Do Coffee Chains and Small Cafes Treat Customers Differently?

A debate is brewing over coffee shop etiquette

How do you like your morning coffee? A cappuccino with a side of chatty barista, or maybe your prefer a filter coffee with only money exchanged?  Unspoken coffee house rules have become increasingly complicated recently, as baristas refused to serve certain drinks and customers demanded better service.  Starbucks may be taking over the world, but its service doesn't always speak well for their continued domination.  As small coffee shops become more popular around the country, coffee lovers are voicing their opinions over hipper-than-thou baristas, cafés with the friendlist staff and the best all-around service.  

Ben Levanthal, co-founder of Eater, recently described how he liked his morning coffee routine to go: iced coffee, a quiet barista and few words traded.  Then the social networks erupted. Some people found the article funny and appreciated Levanthal’s words about, as he described his “post-wake, pre-caffineation … a delicate window of time for us.” Others, however, thought his tone was outrageous and demeaning to skilled baristas working in a high-pressure environment. With statements such as, “Please, God, don’t be annoying," people responded to Levanthal with vitriol.

Whether or not you agree with Levanthal’s feelings towards how baristas should treat customers during the morning rush, his article sparks an interesting debate between high and low-end coffee shops. After the article was published, he added a disclaimer to the bottom mentioning that his main gripe was with chains like Starbucks and Le Pain Quotidien, whereas cafes like Blue Bottle, Joe, and Mud Truck have always provided a plesant morning experience. If the customer service at the chains is really that bad, shouldn’t the companies do something about it? Or is it the customers initiating the so-called pointless interactions? Does high-priced coffee mean the service should go with it?

Perhaps Levanthal’s article isn’t just a tirade, but a statement of how coffee has transformed from a grab-and-go cupinto a ritual.  The transformation has opened up a whole new world of communication between the barista and customer.  Whether or not you want to chat with your morning coffee, café etiquette is changing the way America experiences its caffeineation.