Are You a Coffee Shop Etiquette Offender?

Many creative freelancers like to work outside of their home. Cafés can be ideal ­– until another freelancer walks in and forgets proper coffee shop etiquette. Here's how to behave in such a way that a modern-day Emily Post would approve.

With three young children at home, I don't have a dedicated home office. So when I hire a babysitter, I leave. Although the library is nice – and free – I love the local independent coffee shop in my town. I know the owner and employees. I know what I like on the menu, the comfort level of the different chairs, where the outlets are and the times of day the shop is most busy.

Fort Thomas Coffee is only open until 3 p.m, so if my workday extends beyond that I typically hit up my local Starbucks. There's a small table near an outlet in a dark corner I like to frequent. It's hidden away enough that I don't get interrupted.

Given that I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops, I'm well aware of the habits, both good and bad, of my fellow freelancers and telecommuters. And I have some complaints. They're complaints I hear echoed by others as well.

1. Don't hog the outlets. Most people I see with a laptop in a café or coffee shop are using an outlet. Fine. Ideally you come in fully charged but life happens, batteries grow weak, a large download depletes your device. Show some coffee shop etiquette and share. Don't plug in all your electronics at once – pick one. And once you're charged, unplug. Also, be mindful of your cords. You're in a public place with lots of people and they're tripping hazards.

2. Buy something. Consider it the rental fee for using a table, chair, electricity, space. OK, so you feel that the cappuccinos are overpriced and the pastries aren't on your diet. Buy a banana and hot tea. What you spend at the coffee shop is far less than what you'd spend on rent for office space. Support them so they can support you. And if you're at a coffee shop for an extended period, buy another item.

3. Be nice. Say please and thank you when ordering. Learn the names of the people who work at your favorite spot. Tip if you feel so inclined. Consider fellow customers, too. Share a table. If chairs are needed, don't take up two ­– one for you and one for your bag. If you're fully charged but near an outlet, offer to switch places with someone looking to plug in. If asked to, keep an eye on fellow café-goers' personal items when they're in the restroom or buying their second cup of coffee. Likely, they'll do the same for you.

4. Be quiet. Meetings are fine as long as they don't become too rambunctious. Arguments and lively brainstorms, while amusing to watch, are distracting. Take your calls outside and turn the volume on your phone down. If you're watching a video or listening to music, wear headphones. And know whatever you talk about in public, people are listening. Be mindful when discussing the details of a new ad campaign, financial information or a difficult client. As a copywriter who is always looking for more material, eavesdropping on conversations is one of my favorite coffee shop pastimes.

5. Be friendly. Freelancing can be lonely; community can help. Be curious ­– without being intrusive – about other people and what they're working on. Don't be afraid to say hello. Striking up quick conversations can be helpful to your project in the moment, while also leading to friendships and collaborations down the line.

6. Leave. You're on deadline. Your project is taking much longer than you anticipated. You've been at the coffee shop for four hours but you're looking at another four, easy. Leave. Open up your space to other customers ­– especially if you notice that the shop is busy – and go to another establishment. Support the new café, and buy something else. In addition, the physical activity and change of scenery may be just what you need to get the creative juices flowing once again.

All of this, really, can be reduced to four words: Follow the Golden Rule. By doing so, we all can continue to enjoy the freedom that comes with working outside the home, all for the price of a latté. 

What coffee shop etiquette mistakes drive you crazy?

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Tags: Freelance, Op-ed