Poking fun at baristas is easy. Instagram is full of snapshots of “Peach” instead of “Leah” scrawled on the side of caramel macchiatos. Some people in the world are still not over having to say “venti” instead of “large.” And an accidental 12 Splenda when you said two is worth a rant on Yelp. But take a breath, complaining customers, because these horror stories about baristas’ worst customers ever show they’re dealing with way worse than you are.
Baristas know there’s always a customer in line who thinks he has beaten the system by ordering an Apple Pie Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Macchiato off the nonexistent “secret menu.” And there’s another who, during the morning rush, orders six different Frappuccinos. And of course, there’s always one guy who is excruciatingly specific with his order: non-fat, no-whip, 140-degrees, three-and-a-half-pump caramel latte with exactly one inch of foam.
Last year, Starbucks barista Brad Halsey shared a story about his own nightmare customer that went viral. The regular had bought 365 Starbucks rewards cards and loaded a different birthday on each. The result? A free drink every single day. As you can imagine, he wasn’t ordering a basic drip either; he had an iced quad venti vanilla white mocha with heavy cream. And he never tipped.
It may seem like the ultimate customer horror story to those of us who have never served coffee, but to many baristas, a story that outrageous is just another day at work.
“I was working the bar and a woman came in with a pretty simple order, so no problem, but sure enough I made it "incorrectly," according to her. So I made another one, very pleasant, as this happened fairly routinely, and handed that over with some personal apologies. (Keep in mind this is the 5:30 a.m. shift, so it's busy and there isn't a lot of time for pandering, so this is an extra effort on my part.) She just sipped it, looked at me and said "Well, it’s no wonder why you're the one in this equation wearing an apron.”
—Jamie, 24, Peabody, MA
“One place I worked had the coffee brewers lined up at the bar so we, the baristas, could face customers when getting their coffee. Well, one evening this Rhodes Scholar decided that she was going to get her own coffee, grabbed a cup and pressed on the lever. Mind you the spouts were on our side, so I don't know where she thought the coffee was going to come out of. Or, more importantly, why we had made the lever so hard to reach and ‘backward.’ Well the coffee was coming out, on our side. But she started pressing down even harder and boiling coffee was spraying all over my co-worker.”
—Matt, 19, Birmingham, MI
“My coffee shop wasn't a Starbucks. We were in no way affiliated with Starbucks, nor did we have any signage that looked like Starbucks. But a woman came in, placed a huge order, and tried to pay with her Starbucks app—and then got mad at me when I said we couldn't accept it. This happened more times than it really should have: Someone would come in and order a cappuccino. But when they received it, they'd stare at it with confusion and say, ‘This is hot. I wanted a Frappuccino.’ We're not even Starbucks.”
—Rebecca, 23, Riverside, NY
“Once I watched a customer steal another customer's drink from the bar and refuse to give it back. It was a busy time in the store, the morning rush. I called out the order and the coffee thief got there right before the rightful owner. The rightful owner said something like, ‘Actually I think that's mine.’ The thief said, ‘I've been waiting long enough, I'm taking this one. You can wait for the next one.’ As if the coffees weren't all custom made. The rightful coffee owner looked back to me with pleading eyes and I explained to the thief he had to give it back. He looked at me. Looked at the coffee. And bolted for the door.”
—Meghan, 25, Marblehead, MA
“I was working a late-night café shift until 11 and one night a very tall, striking man walked into the café. I could see that he had started going around to the all the customers, handing them a card explaining that he was deaf, and was asking for money. Unfortunately, soliciting or panhandling is not allowed inside and so I had the awful job of asking him to stop or leave. I approached, smiled, and started trying to explain that he can't ask for money. Before I could get halfway through, he started screaming at me. So I smiled and pointed to the door. This incredibly tall man then lunged at me, rose his arm to take a swing at me, I ducked out of the way, my co-worker came around to help me, and finally this man headed toward the door. Once outside he banged on the window and door, and proceeded to scream and spit huge wads of saliva on all the doors. Which I then had to clean.”
—Leah, 31, Toronto, Ontario
"The only non-poop-related horror story that stands out is the time a customer complained that there was a lobster in the toilet. Turns out one of the teenagers who hangs around often stole one from the supermarket next door and decided to put it in our toilet. The story ended well: My coworker’s dad had lobster for dinner."
—Matt, 19, Elwood, NY
“There was this married couple who came in every Sunday when I worked and they had the most convoluted, long, and chaotic order. Even though I had the order memorized and would recite it for them, they'd still insist on saying it all themselves: ‘One large coffee filled to the brim—make sure it's to the brim—in a to-go cup. No room. Two XL cups of extra-hot water, double-cupped. One cappuccino and make sure the foam is good, in a for-here cup. Two raisin bran muffins, lukewarm—microwave them for 15 seconds, exactly.’ They'd make sure to choose the exact muffins in the pastry case they wanted, then they'd check to feel how warm the muffins were and complain if they didn't feel warm enough (even though we microwaved them at the same temp every time), and then the wife would run her finger through the cappuccino and ruin the foam art just to check if the consistency of the bubbles were up to her standards. Anyone who's ever made a perfect rosetta knows just how terrible that last part is."
—Sierra, 23, Davis, CA
“When this early-40s professional woman came into Dunkin’ Donuts asking for a cappuccino with no milk I was a bit confused at first, so I asked, ‘Oh, would you like soy milk?’ ‘No, I said no milk,’ she said while looking at her phone. ‘Are you looking for an espresso?’ Now she looks up and is incredibly frustrated ‘No, I want a cappuccino with no milk.’ I then began to explain, ‘A cappuccino only has two ingredients, milk and espresso. If there isn't any milk it’s just an espresso.’ This is when it went from bad to worse. She berated me for not being able to fulfill a simple request and said something along the line of ‘just make me a f—king cappuccino with no milk and stop asking questions.’ I made an americano and handed it to her. She looked at the coffee, then at me, said ‘what the f—’ walked out and threw the americano in the garbage.”
—Sam, 28, Beverly, MA
“There was one guy who ordered iced-tea refills even though he clearly never bought his first there, then he took a deuce on the bathroom floor.”
—Samantha, 21, West Babylon, NY
"We had this customer who ordered 16 pumps of hazelnut syrup. Sixteen. He would complain if he felt it was less. He was miserable, came in every day, and never tipped. During a huge snow storm, his car got stuck in the drive-thru. I went outside and pushed his car out of the drive-thru and he still didn't tip."
—Charlie, 22, W. Babylon, NY
“My café was on the Halifax waterfront, so it got tourists from every country. Germans were the best tourists and the British were the worst tourists. This British woman asked me for a cup of tea so I showed her our selection. She cut me off and asked if I have ‘proper’ tea. I said, ‘Well for black tea, there's this Darjeeling...’ She slammed her fist on the counter and yelled, ‘NO! A PROPER cuppa tea!’”
—Derek, 24, Halifax, Nova Scotia
“I worked at the drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts, and I was always on the 5 a.m. opening shift. Usually that meant a lot of regulars who were too sleepy to be rude, but one morning we had a guy come through with a cup of coffee he had bought from us and he wanted to return it because it was cold. But, the thing is, he bought the coffee the day before. When we refused to give him a refund or a new cup of coffee, he threw the full cup through the window and drove off. It's a good thing the coffee was cold because it spilled down my co-worker's arm.”
—Molly, 26, Washington, NJ