Our coffee bar gets visits from family and friends who travel miles just to see us. It's hard to not offer some free drinks, but sometimes we feel we really need to charge them—especially during these tough times. What is the best policy for freebies when it comes to family and close friends? Any advice? 

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My policy immediate family of employess 50% off beverages, 40% whole beans. Friends pay. If a friend thinks they should get product for free, that's called a leech.

Occasionally we comp friends and regulars, depending on their frequency of visits. That's at our discression, not an entitlement.

I have friends who own various businesses. I don't expect them to and they don't fix my car or serve me dinner etc. for free....
If you're the owner, you do what you want.

However, if you work for the company, you do as per company policy.

And Mike is right, giving friends free drinks is called a "hook up" and can (and will) get you invited to seek employment elsewhere.

The bottom line is that the business is there to thrive and needs revenue to survive. Most people (even your friends) understand this basic concept and are willing to pay - especially to support you and the business.
We get a certain number of free drinks for ourselves during our shift, depending on how many hours we work. If a member of my family comes in, I may give them a free drink and tally it as one of my free ones for the day. Otherwise, I just pay for their drink myself.

I know of another shop that allows their baristas two drinks a day to give away to friends and/or random strangers they want to bless.
It depends... if the occasion is in front of the public/paying customers then they gladly pay. If I'm parked at home, have everything warmed up and a crowd of family (not friends) shows up I gladly offer anybody a drink on us. Even then some insist on paying.
As for a "policy", I prefer the method Adam mentioned- a certain number of allowed drinks per barista, used for themselves or others at their own discretion and marked as a tally.

However, one of the main reasons that I'm attracted to barista work is that it creates a medium for community, which I think many times is more important than the cost of a drink. So instead of a policy, which can become rigid and lose its meaning over time, I prefer to work on a trust and commitment level with all employees, ensuring that we all would have appropriate discretion with giving free or discounted drinks to whomever may need/want them.

You'll also find that when we give what we can, it many times balances out-whether it be through return customers, reciprocal generosity, or a new friend
Our policy is spouses and employees drink for free at any time, anything retail is still full price. Our retail policy may change eventually, but for now that's how we roll.
I agree with Mike & Jay!

True friends and family will understand that you are running a business and those free drinks add up and affect your bottom line!

Once that free door is open it becomes very hard to shut!

And as an owner your actions set a president to your staff who are watching your every move, if they see you are running a tight ship then they will (or should) follow suit.
I'm with the previous posts - no "best" policy. This is what we do though...

We don't charge our family members that visit from out-of-town, unless they get beans or retail stuff. It happens so infrequently for us that it isn't a big deal.

I should mention that all of the family that live here are involved with the shop. If we had lots of kin in town it would probably be a different story.

Employees get free drinks for their own consumption, within reason. Drinks for their friends must be paid for - though we don't care if its the staff or the friend that pays.

I think that, if you are ownership, its a good idea to comp anyone that might return the favor by buying you dinner or beers later :).
At my shop, everyone pays, always. Even when I go in and am not working, I pay. I think giving free drinks to just a few people is a slippery slope - once people have gotten one, they expect it. Also important to note, your not just giving away the cost of the drink, but the lost sale.

Also, in my experience, friends & family from out of town or who have driven a while are the ones the most want to support you. They are happy to pay.

Employees always get 40% off and free drinks while they work. Anything food or bottled beverages they pay for + 40% off.
Friends pay.
Family should offer to pay. Or buy you ("you" as owner, not "you" as staff or employee)dinner!

If they weren't paying, they wouldn't be very good friends, and/or you certainly wouldn't be a good business person.

A gift now and then to the customers who support you best, who come day in and day out and contribute to your business. If some happen to be friends, then by all means, once every couple of months shoot them something "On the House". And that's an important distinction to make, nothing is free - the business is paying for it.
I am not open yet,but I have told all friends that I would give them their first drink for Free, Family is a different thing, if they come once a month then its free, if they come all the time I tell them to donate something with a big big smile. Now let me see what will really happens when I open.

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