Ask Lifehacker: How Can We Organise The Office Coffee Run?

Dear Lifehacker, I work in a small team (five of us) and all of us have a fairly high caffeine addiction which, coupled with our office being within 100 metres of about give good coffee joints, leads us to buying coffee fairly regularly. We rotate the buying and the place we go to depending on who is going. I just wondered if you could recommend a good way to balance out who pays, who is ahead, and who is behind.

Rarely do we buy a whole round of five drinks. There's little stress about it, most people seem to pull their weight, but equally some people drink more coffee than others, so just putting money into a pot wouldn't work, and the only spreadsheet solution I can think of is to keep track of how many each person has bought for each other person — which is massively complicated. Any ideas for how to organise fairness with the office coffee run? Cheers, Blue

Dear Blue,

As ever, I'm trusting that Lifehacker readers will be able to bring their collective wisdom to bear on this issue, but I'll offer a couple of thoughts first. The simplest solution to the problem would be to just drop the current arrangement that whoever goes out for coffee pays for the whole round. If someone wants a coffee, they cough up the cash when they place their order.

Of course, the downside of that approach is that people often don't have the right amount of change on hand. One possible solution there is to pick up a bunch of $2 coins from a bank via office petty cash and have those available for people who hit the office with nothing smaller than a $20 note.

Another way of simplifying the process would be to stop rotating the coffee love, pick one place you all like and use that consistently. If they're regularly getting your business, they might well be amenable to running separate tabs for each person, which get paid off whenever that individual drops in to do the ordering.

What other solutions have Lifehacker readers used to stop the coffee run becoming a source of office fiscal friction? Tell us in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

Picture by philsquires


    Get your own coffee, pay with your own cash, and enjoy the exercise you'll get going to the shop.

    Take it one step further and turn it into a 10min social event.

    I personally favour the "if you want it, pay for it" system, simply because it's the only one that is easy to keep track of in the long run.

    A kitty could work, everyone starts off by putting in a base amount, say $20. Whenever someone does a run, you take note of who gets a coffee and then at the end of the week, everyone tops up the kitty based on how much they've had. It works best if you always go to the same place so that it's a uniform price.

    I should mention, I've only ever used the first system, because at my old office the coffee runs were typically only for 2 or 3 people.

    I used to be in IT and i wrote a system in that kept track of all this. Basically each person had a "standing order" that could be changed one-time or permanently. It was the responsibility of each user to maintain their order (via a web interface). It also included things like muffins and general extras. Coffee was ordered at 830 each morning which was a good way to ensure that everyone was in on time!

    I think an email or twitter interface to the cafe would be nice additions.

    I agree with the 'if you want coffee, you pay for it' system. Means that people don't start getting upset over paying for coffee that they don't have etc.

    Theres nothing stopping friends shouting each other occasionally, especially if they get coffee at the same rate, but this should be between them rather than the whole office team.

    Just grabbed a coffee and made this while sipping away...

    Keeps track of how many each person purchased and how many freebies they've received. Don't include yourself when saying who you've purchased for.

    this is where pre-paid coffee cards rock.
    each person has their own pre-paid card, with their name and standing coffee order on it.

    the current coffee fetcher collects all the cards, gets one stamp on each, and returns the card with coffee.

    other than this, i think that generally speaking, the 'take turns buying' method is maintainable at 3 people, and gets too complicated after that.

    Systems that work:
    1) Everyone pays on the spot to the person going to get coffee. If someone's short, they negotiate with the person going and the two of them track who owes money/coffee. In most cases this really does work, regular coffee drinkers tend to be pretty good with having cash on hand and remembering their coffee debts.

    If you have someone who doesn't pay up, implement a rule that you can't owe more than one coffee at a time. If you're about to owe a second coffee, it becomes your turn to go get the coffees.

    2) Everyone has a prepaid coffee card and you use those.

    3) Everyone goes to the coffee shop and buys their own. Great solution as moving around and getting some air will help everyone as much as the caffeine. Coffee run discussions are some of the best/most effective work time, too.

    Systems that don't work:
    What you're doing now ;)

    5 working days 5 people.

    Frequent places that have a coffee club card - save them up so that there are 5 cards with a free coffee on them each, and give them to each of the 5

    Use a pen and paper and write down a tally... it is not that hard...

    We just have whoever wants a coffee goes to the coffee shop with the group. If someone has an early meeting someone will get them a coffee but it is between the two people.

    I also try not to be to picky about people paying me back. If they do great, if not it is only $4. Most people will do the right thing and getting uppity about who owes who just makes every body get petty.

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