Freelance Fridays: Writing in Coffee Shops


Don’t make a coffee shop nuisance of yourself. Photo via Visualhunt


From time to time, so-called coffee shop loitering pops up as a sore point in the business world. In short, it’s a culture clash between shop owners who want fast turnover and consumers, typically writers, freelancers, and homebased workers, who want a little change of pace during their work day.

The problem? Everybody is tryi

ng to work. The store wants us to buy things and leave, and we just want to be left alone to get something done in a stimulating environment. Also, we want caffeine. We’re not going anywhere. The shops need to work this one out, but that’s a topic for another Friday.

While the debate is far from resolved, there are a few things we guests can do to encourage our local cafes to embrace and encourage our presence, instead of viewing us as pests to be evicted as quickly as possible.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

Plan ahead. If I’m wanting to use the WiFi for an important item, say, uploading photos, I try to have my things as organized as possible before I get there. Have the start of a blog post in a file, a few images edited, a video ready to go. If I end up leaving earlier than planned, then hopefully I’ve accomplished something in the interim.

Don’t abuse the privilege. So there’s a line out the door, the staff are running their tails off, and you’re just sitting there? You haven’t ordered anything for three hours. And you do this every day? Not cool. Take a social cue: If you can see that it’s unusually busy, think twice about staying so long.

I don’t hit the same place every single day, and I don’t stay late every time. Only one shop in your area? The rule especially applies. Limit your laptop outings. Because I can go as long as two weeks between work sessions, frequently bring guests for meals, and make a point of ordering food or drinks to go at other times, nobody begrudges my presence on the days when I do come in with a computer in tow.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
When I bring my laptop along, I bring it charged. I don’t plug it in to someone else’s wall and run up their power bill. If the battery runs out, tough.  Time’s up. Go home.

Engage the staff. A variation of Wheaton’s Law (otherwise known as “Don’t be a dick”), this one involves taking a moment each visit to get to know the people serving you day in and day out. Small talk doesn’t come naturally to us introverts, so think of it as an experiment in human behavior or an opportunity for information gathering. Ask a question about local news or events. Make a point of smiling and reassuring a staffer who is clearly having a rough day. Drop a friendly hint to tourists. Compliment someone’s cooking skills. Take a sample if it’s offered and give feedback. Whatever you do, do not hide in a corner and grunt.

Tip. This one is non-negotiable. If you’re going to take advantage of people’s hospitality, then let me kindly refer you back to Wheaton’s Law. I tip the baristas and servers every visit. And I live in a state where restaurant workers are required to be paid the standard minimum wage, not the much-lower federal restaurant minimum. There is no excuse for not tipping. Zero, zilch, nada. Put it in your budget.
Mix it up. The baristas at my regular spot remember what I usually drink, but they also know I will occasionally throw a curveball at them. Some days I buy coffee and leave. Some mornings I stay and grab a pastry; other times I’ll order a full breakfast or take lunch to go. Keep it interesting and keep them guessing.

If all you ever do is sit there four hours a day hogging a table and an outlet after buying a drip coffee–or nabbing a complimentary one–while refusing to acknowledge anyone, you’re gonna have a bad time. A little coffee shop etiquette goes a long way, freelancers.


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