So over Shanksgiving I found myself in Seattle, frequenting a number of shops and having a generally splendid time geeking out.

However, while up there, some drinks were not so up to par. Really simple things, but things I felt like maybe I should point it out; after all, we're in an industry where we really can't fail to wow the customer, otherwise all this talk of being "specialty" goes down the shitter, and back to Starbucks (or Folgers) they fly.

The problem is this: who am I, the outta town lil motherfucker, to start makin' claims on the extraction of shots or the temperature/taste/consistency of milk? (As an aside, these were not one offs, but same issues on repeat visits from both same and different baristas.)

So the question stands thus: with the intention of helping business and quality of goods in mind, not being a smartass motherfucker, how do you approach a fellow barista/manager/person behind the bar or at the counter about issues of prep or method without being a complete and utter douche?

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I think the only etiquette you should worry about is being polite about whatever you say.

As a customer (not as a fellow barista) you have the right to let them know if your drink was not done to your satisfaction. You are paying a "specialty price" for your specialty coffee. And the manager/owner would rather you speak up then go away silently, unsatisfied.

As a fellow barista, I think you have a responsibility, to some degree, to let them know what's wrong.
I love feedack. Any opinion (whether or not I agree) helps me grow as a barista. Critiques from "snooty moherfekkers helps as well. if there not willing to listen to feedback, more than likely, they don't care anyways and your time is better spent helping another barista who values your opinion. Customers out here in Seattle know almost as much about coffee as some of the baristas I know. feedback is always valued.
My two rule are 1) Don't offer "advice" unless asked, and 2) Stick to one thing at a time. If you can find a positive way to say the same thing, do it that way. For example, "The shot was really overextracted and bitter." vs. "The shot might taste a little better if you coursed up your grind."

At the end of the day, who is to say the way you see things (working at one of the county's finest roasters, I'll grant you) is the "right" way?

P.S. The exception to the above rules are if you go into a place and they are all attitude. Especially if they think they are the bomb, when they clearly aren't. (I'll allow a little attitude when it's warranted). Then I am a total bitch.
If I order a drink and it's not good , i have no problems requesting them to remake it, they ask why , i politely explain that the cap was too hot or the shots were over-extracted, it can be done without sounding like a jerk to the barista. When they remake it drop an extra buck or two in the jar again and tell them you really appreciate them taking time to redo it.

I would agree with John first and foremost you are a customer, if you pay for a quality drink then the store should deliver on the adjective.
I agree with J. on this one. I don't like to give any advice (constructive or not) to anybody who has not asked for it. Now, given that I have a pretty close relationship with someone, for ex. a friend works at a shop across town, I may feel a bit more comfortable throwin some constructive criticism his/her way. Otherwise, I'd much rather keep it to myself unless asked.

Quick story with some relevance to this issue:
A new shop recently opened up in Reno, we checked the place out, and it was obvious that some of the employees were new to coffee/being a barista. Didn't say anything right then. Who are we to tell them how to do their job? We have the right to choose where we drink our coffee, so if there is something we don't like, we're never forced to go back.
However, we got to know the owner, she asked something about little barista jams between our two shops, we got together, and it has turned into somewhat of a local barista support group. The other shop's employees wanted some help, came and asked for it, and we had fun and made some friends while helping them out. Beyond the initial, somewhat formal setting, we've now established closer relationships with one another and it has come to the point where we may stop in to the other shop, see something could be a little better, and point out how and why without being asked.
"Who are we to tell them how to do their job?"
Well, your are a paying customer.

This issue is not much different than going to Denny's and having your eggs served cold. You tell the server they're cold and ask them to fix the problem. You don't eat cold eggs just to avoid offending the chef.

Just be polite or diplomatic about it.
When you're paying for a $4 cup of crap you have every right to speak up. Places that serve subpar coffee hurt the whole industry and shouldn't be in business. But even though I feel this way I rarely say anything in my neighborhood because I'd be complaining at ALL the shops. There are few places that truly understand coffee in my immediate vicinity. So if I have plans to go out, I just accept it for what it is, and if I want really good coffee I make it at home :)
right on!
teresa said:
When you're paying for a $4 cup of crap you have every right to speak up. Places that serve subpar coffee hurt the whole industry and shouldn't be in business. But even though I feel this way I rarely say anything in my neighborhood because I'd be complaining at ALL the shops. There are few places that truly understand coffee in my immediate vicinity. So if I have plans to go out, I just accept it for what it is, and if I want really good coffee I make it at home :)

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