Posted on by Barista Life

Let’s Play Teacher: A Sassy, Yet Respectful Guide for Baristas Who Want to Share How a Customer Should Properly Order their Starbucks

You’re a barista. You’ve seen every conceivable persona walk through your Starbucks-logoed doors. They’re half awake, cranky, joking, in a hurry, or absolutely unreadable, but no matter who they are you generally send them on their way feeling warmer, cooler, richer (at least in the food and drink sense) and almost entirely ready for a new day. In short, you’re a badass barista.

But despite all your current fast-thinking and fast-hand skills there’s always room for a bit of barista development, and the information contained in this article is offering you a few of the tips and tricks that really set a barista apart. You’re already a badass, that much is true, but are you helping your customers feel that they too are of the badass variety? Consider this: all successful people—no matter what they do—increase their own success by TEACHING OTHERS WHAT THEY KNOW.

However, you’re still a barista and you’re not going to teach your hard-earned knowledge with glasses on the tip of your nose, a rule-book in hand or with a five-paragraph essay. You’re interesting, you’re fast and you’re far more clever than that. You’re so clever in fact that you know how to teach your customers without them knowing they’re being taught.

But what do the customers need to be taught?

Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox, in the 1998 hit movie You’ve Got Mail, knows the value that is provided to a customer through the ordering process. Joe Fox says:

The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”*

Joe says it best. Ordering at Starbucks helps people feel good and self-defined, but as baristas, we know that sometimes our customers get caught in the syntax of the words they are using to place their order. They know what they want and they know the words to describe what they want (most of the time) but they don’t know how to ORDER the words they are using. In essence they don’t know how to order their order.

Starbucks Drive thru LineYou probably dread seeing that line of cars in the drive thru as you pull into your Starbucks' parking lot.  You are late for work, you are doing your makeup in your car, and the last thing you want to see is a line wrapping around the city of cars.  Inside, your baristas are working double time to get the line down, but there is one variable that hasn't been considered; the customer.  One reason why that line is taking forever is because customers aren't familiar with the ordering process, and they need a few moments to convey their order to their barista.  If customers knew these simple ordering hacks, that line will move exponentially faster, and you will be saved from a scolding from your boss on how to arrive to work on time.

So, without further ado, here’s a quick list of tips and tricks for teaching your customers how to order their Starbucks orders:

Tip & Trick: #1: Food Comes First!

ORDER FOOD FIRSTWe can’t blame them. Customers who enter Starbucks’ doors are thinking about coffee. Their visions of lattes and iced mochas abound. Starbucks has branded itself as the great Goddess of Coffee Happiness so it’s really not the customers’ fault that they forget to order their food until they are pulling their credit cards out of their various money-holding compartments. However, as a barista you know that you and the customer could both save time if the food is ordered first. 

So, the question is obvious. How can you teach the customer to order his food first without screaming “Order your food first you inept coffee-desiring fool!” Instead, try initiating the conversation yourself. For example, as the customer approaches and before he begins to ramble off his order say “Thank you for choosing Starbucks, can I get any food started for you today?” If he says no, your job is done. If he says yes, your job is almost done because he is about to tell you what food he wants and you’ve already subconsciously instructed him in the essential order of the Starbucks order!

@Lauraemilyfair, a Barista Life Instagram follower, says it best and most succinctly, “Start your order with your food first!!

Thank you Lauraemailyfair. We completely agree.

Tip & Trick #2: Cup Size


No, this tip & trick has nothing to do with your favorite Victoria Secret lingerie. Come back to Earth badass barista. We’ve got some professional development to consider.

Now, let’s say your customer has ordered her food and immediately starts requesting her drink. At this point, you’ve lost a bit of control because “Amy” (our imaginary customer) is spilling all of her wants and desires as fast as you get angry when someone cuts you off on the freeway. Don’t worry, at this point just take a breath and listen. If she hasn’t mentioned the size of her drink and is already telling you she wants whip cream then she’s silently begging for your barista wisdom. Like some people who desperately need dating coaches there are those who are in great need of Starbucks ordering finesse.

Wait for the first possible pause in Amy’s incredibly long run-on sentence and then in a patient manner let her know that the drink she is asking for comes in several sizes and name the size options out loud. Though this teaching technique might require steady repetition you’ll find that she will soon be “dating” the coffee of her dreams and won’t be interested in bothering you with her extraneous words.

Many baristas grow frustrated with customers’ tendencies to forget to mention what drink size they want. As zoetransformed, another Barista Life commenter, says, “’…what size?’ is my least favorite sentence…”

We know zoetransformed and we mourn with you. We don’t like that overused question either. Next time try “Great, that drink comes in these sizes….” and then smile like you’re Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live. Just kidding. Please don’t do that.

Tip & Trick #3: Iced or Hot?


It’s one of the simplest distinctions in the world: cold vs. hot. To a customer walking into a Starbucks it can seem so obvious what he’s looking for in terms of the temperature of his drink. To him, the longing in his eyes is already telling you everything you need to know but you’re not a mind-reading barista and you don’t want to be. At Starbucks talking is required. Not a lot…just some simple words such as “hot” or “iced” will suffice.

How can the customer be taught this simple concept? It’s actually fairly easy. First, wait for the size of drink to be clarified (see tip & trick #2) and then simply say “Great size choice. Would you like that hot or iced?”

And then move on with life. Life’s too short for wasting words. As ambercruceta, who commented on our post, so passionately reminds us, “Please start with the size….I don’t care about anything else just tell me the fucking size first and if it’s iced or hot….please……PLEASE.”

Yes ambercruceta, thank you for expressing what we all feel, although we do humbly recommend not using “f-word” with your customers. They are tender and vulnerable folks desperately seeking a Starbucks pick-me-up which deserves the compassion only a barista can provide.

Tip & Trick #4: The Top-to-Bottom Approach


This tip was inspired by charlottehight, also a follower of barista_life. You can see Charlotte’s full quote below, but in summary what Charlotte is teaching the baristas of the world is to coach customers on ordering their drinks with a top-to-bottom approach.

Charlotte’s wise quote:

You are actually supposed to say the modifications before you say the actual drink. If you were looking at the cup itself, you start from the top and work your way to the bottom. If someone orders a "venti white mocha with a triple shot, nonfat milk and no whip" you can't really start on the drink until they're almost done ordering because you don't know what kind of milk to use. If they order a "venti triple nonfat no whip white mocha" you can anticipate exactly what they're wanting and get it started faster.

Thank you Charlotte! We couldn’t agree more!

To apply this helpful knowledge, remember to quickly provide the customer with verbal cues. For example, once you’ve led the customer through cues related to food and drink size, and they have replied “hot” or “iced” to the question of temperature, segue immediately into the name of their drink and then quickly provide a list of additional cues such as “milk?” “whip?” etc. Establish a rapport of quick give and take between you and your customers. They’ll get used to the rhythm of the banter and enjoy it.

Tip & Trick #5: No Condescension Please!


Teaching with condescension inevitably leads to resentment. Condescension makes a person feel like she did when she was five years old and was being scolded by a very tall-looking parent. It doesn’t feel good! However, it’s not always easy to recognize when your voice starts to move in the direction of condescension. Baristas tend to know that they are generally quicker than other people at memorization and verbalizations, and for these reasons can accidentally fall into the trap of getting impatient with customers’ ignorance. A wise barista knows however when he’s entering into the zone of condescension because while he’s talking to a customer he’ll notice that he’s having thoughts run through his mind that go something like 1) “How dumb can you get?” and 2) “You come here every day and still you don’t get it!” A barista doesn’t need to judge himself for these thoughts. Instead, focus on the facts. The facts are that a barista prepares a drink for a person who’s paying for it! That’s it, and it’s certainly not a situation over which it’s wise to waste negative emotion.

cemmak83, an additional follower of barista_life says it best: “Educate the customers without being condescending. Example: Customer asks for their tea "extra sweet." You respond: "We typically put 4 pumps of sweetener in a grande size. How many more would you like?" Another example: Customer orders a "bacon sandwich." Instead of asking "which bacon sandwich do you want," describe the difference. "We have a bacon Gouda on ciabatta bread and we have a double smoked bacon with cheddar on a croissant." Give them easy options but still give them options. Example: "Would you like that hot, iced, or blended?" Or: "Would you like cream or sugar in your coffee?" These conversations may seem like they'd make the interaction longer, but I promise you it works. The customer is assured that they're speaking with a knowledgeable barista, and you're assured that they'll leave satisfied and with what they ordered. It's absolutely possible to be clear, concise, friendly, AND helpful in the same transaction. I live it everyday.

Barista Love


Everything a good barista does has barista love behind it. And what is barista love? It’s taking a look at every situation from the viewpoint of the barista and the customer and providing the best love for both parties! If you're curious about what barista love most about their jobs, take a look at this post

Happy Barista-ing!


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About the Author
Marci Crane
Marci Crane is a freelance writer of the sassy variety. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where, in addition to writing, she teaches the Pilates Method. In her spare time Marci enjoys Latin dancing, reading “anything good” and “laughing her head off” as the expression goes. And coffee? Brutally black of course.




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