How Not To Drive Your Local Coffee Shop Crazy

coffee shopIf you’re a freelancer like me, your local coffee shop might hate you. Because chances are, when laundry is beckoning and dishes are piling and you’ve got a deadline you simply cannot focus on, you jet to the caffeinated mecca down the road for a few hours of free Wi-Fi, fresh air and focused work time. And sure, you might think you’re doing the fine establishment a favor – keeping their seats warm and their pastries fresh – but how do you know when you’ve overstayed your welcome? What’s the etiquette code for your favorite office-away-from-office? Ever-the-curious one, I consulted my favorite local barista and, together, we came up with a list of rules for the Coffee Shop Squatter:

Rule #1: Buy more than one drink.
And no, that doesn’t mean purchasing a small tea and requesting a tap water to nurse over the next four hours. If you’re using a coffee shop as you would an office, treat it accordingly and consider all purchases an inexpensive (but heavily caffeinated!) rental fee. If food is available, order lunch or a snack as well.

Rule #2: Always tip.
Again, chalk this up to your “rental fee” and bear in mind that, in a coffee shop, the barista is king. You want to be on their good side, at all times.

Rule #3: If you’ve visited the restroom more than once, you’ve likely stayed too long.
This is a general guideline, so if you have a small bladder or a runny nose, you’re exempt. But in most cases, 2-3 hours is plenty of time to sneak in some work and still respect the owner’s space.

Rule #4: If it’s busy, get out.
An obvious, but oft-ignored rule. Don’t be the person who squats his/her table during busy lunch hours.

Rule #5: Abide by the power cord policy.
Be mindful of your power cord. Is it sprawled across the room so patrons have to step over it? Are you hoarding all available outlets for your phone, computer and iPad chargers? This goes without saying, but being courtesy to other patrons (who might actually be there to drink coffee and visit) is just as important as respecting the employees.

Rule #6: Ask permission.
It never hurts to ask permission to set up shop temporarily. Remember – the barista is the keeper of this domain, so if you want to go above and beyond, be honest and explain that you’re on a deadline and would love to work for a few hours, but plan to be respectful of their time and space, as well. Chances are, the employee will appreciate the gesture and welcome you any time, and you can guarantee you’ll never be the recipient of a caffeine-fueled angsty eye roll again.

Rule #7: Be courteous of space.
We’ve all seen her – the college kid who has sprawled out an entire year’s worth of dissertation notes onto two tables and is holding eight chairs hostage? Don’t be her. If you’re working alone, plop yourself at a small bistro table for two (or better yet, the single-stool bar when available).

Rule #8: Spread the love.
If you’re a frequent coffee shop squatter and need a space to work daily, consider balancing your time between various coffee shops – rather than becoming a burden on your favorite. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, in that some coffee shops love having a regular stop by daily. But if you sense you might be overstaying your welcome, you probably are. Time to branch out and spread your wings, little freelancer.

Rule #9: Headphones, always.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the working zone and, suddenly, Mariah Carey is singing eight octaves too high from a cell phone speaker across the room.  And then Celine Dion. And then Aretha Franklin. And pretty soon there’s an entire diva concert happening (and I didn’t buy tickets). Look, I listen to music while I work, too. It’s totally fine – great, even. Just don’t forget the headphones.

Rule #10: Conference calls aren’t coffee-shop friendly.
Not only is it mildly unprofessional to attempt to shout fourth quarter budgets over a cappuccino maker’s hum, but I’m guessing the other patrons aren’t interested in how many silk pants you intend to sell this month. In general, do your best to keep phone time at a minimum, and if you need to hop on a conference call, keep it short (and quiet).

So what do you think, friends? Are you a frequent offender of the above guidelines? Do you have any coffee shop pet peeves? I’d love to hear! Now go forth and freelance.

p.s. If you’re curious, yes, I did write this from a coffee shop, and I’ve got $18 less to my name. Well worth it.

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