The Espresso Cheat That Raises Red Flags For Baristas

While the staff at a café should be happy to help customers out, there's a common practice that can easily annoy baristas at any coffee shop. It's easy to explain this "red flag" by looking at the famed chain Starbucks. While it's one thing to score cheaper Americanos at Starbucks by ordering espresso with hot water, baristas once frowned upon customers taking advantage of the condiment bar. Before 2020, most stores had a small bar offering milk, sugar, and other items, and rather than pay upwards of $5 for an espresso with milk, some customers would opt to pay half that for just a couple espresso shots. They would then take their espresso over to the complementary condiment bar to fill up their cup with another few dollars worth of milk.

Starbucks has since done away with its condiment bars, but at any other coffee shop that still has these fixtures, you should resist the temptation to perform this habit. Don't get us wrong; we realize that your favorite coffee can be a little pricey, especially if you order often and enjoy customizing your drinks. However, using more than your fair share of free condiments to score a drink for half-off can actually harm your local café. 

Overuse of coffee condiments takes a toll on business

When customers routinely overuse complimentary condiments at a coffeehouse, the business suffers from that loss of money. Even if a single customer takes a generous handful of sugar packets, then maybe another loads up on milk, all those missing cents can add up, forcing the business to order more supplies. Over time, this need for frequent replenishments can amount to hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars lost, all because some customers enjoy taking as much creamer and sugar as they please. To boot, the habit is inconsiderate to other customers who also want items from the condiment bar.

In conclusion, the 70 cents you save by adding a splash of creamer at the condiments bar is 70 cents less in the business's pocket. This might not have been on customers' minds at a huge chain like Starbucks, but an independent coffee shop might really feel the burn. And baristas, no matter where they work, have the right to feel annoyed when they do their best for customers, only to have their workplace raided like it's no big deal.

Instead, if you want to save some money on espresso with milk or other add-ins, just take it home and top it off with your own milk. This way, you can add as much or as little as you'd like without being charged extra — and you aren't stealing from your favorite coffeehouse.

Don't take more condiments than you can use

None of this is to say you can't make use of a coffeehouse's condiment bar. That's what it's there for, after all. However, if you choose to help yourself to sugar packets or creamer, do so in moderation. Take only what you need for the drink you paid for, and even then, don't go overboard. Rather, if your drink needs a large amount of milk added, you should request the milk at the counter when ordering, so you can be charged accordingly. It's also polite to at least taste your drink before personally doctoring it. Act with courtesy, and you'll do your part to ensure your local shop's condiment bar doesn't go the way of Starbucks' condiments — quietly discontinued.

There are also a few other habits that could annoy your barista, without you even knowing it. As far as basic advice goes, tipping your barista on a large order is always appreciated, and don't talk on your phone while trying to order your drink. This makes the process longer and more frustrating for your barista and the customers behind you. One underrated etiquette mistake is throwing a cup of hot coffee into the trash at the café. Hot liquids can actually melt a plastic garbage bag, creating a big mess. Instead, just hand a partially-filled cup off to a barista so they can empty it for you.