November 19, 2015

What Should You Do If a Customer Wants “Bad” Coffee?


It’s become cool to cop an attitude about certain drinks. You know what I’m talking about – the barista complaining about making too many single shot extra hot, extra whip, humongous soy white chocolate mochas, or the upturned noses when a customer orders the darkest roast on the menu with plenty of room for cream and sugar.

But this attitude is seriously bad news. In fact, dare I say it, this specialty snobbery may be even worse for coffee than that whipped cream your customers are so bravely asking for.

Spanish Version: ¿Qué Debes Hacer Si Un Cliente Quiere un Café Malo?
Whipped cream on coffee

Do you deny customers whipped cream just because you don’t like it? Credit: AniaBorko via Pixabay.

As third wave coffee professionals, it is so easy to get caught up in chasing the “god shot” or developing the perfect pour over technique. We love hearing about farmers’ stories and the extensive process that coffee goes through before it ever reaches the café. We love the product we make for people.

But sometimes, in our excitement, we begin to make certain demands on our customers for the ways in which our coffee must be consumed. No, you CAN’T have cream or sugar (never mind this cappuccino that I’m pouring). No, we DON’T carry whipped cream. No, we DON’T do that or that or that.

Just think how frustrating this can be for the customer, who only wants to give you money in exchange for a drink they want to enjoy.

Remember Where We Came From

Let’s take an honest look at how we arrived at specialty coffee as individuals. I haven’t forgotten that one of my early coffee drink favorites was a blended latte with candy bar pieces in it, and often topped with a pile of whipped cream. I don’t think you could have convinced anyone there was actually espresso in the thing.

Ice cream coffee

Most of our coffee journeys started with drinks like this. Credit: adoproducciones via Pixabay.

How many of us started on our coffee journeys with white chocolate mochas and blended frappés with more sugar than a confectioner’s shop? What we might call a guilty pleasure now was once a staple.

But we didn’t stay there. Slowly we added less sugar and decided to forgo the whipped cream. We stopped getting syrups in our lattes and started drinking smaller drinks. We decided to actually learn how to enjoy espresso without any additives. It was a process. And it is exactly the same for our customers. We cannot throw them into the deep end and expect them to magically enjoy our light roasted, single origin espressos – we certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

Beat Frappé-Drinkers at Their Own Game

What should you do if a customer asks for a caramel macchiato?

Say “yes, of course, right away”.

It’s no secret that this is a large milky drink with hardly any espresso and a healthy dose of caramel and vanilla syrups to increase the sweetness – anathema to many specialty coffee drinkers.

But if your shop carries espresso, milk, caramel, and vanilla (and I’ve not encountered many shops that don’t), then make that drink for the customer that asks. And make it the best one they’ve ever had. Show them that at your shop if they order their favorite drink you can make it better than anywhere else. You don’t have to put it on your menu, but if you have the ingredients, you need to make it.

And here’s why: better ingredients and attention to details will always make a better drink. Even customers who are new to the third wave concept will be able to tell the difference. If their other favorite coffee shop overdoes the syrup to hide burnt coffee, show them at your shop that they don’t need all that syrup. But you have to show them instead of refusing to make it.

delicious coffee

Make better versions of drinks for people and they will keep coming back. Credit: Unsplash via Pixabay.

SEE ALSO: Should We Allow Customers to Dictate How Specialty Coffee is Served?

Telling people they don’t need to add cream and sugar to their coffee just makes you look like a pretentious, condescending jerk, no matter how you say it. It implies your customer is wrong when they may have been enjoying their coffee that way for years.

Instead, make better drinks for people and you may see some of them slowly wean themselves off that cream and sugar.

Now I’m not suggesting that we don’t encourage customers toward trying new things and exploring the coffees we love, but if you’re doing it by making someone feel bad about their beloved drink then you’re doing it wrong. Hospitality is key.

old woman

“What do you mean you don’t have cream and sugar?” Credit: unsplash via Pixabay.

Provide Solutions

What happens if you don’t have the ingredients to make that caramel, hazelnut, white chocolate, half caf blended mocha? You have to provide solutions for your customers. It’s impossible to anticipate every situation and provide all manner of flavors, and as a third wave shop you shouldn’t rely on a long list of syrups to set you apart. So offer alternatives instead: “We don’t have all those flavors, but we do have chocolate. Can I make you an iced half caf mocha instead?”

Syrups for coffee

You don’t have to provide 300 syrups if you provide alternatives. Credit: marinatemebaby via Pixabay.

Some customers know exactly what they want and will refuse anything less. If you can’t provide it, then don’t sweat it. But if you’re given the opportunity, explain what your shop is about. Tell customers why you have chosen not to offer whipped cream or passion fruit syrup.

However, if your reason is that it’s not trendy to offer it, maybe you should rethink your position.

Above All, Be Nice

At the end of the day, most people know what they like and they simply want to be treated with respect. If you’re nice to them, and you do your best to meet their requests, they will keep coming back. Then maybe along the way they will discover a better version of their favorite drink or a new favorite altogether.

However, if you’re a specialty coffee snob who makes them feel inadequate, they certainly won’t come back. You’ll lose business and they’ll be even less likely to try specialty coffee than if you’d made them that sickly sweet, coffee-light drink.

Invite people into the third wave experience by meeting them on their own ground. Only then can you open up a whole new world of drinks for them. It’s our job to teach people how to love this drink we call coffee – so let’s do it right.

Edited by T. Newton.

Feature Photo Credit: shixugang, Pixabay.

Perfect Daily Grind.