken etiquette of coffee houses. What are these unspoken manners? I’m glad you asked! I’ve gathered them here, so that we can begin to set best practices for shared expectations and boundaries that make brewing up the perfect coffee house experience as tried and true as brewing our favorite latte.


coffee etiquette for all coffee houses

Coffee Etiquette (What Your Barista Wants You To Know)

Ordering and Pickup

1. Know what you want before it’s your turn to order. Can’t decide? Step out of line, and allow others to go before you. People often stop into coffees shops in a hurry on their way to work or an appointment, and they need to get in and out fast.

2. Have your method of payment out and ready when it’s your turn to order. This is for the same reasons as above.

3. If your order is anything other than what’s on the menu, make sure to speak clearly and slowly enough that it can be written on the cup. If the barista asks for clarification or for you to repeat something, take it as a sign of good customer service. They want to make you exactly what you want!

4. If you order two or more drinks, keep in mind that your drinks might not be ready until after those of the people behind you. That’s often because one person is often making your whole order and someone else is making the next person’s order. If you order three drinks, and the person behind you orders one beverage, theirs is probably going to be ready before yours. You aren’t being ignored or receiving inferior service. It’s just that a larger order takes longer to prepare.

5. Names, even common ones, can be difficult to hear if the shop is busy and may be difficult to spell. Don’t take it personally if your name is incorrect. There are lot of ways to spell even common names. Take Sheri for example. Other correct forms include: Sherrie, Sherri, Sherry, and even Shery. No harm is meant, and unless you plan to become a regular, there’s no need to mention the mistake to the staff.

My husband’s name is Kent. 99% of the time, his cup reads Ken. As he says, “What’s the harm? The coffee is just as good!”

6. If you’re on your cell phone while you order, place the person on the other end of the call on hold, and give the barista your full attention complete with “Hello!”, “Thank you!”, and any other common niceties. There’s a person behind that apron. People have feelings. People need validation that they’re worthy of your attention, especially since you came to them for something (coffee, in this case). Please don’t make them feel like an ATM by speaking your order with little or no eye contact and not giving them your full attention while ordering. Plus, if you’re talking on your phone and the team member needs to ask you a question for clarification, it’s difficult.

7. Stand a few feet back from the pickup counter as you wait. When people gather around the counter, it makes it difficult, and dangerous, for those being called to reach around others for their hot coffee. Also, don’t use this area to add condiments to your drink. With the lid off our coffee, it’s easy for it to be bumped and spill on us or those near us.


coffee etiquette


8. Check that your name is on the cup you take. All the same-sized drinks look alike, and the barista I interviewed said that every day several people walk out the door with someone else’s drink(s), leaving that customer waiting. When the customer speaks up that they never received what was ordered, the order gets made immediately. However, that backs up everyone else because a new order jumps in front of them, not to mention that there’s a coffee sitting there that is now wasted, and the person who went out the door with the wrong cup doesn’t have the right order either.

9. Be conscious that you’re sharing space with others at the coffee station. Almost everyone stops by the stations with milk, sugar, napkins, stirrers, straws, and small trash receptacles, and space is at a premium. Quickly get what you want and need, smile, and make eye contact with those near you saying, “Good morning!”, “Excuse me!”, and “Thank you!” It’s a good way to spread a little good will.

10. If you spill anything at the coffee counter (coffee, milk, sugar, even water), clean it up with a couple napkins. You’re helping to protect the clothes of the next person. If you notice a large spill, let an associate know. During rush hours, it’s usually all hands on deck taking and making orders, so the station can get a little messy.

Grace Note: Your barista would love for you to know that it really causes a mess when people empty liquids into the trash cans. With all the straws and stirrers in the trash bags, the bags inevitably get a hole or two, causing liquid to ooze out onto the floor when staff change the bags. Slippery floors are dangerous, and no one wants for their shoes to be drenched with liquids an hour or so into an all-day shift! If possible, pour the liquid in the bathroom sink, step outside to pour it on the grass, or place your cup as straight up as possible in the garbage can.

How Well Do You Know Your Barista?!

Don’t assume your barista is working there because of no other job options. People’s jobs should never dictate the courtesy and kindness we show them, but for some, sadly, it does.

People who love, love, love coffee enjoy working in the coffee industry! Other people choose to work there because it’s a wonderful option for them at the moment.

The best intern my husband ever had was a man working on his Master’s Degree in Economics. They met because he worked the early morning shift at Kent’s favorite coffee spot. My husband hated to lose him after the internship, but he knew it was inevitable because the guy had great insight and was personable. Before he even completed his Master’s, he was hired to start the week after graduation with a well-known firm and a six-figure salary.

When my favorite barista heard I had my first book deal, she shared with me that she was a children’s book author. As soon as I heard her last name, I recognized it! In fact, three of her books were sitting on my sons’ book shelves. She had over 15 published books and had sold over one million copies. Why was she working at the coffee shop? Writing is a solitary profession, and she shared with me that she loved being around people! Plus they had great group health insurance benefits. That’s something not easily available to anyone who is self-employed.

Ordering at The Drive Thru

1. To keep the line moving swiftly, have your payment out and ready when you get to the pick-up window. 

2. If you’re ordering more than four beverages, please order from inside the store. The drive-thru window is for people on the go, and ordering four or more beverages is going to take time to make. That means that everyone behind you isn’t going to be going anywhere for awhile. Unlike fast food restaurants, coffee houses don’t have a place for you to pull up or over to wait out of line in your car while your order is completed.

I once comforted a barista who was crying when I drove up to the window. The person several cars in front of me had ordered six blended coffee drinks. Six! The two cars behind started honking after several minutes. When those guests arrived at the window, they gave her more than a piece of their minds, blaming her for horrible customer service and even calling her “stupid,” “worthless,” and a few more names that I can’t write on this blog and wouldn’t if I could.

She wasn’t able to help make the coffees because she was stationed at the drive-thru constantly taking new orders. If she had left, no one would have been on the other side of the microphone.

I comforted her quickly, complimented her, and I paid for the car behind me hoping that would stop the next person  from complaining about their wait and start a new chain reaction — one of giving instead of taking (taking someone’s dignity with berating, cussing, and name calling).

3. When you get to the window, it’s fine to add a bakery or other already-prepared food item to your order. However, adding another drink will automatically slow down the line. Just something to keep in mind!


coffee etiquette

Using the Coffee House as Your Pop-Up Office or Family Room Is Fine As Long As You…

Ever since the TV show Friends back in 1994 showed us the coziness of the coffee house as an extension of the comfort of home, we’ve embraced the idea. Now with free Wi-Fi, it’s also often used as a pop-up office.

A lot of coffee houses embrace that feeling. We’re welcomed to come and set up shop or make ourselves comfy as long as we’re careful not to let our activities interfere with the comfort of other guests or the profits of the coffee shop.

Every house has its own culture and unspoken rules, but here are the most impacting ones that will help everyone enjoy their coffee time.

1. Unlike a regular restaurant, it’s fine to ask strangers whether you can sit next to them if there are no vacant tables. That’s why there’s an unspoken rule that when the shop is busy, it’s one chair per person. You might not want your computer bag, purse, books, or whatever you have with you to be on the floor, but that’s the place for items once the shop starts getting busy. People will be hesitant to ask you to move your belongings. Part of being a gracious member of the coffee house is to not put anyone in that position.

2. If you’ll be there an extended period of time, order a drink about once every three hours. That equals two or three coffees in an eight-hour day. If you plan on doing this regularly, tip $2 or $3 a day. You’ll be a much more welcomed “family member.”

3. Wi-Fi is expensive for the shop owner, and it has to serve everyone in the shop. While you’re there isn’t the time to take advantage of the free service or slow everyone else’s internet to a snail’s pace by downloading big files; using SKYPE, FaceTime, or the like; streaming TV or movies; or playing video games. All of these things EAT data, so everyone’s speed suffers. Use the Wi-Fi more for reading emails or simple web searches.

4. Outlets are for everyone, and often there aren’t enough. You’ll want to go to the coffee shop with your device(s) fully charged. If you want to be a hero, purchase a power strip with extra plugins specially made for devices. If yours is plugged in, offer the extra outlets to others. Make sure there are no cords where someone might trip over them.

5. If you’re listening to anything, wear headphones. The only thing that should be heard is the whirl and frothing of the coffee machines and the soft conversation of others. You’re probably not that interested in the webinar you have to listen to for work. There’s no need to force it on innocent bystanders. 🙂

6. Ask the coffee shop what their slower daytime hours are if you’re planning to hold a meeting or gather with friends. Otherwise, you might not be able to get enough seats for everyone, plus the noise of the conversation level of your group is going to drown out others, making everyone in the coffee house talk louder. Noise is counter-productive to both work and relaxation, the two reasons people visit coffee houses.

7. Keep phone calls short and sweet so others aren’t forced to overhear a one-sided conversation. You can always let the phone go to voice mail and then leave the shop and go to the privacy of your car to return the call. Whatever you do, please don’t make the restroom your phone booth. Lots of coffee shops only have one restroom. It would be miserable for someone who has to actually use the facilities for their actual purpose!

8. Coffee house culture says it’s fine to ask someone to watch your things. It’s probably best to direct your request to two or more persons. (That way multiple people are watching each other watching your things. You’re more likely to return with your items still there if you do.) Tell them you’ll be back in a minute, and don’t ask them to watch something for more than five minutes, because they might want to leave or need to take a call outside. Make sure to thank everyone when you return!

9. If there’s a public trash can, that’s a sign to bus your own table. Leave it as clean or cleaner than you found it so it’s ready for the next guest. Again, during busy hours, the staff are usually all behind the counter preparing coffee orders.

10. You can bring your own food — sometimes. You’ll want to make sure that it’s not something sold in the coffee house. Don’t ask for plates or utensils. Purchase coffee or something to drink, and clean the table before you leave. (You wouldn’t bring your own food to boutique coffee houses that serve food made in-house.)


coffee latte art

Courtesy of


Coffee Etiquette for Boutique Coffee Houses

Boutique coffee houses make coffee an art. They usually have delicious food offerings and a higher level of service than chain coffee shops. In addition, they have a one-of-a-kind atmosphere created by the owner(s) to project a certain feeling, whether it’s “hipster hangout,” “casual business lunch best,” or “relaxed elegance” — the list is as endless as the custom coffee brews.

With the special coffee beverages, food, and atmosphere come a few set-apart coffee etiquette house rules.

1. Leaving a tip in the counter tip jar of not less than $1 if you’ve ordered any food item in addition to your drink is the norm in the U.S. If the food is brought to your table, or you don’t bus your own table after eating, then tipping the 15 to 20 percent you would tip in other sit-down restaurants is the norm.

2. They need to have tables cleared and ready for the next guests because sitting is necessary when eating with utensils. There is no need to rush, but this isn’t a place where you would camp out all day and make it an extension of your family room or a pop-up office. You would eat, enjoy conversation, and leave in the same manner that you would when dining in a national chain restaurant like Outback or Olive Garden.

3. Speed usually bows to presentation. Don’t expect to get in and out at lightning speed. Go there to slow down, soak up the atmosphere, and savor the coffee and food.

4. Tell your friends when you find a great place! The little guys and startups don’t have the big guys’ name recognition or marketing budget. Word of mouth and positive reviews on Google, Yelp, the shop’s Facebook page, and any similar places are golden. Plus, it’s a lovely feeling to know you helped play a part in the success of a well-deserving small business!

Coffee etiquette makes our favorite item from the menu board taste that much better by allowing everyone to enjoy the experience as much as the coffee. I’ve actually written this post in the office, but with all this typing about coffee, oh my goodness, I’m about to drool (which I know isn’t polite). I really need my favorite latte, so I’m off to my favorite coffee shop. Until next time….

Blessings galore,

Maralee McKee, signatue



PS: Please Like, Pin, and Share this post because almost everyone enjoys great coffee!

etiquette of coffee

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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