Coffee Shop Etiquette for Entrepreneurs and Writers

My favorite office smells like coffee.

It’s not any particular place. It’s any independent coffee shop that has decent wifi and grinds their own coffee beans every couple of hours. I love the sounds and the smells of the place, although the milk steamer is a little obnoxious at times. And I appreciate the relationships I have with the baristas and the regulars.

Inside Duo 58. One of my favorite local coffee shops, and the inspiration for this article on coffee shop etiquette.

Inside Duo 58. One of my favorite local coffee shops, and the inspiration for this article.

Any old coffee shop will do, although I prefer independent coffee shops. I even made maps of the independent coffee shops in Indianapolis and Orlando, and often visit new ones just to find hidden gems around the city. I’m even sitting in one of my local favorites, Duo 58, as I write this.

Several years ago, for four months, my business partner and I left our old office and spent our rent money on coffee, working six hours a day out of the Hubbard & Cravens in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis). It got us outside in the winter, we met a lot of new people, and I came home every day smelling like freshly ground coffee. It was only because we wanted somewhere more quiet and with faster Internet speeds that we returned to our old office.

I learned a few lessons about coffee shop etiquette and some of the things that drive coffee shop owners and managers nuts, or make things difficult for entrepreneurs, writers, and laptop warriors to find decent shops to do any work.

Here are five coffee shop etiquette rules every coffee shop commuter needs to follow when working in your favorite local java joint.

  1. Buy something every 2 hours. I make it a point to spend at least $5 every two hours I’m at a coffee shop. It gets expensive, but when you consider that a shop not only has to pay their baristas, they’re paying for their equipment, lights, HVAC, and fresh beans. If you camp out for six hours on a single $2 ice tea (that you keep getting free refills on!), you’re taking up valuable space that better-paying customers could be using, and you’re eating into the owner’s already-thin profits.
  2. Heidi and Kelly. They're studying to be physicians assistants. I invited them to sit with me while I wrote this.

    Heidi and Kelly. They’re studying to be physicians assistants. I invited them to sit with me while I wrote this.

  3. Never take up a 4-top for yourself. A lot of coffee shops have 2-top tables that are ideal for one or two people, but also have a few 4-tops for larger groups. Try to avoid sitting at a 4-top unless you’re either holding it for more people, or all the 2-tops are taken up. Remember, the whole reason the coffee shop exists is to get the highest number of people in there, and if you keep four other people from sitting down, they lose a lot more money than you’re spending. At the very least, be willing to share your table with other people. Which reminds me. . .
  4. Always offer to share your table. A friend told me she once went into a coffee shop that was filled with single individuals sitting at 2-top tables. She asked one young woman if she could share her table. The young woman said “No!” rather rudely, and my friend sat down and said, “I’m sorry, the place is crowded and this one is big enough for two people. I’ll move as soon as another one opens up.” Instead, the young woman insulted my friend, and called her “entitled and selfish” before storming off, no doubt to look up the definition of “irony.” If you’re at a full coffee shop, be a decent human being and invite someone to join you at your table. I’ve been at Duo 58 all morning, and I’ve invited three different people to sit with me during my time here. Besides, you never know who you’re going to meet as a result of your kindness.
  5. Keep conversation volumes low. I’ve been in coffee shops that sound like a high school cafeteria at high noon. While you don’t have to whisper to your meeting partner, you don’t need to use your outside voice either. It’s especially bad when you can hear someone else’s conversation from 30 feet away. Or as my friend, Sheryl Brown (@BionicSocialite) says, “Set the tone of your voice to that which is comfortable to the space. Pay attention if you naturally have a booming voice — people tend to follow your lead. (T)hey think you’re hard of hearing and start yelling to match your voice.
  6. Don’t watch Netflix or YouTube. Video takes up way more bandwidth than audio, photos, and text. And a coffee shop is not here to give you free broadband so you can binge watch Disjointed. Other people are trying to do actual work and/or study online, and your videos only slow down everyone else’s experience. It’s one thing if there are only one or two of you in the place, but when it’s half-full, you’re slowing everyone else down. Either switch to your personal hotspot or download movies when you’re at home. Don’t use more than your fair share of the wifi, especially since you only bought a small coffee to begin with.

The coffee shop explosion has nicely coincided with the rise in entrepreneurship and small businesses, giving us a place to work, network, and meet with potential clients and partners. But if you’re going to spend more than an hour working in a coffee shop, try to remember the store owner is in business just like you.

If you take up space without buying anything, or make a general nuisance of yourself, you only make the experience bad for everyone else. It’s this kind of behavior that leads to coffee houses putting limits on their wifi, or removing their wifi entirely.

If that happens, then I’m working at your house.

And I won’t tip you.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.