Cafe service fail

This is a random little rant – feel free to pass it over if that’s not your thing..

I am one of those weirdos that takes his own mug to the coffee shop, to avoid the wastage of a paper cup.

A life-cycle analysis of a paper cup vs. a porcelain mug shows that, if the mug is used enough times, the carbon footprint is lower – so I use it as often as I can. I probably have used my mug for hundreds of coffees – and I intend to keep using it to maximise the use of the resources involved.

I’m consistently dumbfounded, though, when I turn up to a cafe with my trusty mug and one (or both) of two things happens:

  • The barista takes a paper cup to put the espresso in, rather than a re-usable container. I’m bringing my mug to reduce wastage (why else would I do it?), then you go and waste the cup anyway.
  • They then only half-fill the mug, or fill it and complain that it’s bigger than a normal cup. I’m saving you the $0.02 of the paper cup, you can afford to give me that $0.02 back with an extra 25-50ml of milk.

If either of these two things happen, I usually don’t go back. Even if the coffee’s good. It’s a basic attention to detail/service thing. Yes – I’m sure that I’m being picky, and probably unreasonable (there are, of course, bigger things in the world to get upset about).

But I’m sure there are lots of people like me that notice these things, and many cafes that are losing custom because of them. And many cafes get it – my favourite one charges less because I bring my own mug.

Which is a long way of saying that I won’t be returning to either of the cafes I went to today…


  • Hehe – I thought about it…

    Bertoni (Balmain) only half-filled the mug. The Common Ground cafe (I can’t remember the real name, also Balmain) was the paper cup and questioned whether it was a standard size mug.

    Cordial cafe on Carillon Newtown is my fave.

    But The Wall in Surry Hills is just as dodgy – charging an extra $0.50 to fill up the mug – and only then with a huff and a puff. It’s happened at other places as well.

    Single Origin and City Edge cafes in Surry Hills were also good – they didn’t charge any extra and 95% of the time filled it right up.

  • My lovely wife Ang pointed out two things:

    1. Another reason you might take your own mug is taste – i.e. it tastes better than from a paper cup. This is true. But in any case, the same thing applies – using a paper cup would kill the crema and taint the espresso.

    2. Cordial don’t actually offer a discount – it’s a discount for takeaway that I was getting confused with. I do recall the UTS cafe providing a discount if you brought your own cup though…

  • Grant,

    while I agree with what you are saying (I own a cafe on the North Shore), and we encourage our customers to come in with their own mugs for the sake of the environment (in fact we give 60c discount if they use one of our thermos travel mugs.), I feel I must point out that your ‘cost assumptions’ are actually wide of the mark.

    A small Take Away cup will cost around 19cents inclusive of GST and lid. The large cups (which hold the equivalent to a standard coffee mug found in most kitchen cupboards) work out at about 23cents with lid inc GST.

    If you are paying for a ‘small’ coffee and asking them to put it into your mug, then if they filled it up to the top, it would be costing them approximately another 12c in milk that you are not paying for. If you are paying for their large size, then obviously they should be filling it up!!!!

    Another thing to note is that they should also be putting 2 shots of coffee into that mug as its volume is over 200ml, otherwise you are going to end up with something that more closely resembles something from Gloria Jeans (ie coffee coloured milk) rather than a decent coffee!

    I wonder if in the half filled cup you only got 1 shot of coffee therefore the barista was actually doing a ‘good job’ by keeping the espresso shot to milk ratios correct?… that said, if you paid for a large then you were ripped off!

    Another factor is that most cafes simply don’t charge enough for a large coffee! Dont all scream at once!!! Let me explain….

    Most only charge 50c extra between the two sizes yet the cost to produce a large take away vs regular is an extra 30ml of coffee (25cents) and 90ml of milk (12cents) plus extra 4 cents on the cup and an extra 5 cents GST, ie 46 cents = 4 cents extra profit out of the 50c charged to the customer.

    When you factor in that it takes longer to make the large coffee (the volume of milk physically takes longer to steam to the correct temperature) and you factor in the baristas time to make that drink, there is in effect ZERO extra profit in a large coffee.

    This leads me onto the question of why customers expect Take Away coffees to cost less? The reality is a take away coffee actually costs more to make than an eat in because of the packaging costs associated even when you cost it out against the electricity associated with using the dishwasher to was porcelain eat in cups!

  • Wow – thanks “Affogato”, whoever you are.

    I’m glad I now have some real figures to these questions – I ask myself a lot about the margins involved in cafes – a friend runs one, but they’re so busy I feel bad about asking those kind of questions, much as they fascinate me (truly).

    So what you’re saying, then, is that the cost of the cup outweighs the extra cost of the milk, or equals the cost of the extra coffee if they do an extra shot (assuming they have chosen not to mark-up their standard large cup more than $0.50).

    Just to note – most places I’ve been to don’t do extra shots in large mugs, but I agree they should, and I now often ask for a strong coffee in the large mug.

    Re: the Take Away costing less – I completely agree. My partner and I have often wondered the same: “doesn’t it cost more for takeaway?” I suppose the reasoning goes is that you’re not taking up floorspace – therefore rent – by having in. But that strikes me as a tough equation to really work out…

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