How to keep customers from swiping extras

cream coffee station customer


We have a self-serve coffee station. How can I tell people to stop filling up extra coffee cups with the complimentary creamers and sugars? Only the amount that goes into your coffee is free—not as much as you want. 

– Marketing Manager, C-Store/QSR Chain, Harrisburg, PA


You reveal the problem in your question. While situations vary, I get this one a lot. You are trying to change behavior but what you really need to change is the environment. People know it’s wrong to load up on sugars and creamers and, while not all guests will do it, many do because they can.

I’ll give you an unrelated example to illustrate:
Imagine you were walking through a parking lot and saw a $20 bill on the ground. Most people would pick it up, figure it’s their lucky day and keep walking, making no attempt to find the rightful owner.

Now imagine there is a group of people chatting nearby the found $20. Some people would still pocket the money while others would ask the group whether anyone lost some money. And that answer might change if the group of people is a bunch of obnoxious teens versus sweet old ladies.

Finally, imagine you see the $20 under a man in the process of getting his car. Unless you’re a criminal, you would probably point out that he seems to have dropped some money.

The first instance is the environment most conducive to taking something. The last is the least. I am guessing that if we looked at your coffee station, it would be out of employee or manager view, abundantly stocked, and conducive to loading up on free condiments.

It may be that guests value this particular breed of hospitality and it’s actually a positive for your bottom line. In all likelihood, however, people are taking advantage of the environment you created.

Some suggestions:

  • Move to bulk containers.
  • Move to dispensers.
  • Move the station to somewhere with better employee oversight.
  • Restock more often in smaller quantity.
  • If it’s really a problem, have employees distribute, but I think any combination of the above will work better.

An entire honor system coffee shop here

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