August 27, 2012

No Such Thing as a Free Coffee

He walked up 15 minutes before close, wearing khaki shorts and a dinosaur t-shirt, a bit wrinkled, a bit sloppy. He twitched a bit and avoided eye contact, then declared that he had "a weird question." You can't expect everything, so it's better to expect nothing, which is what I did. Empty mind, nothing would surprise me, because I probably had heard it before. And even if I hadn't, whatever. Having the authority to make decisions without checking in with a headset first has its perks.

"Since you guys close soon, can I have the coffee you're going to throw away?"

I didn't say anything, because he had managed to surprise me. Weird, he had said, but gone with downright awkward instead. My face must have betrayed something, however, because his facial tremors increased, and he mumbled something I couldn't understand.

Though I may have appeared offended (probably, I appeared offended), my mood sat somewhere between confused and contemplative. He had put me in a difficult position, where I had to choose between being a pushover, and potentially going down the slippery slope that always comes with free shit, or being an overly-stern prick.

"Well?" He asked. "Can I?"

Wanting it over with, and for him to stop quivering, I said yes, whatever. Have a cup.

And he did, saying nothing.

It's later now, but my hindsight hasn't yet focused to 20/20. In fact, I'm still very unsure about how that sort of thing should be handled.

I will give things away, after close, to regular customers. But to someone I had never seen before? And who asked? No one asks for free coffee. Not one person I've ever served anyway, and that includes a few regular homeless customers who always insisted on paying. Just on principle, you don't ask.

But what is principle worth, really? And who was hurt by it? The coffee was simply going down the sink; better someone drink it, whether they pay or not. Perhaps the request lacked a certain tact, but there was no harm in it.

I'm at a loss. Perhaps you can help, however. When, if ever, is it okay to request free coffee? Was this such a time? How would you have handled this, or a similar situation? If you'd be so kind, I'd appreciate your thoughts.


  1. Oh man..these sorts of predicaments. I err on the side of dickishness, for the "slippery slope" dynamic you mentioned. It would have been one thing if they asked AFTER you closed, but during operating hours amounts almost the same as just coming in off the street to ask first thing in the morning. Grey are tend to get so grey and seemingly expand into ever greater areas of greyness that I feel, personally, more comfortable sticking with black and white. I know it's dickish, but I also know these sorts of requests can be predatory, "feel you out" sort of maneuvers that quickly spiral into increasingly uncomfortable situations. Honestly, no harm was done, until they come back again and again and again. I hope this was a one-time deal for you though. Anyways...I'm I've been hardened to draw a line more than others might. So be it.

    1. Well, he didn't come back today. Perhaps the whole experience was equally uncomfortable for him? I hope so. He is welcome to come back, of course - provided he brings money.

      On the age thing, I think that might be a factor. There's definitely still a part of me that's not used to being the guy making decisions. Up until last year, I had teachers, bosses, etc., acting as omnipresent adult authority figures. And though I still have an owner I answer to, he's not present on a day-to-day basis, and so I'm left with a lot of power to make decisions, whereas in the past I would have passed the guy off to my boss to take care of.