Editorial: Three Reasons Not to Use Name Autocapture in Your Café

While autocapture may be a tempting and convenient technique, RJ Joseph presents a few reasons why it can be an inappropriate way to call names for drinks.


From the editor: Today, name autocapture is integrated into many POS systems in cafés. However, the name it captures may not be favored by the customer for several reasons. RJ Joseph explains why in this article.

It’s so tempting to use name autocapture at your point of sale: When a customer swipes their card, your system automatically reads their name and automatically attaches it to their order. Then, when their drink is done, you call out their name. But, despite how very easy it feels to use name autocapture, here are three reasons to disable this feature at your point of sale and opt for a simple ask instead.

1. Not everyone uses their legal name.

The most important and obvious reason to disable name autocapture is that not everyone uses their full legal name as it might appear on a credit card. Here is a brief, non-exhaustive list of folks who may not use or appreciate being called by their legal name:

  • Transgender customers: Often, a key part of making a gender transition is making a name change, a social and legal process that is as expensive as it is time-consuming and labor intensive. Many trans customers’ credit cards will include their pre-transition name, which very few of them will appreciate you shouting out in a crowded café. For many trans folks, the name autocapture experience can range from an annoyance to a definitive reason to choose a different café next time.
  • Customers with hard-to-pronounce names: This group includes, but is not limited to, folks from outside the U.S. whose legal names may differ from what they choose to have friends (or just baristas) call them. They will likely not appreciate your butchery of their legal name, especially when they didn’t choose to give it to you in the first place and had no warning that you were collecting it.
  • Customers who use nicknames: These folks may not be as sensitive about use of their legal name as the previous groups, but it’ll still affect their experience to have their full legal name randomly called by someone who didn’t ask or tell them it was being collected. Although not harmful, it can still definitely be off-putting.

2. It’s creepy.

When you aren’t asked for your name and someone calls it out in a public place in order to hand you your drink, that experience may feel, at the very least, mildly strange or off-putting. This strangeness is magnified if you don’t use your legal name, don’t like others using it, or if it’s mispronounced, but it’s present as a factor either way. It’s an easy way to make customers feel surveilled and like you’re collecting info without their consent. Not everyone minds this, but many will.

Non-consensual data collection is something that customers in the U.S. deal with in almost every sales interaction they engage in; going to a coffee shop can and should provide a brief respite from this for those who want it.

3. It’s not particularly effective.

Because many customers don’t use their legal names, and especially because autocapture doesn’t prime them to be on the listen for their name being called, many customers won’t answer to their full legal name in a prompt fashion.

Now, we all know that customers sometimes just don’t come for drinks when called because they aren’t paying attention, but if you ask customers’ names, they’ll at least know to be ready. If you don’t ask for a customer’s name, they have no reason to listen for it.

Using autocapture does not improve efficiency as it promises to do; it brings with it the potential to do a lot to jeopardize the quality of an interaction without the commensurate ability to improve one.

Hospitality means taking the extra second.

What does hospitality mean to you? For someone who uses their legal name and doesn’t mind having it called out without their consent, the above reasons for disabling name autocapture may seem trivial and not worth worrying about. But rather than rationalizing these issues away, ask yourself the question of what name autocapture has the power to bring to your hospitality experience. For trans customers dealing with frequent dead-naming (the practice of calling a trans person by their pre-transition name), non U.S.-born customers dealing with frequent xenophobia, and customers who see coffee shops as a rare escape from the constant mining of their personal information, taking the extra second to ask their name before calling it out can do more than its fair share to make them feel welcome in your space. Often, hospitality means taking an extra second out of your day to make sure that customers feel cared for and respected, and disabling name autocapture is a small, incredibly easy place to start.

RJ Joseph
works at Red Fox Coffee Merchants as a cupper and content strategist. Following coffee from Pittsburgh to Oakland, Calif., she became a certified Q-Grader and learned to roast, sling bags, and drive a forklift with the pros. Uniting her twin passions for coffee and writing, she launched a blog in 2016, then started freelancing, always maintaining a central focus on the ways in which coffee can make the world a more equitable place. She also runs a coffee satire site called The Knockbox. Outside of work, you’ll probably find her cooking, tending her many plants, listening to records, and walking around the city. If you see her around (especially if you find yourself standing alone awkwardly at an event), please come over and say hi.

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