"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." – Maya Angelou

What Coffee Shop Patrons Can Teach Us About Life and Ourselves PART II

A tongue-in-the-cheek observational study – Part II

Paying attention comes with endless perks. It saves lives. It colors and flavors life. But, it requires effort and practice.

By applying the art (and habit) of paying attention to the cultural phenomenon of coffee shops and its patrons, you can reward yourself with a goldmine of opportunity and material—those locales give the willing observer a peek into the soul of a town or city, if not the nation.

We’ve learned in Part I coffee shop clients can be classified into three categories:

    • The Dashers—the mobile order people (Discussed in Part I)
    • The Walkers—they walk in, get their order and leave
    • The Sitters—they are there for the short or long haul

There is a science to coffee shops. Think about it. It matters which coffee shop you frequent. It matters where you sit, which way you face and what you order. It also matters whether you dash in, walk in and amble around and then leave, or whether you sit down. And, let’s not forget the all-important baristas—without them, it would be a lusterless space.

This three-part series is the result of a clandestine study conducted over the course of twenty-four months, with prior years having been immersed in the coffee shop culture.

The Walkers are coffee shop patrons who, by definition, ambles in, place there order once inside the shop, take it, and then leave. But there’s more to it.

    • Being a Walker is often the default setting for having been unable to become a Sitter
    • Walkers are all uniquely different in their approach to obtaining their drink
    • Some Walkers are “retired” Dashers (Perhaps “tired” Dashers?)
    • One of three things happens to first-time Walkers: they get freaked out and never return, they like it and remain a Walker, or they love it and soon turn into a Sitter.

The Types of Walkers:

    1. First-timers. They appear lost. They don’t read the sign which states, “order here.” Once they get to the counter, the menu unsettles them. The coffee shop vernacular freaks them out, such as Grande, tall, shots, passion tea or half-sweet. They often (non-intentionally), serve as a source of endless frustration for the Hardcore aficionados.
    2. The Hardcore aficionados. They own the place. Well, it seems that way. To them, having coffee is a ritual—bordering on a holy sacrament. If you’re a psychology major, you’ll collect enough material for a dissertation if you observe a Hardcore aficionado get stuck behind a first-timer or a Conversationalist. They lose their composure if novice clients hesitate when placing their order.
    3. The Regulars. Ordinary people like you and me. They are low maintenance. They enjoy their hot or cold drink, take things in its stride, are courteous to the baristas and always tip them. (Don’t get me started on not tipping the baristas!)
    4. The Conversationalists. They are regulars who have lost their way. They have been cooped up in their apartments the entire day and when they flee it at last, splurge their need for human interaction on the poor barista who takes their order, sharing the previous seventy-two hours of their lives in intimate detail.
    5. The Aspiring Sitters. They scan the facility upon entering, and then, depending on the urgency and need to sit at a table, will either turn around and leave (to try the next coffee shop) or proceed and place their order, only to linger. They remain oh so hopeful one of the sitters will have reached their fill and vacate a table.
    6. The Browsers. They love to wander inside as if it’s a department store. They will eventually order a drink, but not yet. They um and ah in front of the display shelves, pick up items, verify the price, turn it around once more, only to put it back. Then repeat it with the entire display. (In 75% percent of the time they won’t buy anything.)
    7. The Stompers. Tend to occur more during the winter months, with snow and sleet outside. You will know when they arrive—everyone inside the shop looks up—even those with earbuds and headphones in place. Stompers don’t have to be large individuals, it’s the way they walk—they make the floor shake, similar to the late night train, which causes the cutlery to jingle in the display cabinet.
    8. The Wobbling Walkers. The silent variation of the Stompers and a distant cousin of the Disheveled Dashers. Combing one’s hair and dressing up for a “silly” cup of coffee is overrated apparently. It was not possible during the study period to exclude the possibility these clients could be sleepwalkers following the aroma of a fresh brew.
    9. The Rider. Only one case was noticed. The lady entered the coffee shop in full cycling gear, helmet in place, accompanied by her bicycle. I had to manually close my mouth. The barista kept her cool and served the cyclist as if it was an everyday occurrence. I have sympathy with cyclists being unwilling to lose a valued bicycle to a snatcher. Although, in all the years, sitting in different coffee shops, I had never seen someone snatch an unlocked bicycle.
    10. The Huffing Cyclists. This particular group of men showed up on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. like clockwork. Dressed to the T in the latest flamboyant cycling attire, spandex pants, brand name warm-ochre or chilled-aquamarine anti-glare sports sunglasses, they marched in. At least they had the sensibility to leave their bicycles outside. For the entire five minutes, while waiting for their orders, before going outside to sit on the patio, they huffed and puffed to great effect, pacing up and down from the front door to the counter. Their cycling shoes clicked and clacked on the hardwood floor, and intermittently, they would grasp their crotches to find some relief from the clinging cycling pants.

Coffee shops need us as we need them. They need our business as we need the effervescent drinks and unique atmospheres. If anything, don’t stay away—all I ask is to look with new eyes. Make a habit of paying a little more attention to your fellow coffee drinkers and discover an entire sub-culture right under your nose! Your baristas are ordinary people (like you and me) who flourish on a little respect, Thank Yous, and an appropriate tip.

But, in order to fully immerse yourself in the experience of coffee shops, you should consider becoming a Sitter. That is when things truly happen.

You may then get a firsthand peek into the soul of the town or city you live in. There is a science to coffee shops. A rich experience, yours to unlock and discover!

Next: Part III. Taking a closer look at The Sitters.


A somewhat longer version of this article also appeared on

Thank you for reading!

© 2018 All rights reserved.

All images by Danie Botha.

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