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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Coffee Shop 101: How to Be a Great Café Co-worker

Working from coffee shops has its perks—new, creative environments, interesting people, and endless amounts of caffeine to keep you going. But the café-meets-office environment can be ruined for everyone involved by that person.

You know the one I’m talking about—she’s too loud, her stuff is sprawled out across a table for four, and she’s getting obvious glares from the staff since she hasn’t ordered anything all day.

Well, let me tell you: The only thing worse than encountering that person is being that person. So, to help you avoid the embarrassment, I’ve put together the basics of café working etiquette. Use these tips to ensure that your favorite spots will embrace you just as much as you embrace them.

Know Which Places Are Worker Friendly  

The first step in setting yourself up for success is identifying worker-friendly coffee shops. The easiest way to do this is to note if there are other people set up with laptops, but there are other signs you can look out for as well. Music blaring too loudly for you to think, no visible outlets, or an establishment that touts itself as laptop-free are key signs that you should take your work elsewhere. On the other hand, signs for free Wi-Fi, ample outlets, or even (gasp!) power strips are good indicators that the café happily invites workers in.

Now, sometimes it takes a while to pick up on these things, so if I’m going to a new place, I usually test it for a couple hours before settling in for the day. After that, you’ll have a good sense as to whether the staff appreciates your business or wishes you’d see your way out after your first cup of joe.

You can also head to the web to figure out the best places to work. Check out Foursquare tips and lists, look at Yelp reviews, or use my own site,, to find worker-friendly cafés. You can even follow other remote workers on Twitter to see where they’re setting up shop.

Respect That it’s a Restaurant

When it comes to etiquette, the biggest mistake is asking for the Wi-Fi password before you make a purchase—it sends a message to the staff that you’re there to mooch, not munch. Don’t forget that cafés are businesses, too, and that people who take up space without spending aren’t exactly helping them. So, even if you’re just stopping by to check out the scene, order something as soon as you arrive to set the tone that you’re a customer, not an intruder.

If you’re posting up for the day, place small orders throughout your visit. Order at low peak times so you’re not adding to a rush, and make sure to add to the tip jar each time you go up to the counter (or tip your waiter a little extra at the end of your visit). It doesn’t have to be much, but the staff will take notice and see you as someone who supports their business, not someone who takes advantage of their ample space and Wi-Fi.

You should also make sure your work doesn’t affect the experience of the café’s customers. While charging up can often become urgent, it’s never okay to have your cord in the way of foot traffic. Also, be ready to share your table at high-traffic times like lunch, and keep your belongings clear of additional seating so people don’t have to ask permission to sit down.

Keep it Quiet

When you’re out and about working, there’s one general rule when it comes to conference calls: Don’t take them. Plan your coffee shop days for those times when you don’t have any phone or Skype meetings on tap. Remember, others are trying to get work done or enjoy their food and coffee, too, not hear you talk about your latest work project! And, once one person takes a call in a café, it can set off a chain reaction—you’ve given everyone the OK to answer their phones, which can get loud, fast.

If you absolutely must have a conversation, take it outside. When I leave my seat for a call, I usually just ask the person sitting next to me to watch my belongings. While some may think that’s a little too trustworthy, I consider it a way to build a café-worker connection. If you’re sitting next to someone for more than a couple of hours, it’s very likely that you’ll each have to get up at some point. I’ll watch your Mac if you watch mine.

Remember that a café is a business and a public space—not your home office or a co-working space. Treat the baristas and staff as if you’re in their home, and be extra conscious of the other people around you. Your experience will only be great if you’re able to respect those around you enough to happily work side-by-side.

Photo of woman at a cafe courtesy of Shutterstock.