Customization is cool, at least on TikTok. I’m old enough to remember a time when ordering In-N-Out fries “animal style” was a fast food in-crowd signifier of sorts. But now TikTok has ushered in a new, entirely unhinged “hack the menu” culture. Some of these “hacks” are harmless, if not really hacks—like smashing McDonald’s ice cream cones, cookies, and pies into a melted mess—but others are downright rude.
The people who work service industry jobs are simply not paid enough to deal with this bullshit, especially during busy hours. I’m not talking about asking for extra sprinkles to your Pink Drink (I don’t really know what a Pink Drink is), or ordering potatoes on your Nachos Bell Grande; I’m talking about going into Starbucks and asking for an elaborate drink you saw on TikTok, with little to no information on what actually goes into that drink.
Lest you think this is an issue I am making up for the sake of being mad online, take a peek at r/starbucks on Reddit, in which multiple baristas beg customers to please stop ordering “TikTok drinks,” especially if you can’t provide a recipe. “I can make most things but you’ll need to provide the recipe. Let me know when you have the recipe,” wrote one barista, while others report customers ordering drinks by showing a picture on a phone, or merely asking for “the TikTok drink,” with no further explanation.
To make things even more annoying, the juice is rarely worth the squeeze: Another barista wrote that these drinks often taste worse than menu items, and they cost more. “Every time I’ve had someone order a drink from TikTok, I pour myself a little sample and there hasn’t been one that didn’t taste like absolute trash,” wrote one barista, “Plus they are always about 10 dollars.”
The problem isn’t exclusive to Starbucks. After a particularly large “hacked” Waffle House sandwich went viral on TikTok, some employees of the southern chain took to the app to tell customers to stick to the menu, with some making signs to let people know they would not be cooking “anything you saw on TikTok.” Then there’s a kind of nihilistic shitposting, where people go through fast food drive-thrus, requesting increasingly absurd configurations of food to see what they can get away with.
At best, you are annoying a service worker; at worst, you are slowing them down to a halt while they’re working in an establishment where they are judged on their efficiency and speed. It’s tacky.
How to customize orders without being a jerk
If you feel even a little bit embarrassed about ordering an off-menu item, take that as a sign that you shouldn’t do it. If you want to order a special drink from Starbucks, come armed with specific instructions, for example “I want a Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2 pumps of this syrup and this kind of sprinkle.” Do not assume any service worker is on TikTok, or has seen the video you are referring to, even if that video is “viral.”
If you cannot clearly explain the modifications you want to make with your words, come back later when you can, and try to limit elaborate orders to times when the workers aren’t completely slammed. You also have to tip well if you’re going to be making special demands and, if you expect them to perform this extra labor because it’s “their job,” you should show your appreciation by supporting their unionizing efforts.
I do not, however, recommend trying TikTok hacks at Waffle House, because Waffle House is not to be trifled with. (Unless it’s an official Waffle House hack from the official Waffle House Instagram. Which, incidentally, looks much better than the 20-dollar TikTok sandwich.)