Chinese barista throws coffee powder over pushy customer, landing cafe chain in hot water

On June 17, at a Shanghai branch of the coffee shop chain MANNER, the staff member who was behind the counter, flung a cupful of cold, wet coffee granules at the customer before repeatedly screaming “go complain”.

Her meltdown was recorded by a surveillance camera behind the counter and the footage was later posted online.

It is unknown who released the footage, but as the story brewed, it was the coffee shop company that received most of the angry backlash.

The demanding customer can be seen with her face covered in cold, wet coffee granules. Photo: Weibo

The company said it had fired the member of staff.

Two similar extreme conflicts between staff and customers at other MANNER Shanghai stores soon emerged.

Also on June 17, a customer asked a male member of staff to make her coffee first because she needed to catch a flight, but he refused. When she took her phone out to film him, he grabbed it and slapped her.

Other surveillance footage showed a physical altercation between a male customer and a male staff member at another MANNER branch on May 22. The reason for the conflict was not reported.

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Staff throws coffee powder at customer after dispute

Staff throws coffee powder at customer after dispute

Some people have criticised the staff for lacking professionalism, as they were “paid for the job”. Many more empathised with the staff, blaming the brand for putting its employees under pressure.

The MANNER brand was founded in Shanghai in 2015, and by June 2024, it had 1,295 stores across the nation, according to Chinese food industry data provider Canyan Data.

In 2021, TikTok owner ByteDance became one of its investors.

As the brand rapidly expanded, its employee benefits were slashed.

A former MANNER staff member told The Beijing News that they were required to make 500 cups of coffee in an eight-hour shift.

The monthly salary is around 5,000 yuan (US$700), and they have to “work overtime and give up holidays” to earn more.

A customer in one MANNER branch said she once saw a timer being used when an employee went to the toilet.

With its coffee priced at around 20 yuan per cup, an average MANNER store’s daily sales rack up to 7,000 to 8,000 yuan, according to Chinese finance service company Zheshang Securities.

It was reported that only one or two employees work in branches where daily sales are less than 5,000 yuan, to cut costs.

The cafe chain said it had apologised to the customers involved and would do more to “comfort” its staff in future. Photo: Shutterstock

The brand proudly markets its barista-quality coffee, made with semi-automatic espresso machines, which requires staff to do a lot of manual work.

The brand’s founders, Han Yulong, 39, and his wife, Lu Jianxia, 31, are on the Hurun Global Rich List 2024 with 7.2 billion yuan (US$1 billion) in assets.

The brand has revealed plans to open a total of 2,000 stores in China this year.

“Chinese workers’ lives are more bitter than coffee,” one person said on Weibo.

“The workers and customers are both suffering, and only the brand’s owners are happy,” said another.

On June 21, MANNER posted a statement on its Weibo account saying it has apologised to the customers involved in the incidents and “comforted” the staff members.

It added that it will train employees’ “sense of service”, reduce customer waiting times, and raise “comfort at work” for its staff.

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