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30 August 2023

4 min read

Navigate the practicalities of accepting BYO reusable cups at your busy cafe.

Reusable cups are great for your sustainable business, but there are practicalities of incorporating them into your busy cafe.

Here are some easy tips from some of our 'Champion' cafes.

1. The cup is presented dirty

You don’t have to accept a reusable cup that looks or smells dirty:

"I politely say no, and take the opportunity to explain why - that their dirty cup can contaminate our other surfaces, and washing takes more time which creates more cost and longer wait times for other customers."  

Land & Sea, Tasmania

Showing a customer somewhere that they can rinse their own cup, like a nearby sink, might help.

You have no responsibility to wash a customer’s cup, but some cafes choose to:

"I rinse it under hot water at the machine. It takes 30 seconds."

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

I offer to clean their cup, but they wouldn't receive a BYO discount. I'd advise their coffee would take a little longer while we ensured their drink was served hygienically.

The Foodprint Experience - Adelaide


Having a few cups on hand that people can borrow means you can offer an alternative option. This can be in the form of a simple mug library.

You can also use signage and socials to remind your customers to bring their cups in clean.

2. Matching the cup to the order

The variety of cups can be a challenge, but the cafes we spoke to said it was all about having a system:

‘We use a chalkboard pen to write orders on mugs."

Sipping Duck, Cairns

“We write down the order by hand on a ticket and describe the cup, e.g. ‘latte/grey.”

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

The POS is a great place to start adding extra details:

“We have modifiers in our POS that include the coffee order, the milk they choose, if it’s takeaway and the colour of the cup. We then line up the cups to correspond with the dockets.’

Hank’s Cafe, Perth


Encourage your customers to write their name on their own cup.

3. Which lid goes on this cup?

"We tell the customer to hang onto the lid."

Hank’s Cafe, Perth

"They hold onto the lids, so we don’t mix them up or lose them into our own stock."

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

A bonus is that the customer can take a sip before putting the lid on if it is a little full.


If the customer steps away, some cafes place a clean coaster over their customer's coffee to keep it hot. You can even write the customer's name on it!

4. Volume control

Every cup is different and it can be difficult to know what size it is. Take the guesswork out - ask the customer what they want:

"Make the milk for the coffee, not the cup. If it’s short, it’s easy enough to explain that it’s due to the different cup."

Hank’s Cafe, Perth

"We train our staff in portion control, so they use the correct amount of milk for the coffee."

The Foodprint Experience, Adelaide

"I ask them what size they’d like, and if they order a medium but the cup is large I ask ‘do you want me to fill it halfway?’ If they say no, fill it up, I tell them ‘that would be a large, do you want a large."

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

5. There's a queue out the!

With a simple system in place it’s possible to stay cool even when it gets busy:

"You just need a convenient place to line up the orders."

Hank’s Cafe, Perth

"Line up at the counter with a docket and description."

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

"Busy is busy! It's no different to lining up 10 shots of coffee in single-use cups to BYO cups. Placing the docket with the cup ensures no mix ups."

The Foodprint Experience, Adelaide

Final thoughts on reusable cups from our members

"I just started with a handful of cups as an offering and people loved it. Then, after COVID, we got rid of disposables. We picked up more customers since then, I’d say business has increased by 10%. So other cafes should give it a go and see."

Inner Bean Coffee Van, Perth

"We sourced some mug library cups from the op shop, which is just a win-win to us. We introduced a surcharge on single use takeaway, and there was a positive reaction to that. People do like it! But a bit of banter helps: ‘haven’t you got your cup today?' when people forget, for example."

Hank’s Cafe, Perth

Our reusable tips

  • Only promote reusables - including when you put images on your socials. Do not promote single-use cup litter in your tempting photos!

  • Praise the customer when they bring their cup in. "Nice keep cup! Let me give you a discount for your effort". "You don't have to pay the single-use surcharge. Yay!".

  • Educate customers so they can make a conscious choice based on understanding the price of single-use cups both to the cafe and community.

  • Encourage customers to take the initial step of buying a reusable cup from you by offering a free coffee with the purchase. Put these cups near the POS front and centre!

  • Offer multiple solutions - encourage reusable cups, advocate ‘going lidless’, include a mug library, create space and encourage dine in.

  • Include reusable cups on your POS so you can track their use and see the impact of any discounts or single-use surcharges.

  • Speak to your staff and listen to their ideas, many baristas think about the coffee sector’s impact on the environment.

  • Use signage to help customers know how to present their cup - use signs like this from our friends at UYO NZ

You can download any of our free, printable posters.

Finally, if you're located within one of our Plastic Free Places communities please join us - we'd love to support you.

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