WASHINGTON — A few days after Cait Lowry opened The Coffee Bar on S Street NW, she decided to stick a sign to the top of her shop’s green trashcan. Two years later, it’s still there — and it reads, “Please don’t pour your drink in here! No liquids please! Thank you.”
Lowry says she felt compelled to make the sign after a few “repeat offenders” loaded
down her trashcan with liquid.
“It’s purely for when we go to take the trash out and it leaks everywhere,” she says.
“We’re happy to leave room; we ask people if they need room — if you need room, we can dump it out.”
Pouring coffee into the trash is not an uncommon sight, and it’s not the only behavior that goes against the grain when it comes to coffee-shop etiquette.
With the weather getting colder, spending time sipping warm beverages in cozy cafes turns into a winter hobby for many. But before you settle in on a couch with a latte and your laptop, take a minute to be mindful. Some of D.C.’s best baristas and cafe owners share their tips on proper coffee protocol.
“I think a lot of it stems from just the experience you’re creating for other customers,” Lowry says. It’s not necessarily on our end, it’s more so for how the customer perceives things.”
Bus Your Own Table. Most coffee shops operate as an over-the-counter business, and don’t have staff dedicated to busing tables. Therefore, it’s up to you to wipe up any spilled coffee and throw your trash away when you are done.
Don’t rearrange the store. Local baristas say it’s common for customers to move couches, chairs, tables, etc., in the shop. And while moving a chair here or there never hurt anyone, dragging loveseats across the business can be a bit of an annoyance to other customers and to staff — especially when they aren’t returned to their proper positions.
Don’t take up more space than you need. Not taking up more space than you need is a courtesy to other customers, especially during busy times of the day. If you are by yourself, save the four-top for a group. Similarly, if you are seated at the bar or a common table, don’t reserve separate chairs for your coat, your bag and your tush.
It’s time to pay rent. “Squatters” are another common sight in coffee shops. Shop owners are flattered that you want to spend time in their stores, but keep in mind that coffee shops are businesses, not a public library. Wi-Fi, comfortable furniture and outlets are all offered as a courtesy for those drinking coffee. If you plan to stay a while, maybe order a few drinks, or a drink and a pastry, to support the business housing you for the day.
Turn the cellphone down. Again, be mindful of those around you. If the coffee shop you’re in is louder and others are on their phones, it’s probably OK if you make a quick call. If it’s a quieter space where people are reading and working, take your call outside. And no matter what you do, don’t order your drink while talking on the phone.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Peregrine Espresso’s Dawn Shanks hates to hear baristas getting a bad reputation for being “cool” or “condescending,” because that’s not the case. “We just want to take care of you,” she says.
Her best piece of advice is to go into a new coffee shop with an open mind and open eyes. She says jargon and menu items might be different than what you’re used to, but the barista is there to help you find something you want. So just ask questions.
“We’re all here because we like service and we like doing what we do. Just give us a chance to be great,” The Coffee Bar’s Lowry says.
Park your strollers and bikes outside. When a coffee shop is crowded, navigating your way to a table among a sea of people — all with hot beverages in hand — is difficult. Trying to dodge large objects, such as bikes and strollers, makes it nearly impossible. If it’s possible, park it outside so everyone can enjoy a less-cluttered space.
Just follow the rules. Like most casual dining establishments, coffee shops don’t come equipped with a laundry list of rules, so when you see a few, make sure to follow them. That means you should have shoes on your feet and your four-legged friend on the patio — not inside the shop.