As Americans, we’ve been raised with a few simplistic beliefs, none more ignorant than the idea that the customer is always right. The extreme of that might hold true—a billionaire can get whatever he wants, whenever he wants—but this sense of entitlement has trickled down. Consumers expect “satisfaction guaranteed,” yet more often than not they have no understanding of how to go about getting what they want.
This attitude runs rampant in the coffee industry, where people complain about waiting in lines, often bringing their own (or Starbucks’) ideas about coffee into small, specialty stores. Some people, expecting piping hot drinks, complain that the lattes aren’t “hot enough,” when, for the drink to be any hotter, the barista would have to burn the milk, ruining the flavor and texture. And yet, customers know that they’re absolutely right and deal with their dissatisfaction by throwing insults and filing complaints. It’s a roundabout way of getting what you want, one that ignores the very people making the product: the baristas.
Consider, for a second, a bartender. Why do you tip a bartender? Ice-cold Buds only cost four dollars, but you give the bartender a five and tell him to keep the change. You don’t do it because you’re nice, or because he’s cool, or she’s hot. (Well, maybe if she’s hot...) No, you give that person a buck so that if you switch to Jack and Coke, a stiff one will be poured. You relinquish that extra dollar because you don’t have boobs to get his attention (or, if you do, you don’t feel the need to objectify yourself to get a drink.) You tip because the bartender has all the power in the relationship. You give a little extra so he remembers face, name, and drink.
You tip because it works in your favor. What you don’t do is ask for the manager. What you don’t do is tell the bartender he makes a lousy fucking Manhattan, because then he’ll only make you a worse one later. Instead, you ask politely if next time the drink could be made with rye instead of Canadian whiskey. You don’t piss him off, because he’ll ignore you. You adapt to the situation the bar and bartender presents you with.
The same should hold true for coffee shops, for baristas. We need to show baristas the same respect we show bartenders. We should tip so they remember face, name, and drink. We should tip because they’re the ones making the drinks, and it’s better if they like us. A barista can screw a customer just as easily as a bartender. A bartender can give you less alcohol or pour a lousy draft. A barista can pull a bad shot of espresso or make a latte using milk from a previous drink.
The best way to get what you want is to ask for it. The only way to continue getting it is to tip. As consumers, we need to realize that “extra hot” isn’t a standardized measurement, but something in Fahrenheit is. We need to know that if we want our cappuccino fast, we shouldn’t come in during the rush hour. We need to respect that, even when we do everything right—give a detailed order and tip the barista—sometimes we still won’t like the final product. And that just means we don’t like that place's coffee. It has nothing to do with the person making it.
We need to stop thinking we’re always right.