How to Patronize a Cafe

This is how to be successful in a cafe setting. First and foremost, be friendly with your baristas. If possible, know the manager. Learn their names, talk about things that interest them, and always say hello, even if they’re busy. If all else fails, discuss the coffee they are brewing. Most of them are interested in their coffee because this is their work and they take it surprisingly seriously. I say surprisingly, because baristas, at the end of the day are much like servers and restaurant workers, and most servers don’t have the same passion for food as baristas do for coffee. Then, since some cafes are restaurants some baristas are in fact, servers, and usually do a poor job of brewing espresso, since this is not their primary function, which is to serve. However, those cafes that only serve food are distinct and separate from cafes that focus on coffee (It’s funny that the best we can do to separate these two kinds of establishments is by giving one the alternate name of ‘coffee shop’ or ‘espresso bar’) and these baristas are more like bartenders, and take great pride in how they brew coffee and pull espresso. They pull of their espressos has to be just right, in the same way the serious bartender wants the ingredients of his cocktails to be fresh.

However, baristas again get the short end of the stick. Because although they may have the same passion for their work as a bartender, we do not have to tip our baristas the way we have to tip a bartender. In my experience, most baristas expect a tip, although I have never seen a barista go so far as to call out the unexpecting Briton or Frenchman who forgets that in the U.S.of A. tips are not built into the cost of coffees, drinks, or food, and that is largely due to underpaid service employees, who rely on tips for their livelihood and sustenance, that they have to be tipped and that as a result of these tips, some of them can expect to make more money than those in office jobs, cubicles, and similar positions, even though they may not have a comparable education, but then again what is a college education worth these days anyway, when the above average server or bartender can make significantly more money than those with a four year degree, sometimes with a Master’s?

At a certain point, when you have spent at least two or three hours in the cafe, and things are starting to slow down, you have two options. Leave. Or to take it up a notch. Especially if there are others in the cafe, who were working earlier, but who are now just hanging out on Facebook or checking their e-mail. If you stay, you will have to be especially focused in order to combat their laziness. This, in turn, will convince the baristas, who are wondering when you are going to leave, and how big of a cafe bum you really are, that you are in fact productive, which they cannot refute if they hear the plasticky clicking of keys on your keyboard.
Feel free to make full use of the bathroom while you are here. The cost of your coffee includes wi-fi, furniture, coffee cup, milk, electricity, air conditioning and other miscellaneous expenses the cafe incurs, including the cost of running a clean bathroom and paying its employees. If you think about a pound of single origin Ethiopian or Guatemalan coffee, and how it’s likely to cost you roughly twelve dollars, and how you can get at least sixteen cups out of that bag if you like your coffee strong and use at least an ounce, or two tablespoons of coffee per cup, then you will see that a cup of coffee at home costs roughly between half and a third of what it would cost in a cafe, which means that you’re paying for ambience and the other things I have listed above.

So if you’re going to do the cafe ‘thing’, feel free to fully make use of what your cafe offers. Don’t pour yourself a glass of milk because it’s there, but do relax and stay until you want to leave (unless it’s really crowded and the table turnover is very high). And do or don’t tip, depending on the service. And if you do, and your cafe experience was pleasurable, tell your friends about this cafe, because a good cafe, especially in New York City, is hard to find.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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