I work in Italy.

In my office (200-300 people), there are several coffee machines that work either by using coins or by using a pre-credited magnetic key. These machines don't give back the eventual change, so it is pretty common to use magnetic keys to "save" money on that.

A coffee is 0.50€ when paying with cash, but with the key, it is discounted to 0.48€.

I decided not to buy one of those keys because I am a consultant and I'm not sure how long I'll remain working in this office.

Since I entered the office, I saw that this is a practice of my team (5-6) to meet in front of the machine, where someone uses their key to buy a round of coffee (there's usually a good-natured fight to pay for the coffee).

This kind of habit is pretty common with my friends. I do it as well, but maybe in a bar and not in a professional place.

The first day I came to the office, I decided to take the offer of a free coffee, as it is pretty common to offer it to a newcomer in the team. But on other days, I feel awkward taking a free coffee without contributing to the cost.

The coffee machines do not take bills, so I'm also not able to offer the coffee back to others, since as stated I don't have the credit key nor do I carry enough coins.

What should I do? Should I buy a credit key and offer the coffee to other team members in the same way as the others do? Or should I just pay for my own coffee and take my breaks at different times?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 21, 2017 at 15:30
  • 0,48 to 0,50 is a minimal difference. Plus if the key is inexpensive just get one, this way you get to socialize with the team in equal terms. (Unless you're staying for just a week or two...) If you manage to improve your relations with the team by spending a few bucks in the mag key (vs taking coffee at different times) then the benefits more than justify the cost.
    – Daniel
    Sep 23, 2017 at 14:13
  • Is it really that complicated to carry more coins?
    – zundi
    Sep 23, 2017 at 16:40

8 Answers 8


The keys don't appear to be that expensive.

I'd buy one and put on enough credit to last a few days. If there's still money left on there, simply give it to a colleague without expecting to be compensated for the cost.

(if the colleagues are polite (and it seems they are), they'll offer to pay you for the credit).

This seems to be the obvious/least complicated answer.

  • 15
    I was in the same situation when I worked in Italy, though I would be in Italy for 2-3 wk, then back to the US for 4-6wk and so on. I just wound up buying a key, loading with an amount I thought was conceivable that I'd spend while there and joining in the "fight" to pay for a round of coffee. When my project was over, I just gave the key to the guy I worked with.
    – DLS3141
    Sep 19, 2017 at 15:34
  • 5
    @DLS3141 The "I'm leaving soon and my key would be useless to me" sounds like a very good argument to win the fight to pay.
    – Agent_L
    Sep 20, 2017 at 10:45
  • 24
    Although, like any good contractor should, add two lines to your invoice — one for the cost of the coffee, and another €50 (give or take) coffee administration fee. (Hopefully there’s also some sort of tax rebate for both of these.) Sep 20, 2017 at 17:59
  • @Rob They're simply smart cards (NFC, same technology that contactless credit/debit cards use) and are often in the form of a plastic fob that you slot into a hole on the machine in order to make it easier to refund in the case of a failed vend (and that they're easy to carry around on a keyring). One would be €10 at most.
    – AStopher
    Sep 21, 2017 at 14:50
  • The good part if you give your card to your colleagues, they can give it to the next contractor. Sep 21, 2017 at 18:30

I think that this is nice, but a little overthinking. A 0.5€ coffee isn't that much, even for a small bunch of coworkers. As you seem concerned by this, why wouldn't you, once in a while, bring some nice pastries for the team, and say: Hi guys, you always pay for the coffee, very nice of you, it's my time to take care of you. Here's some sweets for all of us, let's enjoy our break!

This would cost you very little money, not more that a round of drinks. It's nice, and shows that you're willing to thank them, and be as nice to them as they've been nice to you.

Or just buy a key, put some small amount on it, use it, and give anything left when you move. And you're done. Nothing more, nothing less, no big deal...

  • 39
    Not sure about boasting "it's my time to take care of you". The others probably don't do that when they offer the coffee and it would make it sound like you want to "settle accounts". In many part of Italy that's just the way we are and would probably no even notice if you never offered the coffee.
    – algiogia
    Sep 19, 2017 at 10:50
  • 15
    One could simply follow the advice without making the big announcement. I'd imagine it would be equally appreciated unless everyone in the office is on a diet looking to loose weight, in which case, an appropriate alternative could be found.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 19, 2017 at 11:54
  • I'm not sure you could get 6 croissants for 3€ in any bakery, and anything found in supermarkets would be positively awful. Not sure if Italy is anything like France, but good "entry level" pastries go for 1 to 2€ apiece here. That would be quite a huge margin, and let's say he works there for more than a fortnight, thus having to cover 2 rounds of coffe breaks, and that would probably cost him more than the card + 12 coffee.
    – BlindSp0t
    Sep 19, 2017 at 14:01
  • 8
    roughly 1 - 1.5€ for a (very) good croissant in any decent bakery shop. That's about 2 rounds of coffee for a 6-team. Fair enough IMHO.
    – OldPadawan
    Sep 19, 2017 at 14:13
  • 4
    @algiogia I agree with you on leaving that part unsaid, I do support, however (and have employed in exactly the same situation myself) OldPadawan's suggestion. Buy a box of sweets or buns or croissants, bake a cake (even better) and don't forget to always say thank you and try to be a pleasant person in general ;-)
    – Stian
    Sep 19, 2017 at 21:03

I was in a similar situation as you (big office in Milan) and I strongly agree with Pete's anwer.

If you absolutely don't want to buy a key (usually 5€), you could follow Chris H's comment and store up some coins to pay your round. However I've seen more common to recharge one of your coworker's key when is your turn to pay.

I would add a big NO for paying your own coffee and an even bigger NO for taking breaks at different time. Those are very important moments to socialize and to create a nice workplace.

  • 4
    The second advice is what I typically do when I don't have a key. Plus, the lender gets to keep the change
    – clabacchio
    Sep 19, 2017 at 12:04
  • @clabacchio: Of course he keeps the change, and the day when I haven't enough coins it's not a problem. After all we're talking about cents...
    – dg3
    Sep 19, 2017 at 12:25
  • Who is Pete? Your link go to Snark Shark answer Sep 19, 2017 at 15:45
  • @Juan Carlos Oropeza: He changed the nick since I wrote the answer, but the link is correct
    – dg3
    Sep 19, 2017 at 16:09
  • 1
    been in Milan, it wasn't uncommon to offer coffee by recharging a colleague's key
    – Formagella
    Sep 19, 2017 at 22:10

What should I do? should I buy a credit key and offer the coffee to others team members in the same way as the others do? Or should I just pay my coffee and taking my breaks at different time?

The simplest thing to do would be to purchase a credit key and take your turn as the other team members do. You already do this in other contexts - just do it here too.

If you still don't want to do that, then bring enough coins one time and announce that it's your turn that day. Use the coins.

No need to make a big deal of this. Just be social and go along with the others.


There are a few options:

  • Offer to recharge a co-worker’s key occasionally (great way to get rid of excess change). Let him win the “race” to plug in his key, then insert your coins and announce it’s your turn this time.
  • Get your own key and join the game. At my old company IIRC there was a deposit of a few euros, refunded upon returning the key—nothing overly expensive (and again, you get to dump any excess change at the machine). If there are other subcontractors around, you can always offer the key to a newly arrived colleague when you leave.
  • If you occasionally (e.g. after lunch) take a coffee at the bar, offer to pay there.

I’d advise against skipping the coffee breaks or going separately—the main purpose of these breaks is to socialize, and purposefully not joining may come across as if you are distancing yourself from the others.

  • 1
    "Let him win the “race” to plug in his key, then insert your coins and announce it’s your turn this time." Whoa. Rude. That's not gracious at all.
    – Beanluc
    Sep 21, 2017 at 22:39

One option, is to take biscuits. If you've been taking advantage of the free coffee on offer, then you could, perhaps once a week, bring some biscuits to work and share them around.

That way you're enhancing the experience for everyone. (Although easiest is to just pay with change... 0.02c/cup isn't something to get too stressed about.)


Affordability, If you can afford to buy credit keys, go for it, if you don't than choose the alternative to serve them nicely too. on the other hand you can simply refuse their offer of coffee( like- you have no mood yet may be latter). People can understand it and they will not insist you-hopefully. But being nice I think you can make something for them which make them cheer. you can cook something or present them some good gift etc.


If they offer it, and you want what they offer, then accept it. They are trying to be nice - you may be doing them no favors by limiting the success of their efforts to do that.

Personally, I've been known to make significantly more money than some of my colleagues. I'm also been single for decades. I've also had vehicles donated to me. I also tend to be pretty smart with my money, and have not typically had significant credit card debt except a couple of cases where I intentionally went into such debt to enable specific scenarios (both times resulting in me going unemployed for a while and getting another college degree).

I understand that not everybody is in the same financial position. If I offer to get somebody (or a group of somebodies) cheap coffee coffee or even something a bit pricier (say, pizza), I have absolutely no expectation that others (who may be financially struggling) reciprocate. I simply hope for people to appreciate the gift that is offered.

If you can afford to make a similar gesture in return, great. (And, thank you.) However, if not, I'd be plenty happy if you's simply pay things forward (being similarly nice to someone else when you are in a position to). Don't feel any need to reciprocate if it isn't convenient.

Those are my thoughts. Those are my values. Know that some people won't have the same opinion, and will pay attention to who doesn't reciprocate, and will judge. I'm willing to let such people render such judgements ; I understand that some people seem to not be able to do so quite as easily. So, there's some degree of truth to the idea that you'll just need to make your own decisions (and live with whatever consequences you experience).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .