What is a good gift for my baristas?
March 13, 2018 7:20 AM   Subscribe

The baristas as my favorite coffee shop (that I go to 2-3 times a day) keep giving me free coffees (the other day I got 3 coffees and paid for none). What is an appropriate gift to give them to show my appreciation?

I'd thought about bringing them muffins or chocolate or something similar, but I'd like it to be something that should be shared among the baristas (there are often 4-6 and rotate). What is something that won't come across as "too much" but would be appreciated? Obviously I tip well when they give me a free drink, but I'd like to match their generosity.
posted by ejfox to Human Relations (21 answers total)
Write their manager or the district manager for the store and thank them for hiring such wonderful employees! (Don't mention the free drinks.) That kind of feedback goes a long way in keeping their jobs secure and their standing in the company positive.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:39 AM on March 13 [28 favorites]

My barista son says a Dominos or other pizza gift card would be pretty sweet since they get really sick of all their food.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:45 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

When I was a barista some customer brought a package of macarons from a fancy bakery and I thought it was fabulous, but to be fair that was partly because no one else ate them for some reason and after a few days of telling my coworkers how great the macarons were and how they should try them, I just took it upon myself to eat approximately six rose geranium macarons, which turn out to be the most amazing delicate flavor.

All this to say: people rarely ate pastries that customers brought for some reason, even when they were amazing.

I think a letter to the manager and/or a nice note is sweet. Around the holidays one customer (who had a very specific drink - not hard to make, just a lot of specifics) gave a card with $50 in it and signed it with his drink order, which many of us thought was adorable.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:46 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

a big tip. Throw a random 10 or 20 in the jar a few times a season.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:52 AM on March 13 [27 favorites]

a big tip. Throw a random 10 or 20 in the jar a few times a season.

I mentioned this the other day but it bears repeating. Sometimes comping regulars is something that the owner authorizes and encourages and sometimes it's the staff effectively stealing from the owner in hopes of getting big tips like the above. I suppose if it's a big chain, one might justify this as sticking it to the man, but most independent coffee shops are pretty shoestring operations and the only one making much money is the landlord that owns the building. I do know coffee shop owners that were driven into bankrupsy at least in part by employee theft (it's worse when they're handing out things like pastries that have a fairly high acquisition cost but not getting paid for dozens of coffees a week can make a big difference).

So if it's authorized, great, toss in a big tip. But consider whether it is something the owner supports and if not whether that's something you want to encourage.
posted by Candleman at 8:05 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]

Worst case scenario, keep doing what you're doing - they're not giving you free drinks because you're a jerk, you know? Be kind, say thank you, keep tipping well.
posted by papayaninja at 8:05 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

When I've seen this sort of thing done to steal from the owner, the deal has been "I give you a free drink or a free meal, you 'tip' me some large fraction of the amount you were planning on spending."

I mention this because it makes me think the employees aren't doing this to steal money. If they were, they'd have given up on you and stopped comping you drinks as soon as they realized you weren't holding up your end of the deal.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:13 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]

Per OP: Obviously I tip well when they give me a free drink.
posted by Candleman at 8:22 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it's not about the money but about the act. Repay them by singing their praises. I agree with writing to the manager and district managers about how good the coffeeshop is and how great the baristas are (again, don't mention the free drinks). Don't give more money. You go there regularly and already tip well.

Also, sing their praises on social media! Bring them more business.
posted by vivzan at 8:37 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Based on where your profile says you live, and the rental market there, cash. Tip. Lots. Keep patronizing them. Unless this is one of the nicest shops in the area, this is likely one of their jobs. Giving them enough money to buy a nice bottle of wine, or you know, make their rent, can make their lives better.

This might be a weird one and would only play with a narrow subsection of coffee shops, but if the shop is nicer and on the higher end of the quality spectrum and the people working there are clearly coffee nerds, you could buy a bag of coffee or two from a offbeat, well known coffee roaster from somewhere else in the world or country...something they're not likely to run into in your area. You could also try to find some domestically produced, higher end coffees (geisha varietal, or something just particularly expensive and rare). Just tell them that you ordered some for yourself and wanted to pass some onto them. They've got all the stuff to make it there, if they're nerds about coffee they'll probably flip over it.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:09 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Please no pastries. Baristas are usually pretty sick of eating muffins and etc cafe food! Cash*, fancy coffee yes!, or just your continued friendly face and overall good customerness. I had a regular who occasionally showered us with tickets to the opera, symphony, film festival, which was pretty cool--we were all "cultured" people, just too damn poor to attend high culture events.

(*cash being that, since you already tip well, super extra tips a couple times a year)
posted by zinful at 9:27 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

Hi, former barista here.

It was a pleasure to give free drinks to regulars who were friendly and kind -- doing so was often the highlight of my day and getting a gift for that would make it feel weirdly transactional.

What I would have liked:

- Continue tipping well and the occasional $5 or $10 in the jar is a boost
- Continue being friendly and kind.
- Bring in friendly people you know.
- Write a positive review online and mention my name.
- Tell my manager that I'm awesome.
posted by mochapickle at 9:51 AM on March 13 [23 favorites]

Lots of answers from people who've clearly never worked service industry, so allow me.

In that line of work, you deal with A. Lot. Of. Raging. Assholes. You're paid (poorly) to provide these people with the same baseline level of service as everyone else, including being polite, if not overly friendly in the face of someone who treats you like a medieval peasant. Your options for self-actualization in that role are limited: you get to get creative with the lettering and artwork on the specials board. Maybe you get to pick the music a couple days a week. And you get to exercise discretion in hooking people up, with or without the knowledge of management/ownership.

So around 80% of your customers are standard, no-frills interaction. At a coffee shop, they tip their coin if they pay cash, generally don't tip if they run a card. You don't remember them, they don't remember you, whatever, everyone's happy. 10% are inimitable dickbags: the guy who ducks the line to complain that the Wi-Fi's out, who's taking up a four-top by himself and bought the cheapest bottled thing in the fridge three hours ago and hasn't ordered anything since. The guy who wants his drip coffee only half-full so he can fill it up with half-and-half and macguyver it into a sort-of-breve because he's too cheap to order a real one (now you gotta refill half-and-half). The woman who has you remake her drink, twice, holding up a line that's eight-deep, without a single please or thank you, because she misordered to begin with. These people fucking suck, and having to serve them ruins your day and, long-term, destroys your soul.

On the flip side, there's 10% of people who are AWESOME. They smile as soon as they make eye contact. They're never in a hurry, and know that waiting on a line is worse than waiting in a line. They throw a dollar or two in the tip jar without even thinking about it: not because they expect to get hooked up, but just because. (OK, it's likely they have worked or do work service industry, or they just get that a $4 coffee is a luxury, and if you can afford that you can afford a full dollar in the tip jar). These people are the opposite of the above, and seeing them is a highlight of your shift. They bring a touch of humanity to a series of interactions that are otherwise impersonal at best to antagonistic at worst.

So! back to self-actualization. That 90%, that's what pays the bills for the establishment, and that's why your job's a job. It is JUST and KARMICALLY RIGHT WITH THE UNIVERSE that they subsidize the occasional hook-up for a cool regular. Like, yeah, don't hook 'em up a pastry or high-cost item like that, but your cost basis on the average coffee drink is well under fifty cents. There's not a high proportional opportunity cost for the establishment since it sounds like you're there a lot. If they comped you three coffees the other day, they probably charged you for two the day before that. Between that and not being an asshole, you're way higher-value than someone who stopped in for a doppio to go because they happened to be walking down that side of the street that day, let alone Mr. WiFi and Mr. Fake Breve and Ms. I-said-almond-milk-even-though-I-didn't. Those people, aside from sapping your time and energy, are also bad for the establishment in monetary terms, as I hope should be obvious.

Anyway! That was a lot of words to say: I disagree with the above viz. stealing from the owner, regardless of whether it's done totally-above-the-board. As for an actual gift? It sounds cheesy, but you're it! Like, you are a cool regular and for whatever reason the baristas enjoy seeing you and that's why you're getting comped and that's awesome and congratulations! If you do want to get them back with a physical gift (which is also awesome of you!), I wouldn't worry too much about equitability. If you bring in muffins (though, note zinful's caveat) one day and they're gone by the next, that day's shift will still hear about it. "ejfox brought in muffins yesterday isn't that guy cool?" and the gesture will be appreciated even if Tuesday Mid didn't get an actual muffin herself. Regardless, it sounds like you've formed a special relationship with the employees at this place and you both bring some meaning and joy to one another's lives and that's awesome. Keep it up!
posted by 7segment at 9:58 AM on March 13 [23 favorites]

Agreed. You don't need to do anything beyond keep showing up regularly, be nice, and tip well. Maybe tip extra well every once in a while, but don't make a big deal about it when you do. (Trust me, they'll notice; you may think they're not watching what goes into that tip jar, but I promise they are.) If the barista seems chatty maybe chat a bit while you order, but let them take the lead on that.

Congratulations, you're a well-liked regular customer. Customers like you are like gold to anybody who works behind a counter. Don't try to make a bigger thing out of it than it is though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:52 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]

My favorite coffee shop customers gave me: kind interactions (even when I wasn't my most cheerful self), compliments to my manager, positive callouts on Yelp, books (a couple of them found out I liked philosophy and historical fiction, so once they had finished reading something good, they gave me their copy), free tickets to events, referrals for editing work, and the occasional holiday giftcard (mostly Amazon and OpenTable) given to me in a greeting card. Honestly, because the tip pool group was so large (and, our shop being in a university district, the amount usually pretty small) I didn't notice much benefit from bigger tips. But every bit does help.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:02 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Oh right. For a group gift, there was one guy who brought us really nice fruit baskets, of all things. My budget didn't allow for much produce at the time and it was delicious stuff, Asian pears, peaches in season, huge grapes. On a personal level, he was extremely gruff and grumpy most of the time, but I expect he was aware and that this was his way of saying thanks/sorry.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:09 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

I can't imagine management or the owner know about this. I would feel like maybe I was stealing?

I don't know what you do. I would probably stop going there to avoid the drama or contributing to stealing from a small business owner. As a small business owner that pays a living wage, this is my hot take on the situation. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 12:18 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Nothing says I love you like cash. Put the cost of the coffee you just scored for free into the tip jar. Tip regularly and well.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:30 PM on March 13

Money. They can’t pay their bills with muffins.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:42 PM on March 13

Comping good, regular customers the occasional inexpensive item is a pretty standard part of good customer service in food service. It's not stealing; it's building loyalty amongst your preferred clientele. It can be taken too far or done inappropriately (usually meaning that the worker's personal friends eat/drink for free) but it's sound business practice and is one of the things that differentiates your local independent coffeeshop from a megachain like Starbucks. It's a way of providing a personal connection and encouraging your best customers to keep coming back. No need to assume something nefarious is going on here.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:31 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]

I used to work at a bakery where each employee had the discretion to give out a certain amount of freebies. There was a code for it in the till and everything. It was completely above board. There is no reason to assume these people are stealing coffee.

I almost never used up my comps because we'd get crazy busy/most people didn't inspire it, but it was always a pleasure to comp people stuff. I wouldn't have wanted anything in return except that you be nice and maybe some nice tips. Giving me something would have sort of ruined the fun of it.
posted by windykites at 3:48 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]

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