The Official Coffee Shop Drive-Through Survival Guide (Or, How to order coffee in Canada)


1st of several installments

So, you want a coffee and you want to get it in a drive-through because you’re in hurry. Here are some facts and tips that will help you get through that drive-through within 60 seconds or less, from the time you place your order to the time you drive away with your coffee.

If you want to make sure you get what you want in the coffee you order when in Canada, say exactly what you want to be on the safe side. But if you want to sound like you know your way around Canada and its coffee shops, then you will have to learn the right lingo.

Coffee in the average Canadian coffee shop (think Tim Hortons) is always brewed, so it’s pointless to ask for brewed coffee.

Coffee is black. If you want it black, say “black”. If you don’t want anything else in it, just say “black”. If you don’t want cream or sugar, just say “black”. Don’t say “regular”, because that means “cream and sugar”. Don’t say “no sugar” if you don’t want sugar. Just say what you want, never what you don’t want. Anything you say might sound like you’re ordering it, especially since the antiquated speakers and headsets are not always the clearest and best way to communicate. Many drive-through orders become confusing because of people saying what they don’t want, rather than what they want:

“black no sugar” can actually sound like “black one sugar” on a staticky headset; “cream, no sugar” might sound just like “cream n’sugar” or “cream one sugar”

I can’t stress it enough: help yourself and help the order taker and the coffee assembler by saying ONLY WHAT YOU WANT. IF YOU DON’T WANT SUGAR, DON’T EVEN MENTION IT!!!

Coffee comes in four sizes: small, medium, large, and extra large. For best results, mention the size you want before anything else. That’s because whoever makes your coffee grabs the cup before making the coffee. It saves a couple of seconds so that by the time you’re done ordering, your coffee will be ready at the window.

“I’d like a small black, please.”

“May I have a medium black?”

“One large black, please.”

“Extra large black, please.”

The moment your coffee assembler (the person who makes your coffee) hears the size, he or she grabs the cup of the right size then quickly pours black coffee, if your order is black. If you don’t say the size first, for instance, you say “black coffee please”, you lose precious seconds while the order taker asks you what size and the assembler waits, hand hovering above the cups, trying to predict what size you want.

It’s okay not to say you’re ordering coffee, because it’s a coffee shop anyway and the main product is brewed coffee. If you’re ordering something else, like tea or hot cappuccinos or cold drinks, then you need to mention what the drink is.

If you want more than one coffee, you should also say so at the start of your order. That way, the coffee maker can set up the correct number and sizes of cups and prepare your coffee as you are ordering it and fill several cups in a matter of seconds. It is quite annoying for the assembler to start making an order that he or she thinks is a single coffee and finish that, only to find out that there are two or three more drinks following.

Some of the most frustrating orders taken:

“Black coffee, please” (assembler’s hand hovers over cups)

“What size would you like your coffee?”

“Oh, medium…(assembler grabs medium cup and immediately starts pouring)…no, make that a large…” (assembler grabs a large cup,  fills that and covers the cup with a lid)…

“Would you like a Boston Creme with that?”

“No. By the way, can you make that two large?”

“Of course. How would you like your second coffee?”

“Just black….(assembler is pouring)….no, make that a single-single…(assembler stops pouring, adds one cream and one sugar, then finishes pouring, stirring coffee as it is poured)…and make it with milk, please. (assembler shakes head, throws hands up in air, then starts all over again with a new cup)…

If you want something in your coffee, you normally ask for cream or sugar, or both. The “regular” order, naturally, is cream and sugar in your coffee. To order, say “I’d like a medium regular, please” or “May I have a small cream and sugar?” You will also be understood if you say “One large single-single, please.” To say “One extra large coffee with one cream and one sugar, please” is also acceptable, but wastes time. Less words said, less time wasted. Also, less chances for your order to be made wrong. Remember, everything else you say might confuse the order taker.

(more to follow)