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.

Don’t Be a Jerk, Let Them Work: Too Many Check-Ins PSA [VIDEO]

I realized I was making too many check-ins when I noticed I had 6 geo-location networks on my phone (the only thing I didn’t have was Facebook Places, and I’m sure my Facebook for Android app has it already installed).

I shot this video as a part of 12 Stars Media’s You Do Video program, on the Flip camera they provided me, with help from Meghan Barich’s @MeghanBarich help, as well as Pamela the Barista), and then was so ashamed that I actually had nearly all of the apps I named that I deleted Whrrl and Hashable, and saved myself over 10 GB of space on my phone.

I also realized that there are just too many geo-location networks out there. I frequently use Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp, because I like their game psychology and the chance to win badges, pins, and titles. I like how retail stores and restaurants have embraced Foursquare to offer specials for check-ins. I like how Gowalla offers special “trips,” encouraging visitors to check out different places in a city, and I appreciate Yelp’s user-generated reviews of a restaurant, which help me decided whether to eat at a place or not.

So I’m paring down to only those three, and while I may check out some other location-based apps in the future, especially any hyperlocal ones that focuses on a specific city, I don’t plan on adding any more. I may even drop one or two in the future, especially if Foursquare would ever add more user-generated reviews in the future, and not just tips.

Five Ways Coffee Shops Can Earn Entre-Commuters’ Ongoing Business

So I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Orlando right now, thinking I need a military firing range to get some peace and quiet to get some work done. I’m on a working vacation this week and have tried several different local coffee shops and this Starbucks, but I haven’t had great luck.

Compared to even the mediocre coffee shops in Indianapolis, I realized not every coffee shop gives a crap about their customers, let alone the returning ones. If I lived here in Orlando, I can imagine I would be on a months-long quest to find a decent coffee shop where I would want to spend several hours at a time. I thought I had a winner with one — gorgeous decor, nice ambience, and it was quiet — but the wifi was nonexistent (something about Macs not being able to interface properly with their router). I turned to a Starbucks as a last resort, but was bombarded with the same Starbucks experience: too loud, snail-slow wifi, and bitter coffee.

Fellow entre-commuter Kelly Karmann at Hubbard & Cravens

My good friend and fellow entre-commuter, Kelly (r), at my favorite coffee shop, Hubbard & Cravens.

Entre-commuters (telecommuting entrepreneurs) often work from coffee shops for their meeting, turning a small two-top table into a desk for the day. And the good ones pay for the privilege, spending office rent money on coffee instead. For those of us who entre-commute even a few times a week, finding a good coffee shop can mean days, weeks, and months of rabid loyalty, which can turn into hundreds of dollars a month, and a few thousand in a year, from a single customer. Returning and loyal customers are often the lifeblood of many small independent coffee shops.

Here are five ways coffee shops can earn ongoing business from entre-commuters.

  1. Turn down the damn music! Most Starbucks blast their music at concert-level volumes. I’ve got my earbuds on in this one, and it’s still painfully loud. The music should be the backdrop to the coffee shop experience, and not the reason we’re here. It’s not a freaking concert. For entre-commuters who want to have meetings in coffee shops, they don’t want to do it where they have to shout to be heard.
  2. Have wifi system accessible by all operating systems. I occasionally run into coffee shops whose routers can’t handle Macs. “Something about the Mac’s security codes don’t quite line up with the router,” say the baristas. Many of the entre-commuters I see have Macs. While it’s not an even 50/50 split, there are enough freelancers and small business owners who use Macs that you’re alienating a big part of your audience by not giving them access.
  3. Have a wifi system that doesn’t choke when more than three people are on it. Most wifi systems can handle more than a few people, but if your system gets hung up when more than four users are online, you need more bandwidth. Otherwise, you’ll only ever have more than a few users in your store. The wifi system at my favorite coffee shop doesn’t start bogging down until 12 or so people are on it, and even then, it only gets slow. It doesn’t stop.
  4. Have a meeting room or place where people can get a little privacy. The coolest meeting room setup I ever saw was at a Starbucks in Louisville. It was a refurbished community bank, and they kept the two meeting rooms. They set up a program where people could reserve the room for $50. They would then receive a $30 coffee card to share with their guests. Another Indianapolis coffee shop, South Bend Chocolate Company, has a meeting room they just share for free, on a first come, first serve basis. Both places are regular stops for businesspeople who need a casual meeting place.
  5. Have a lot of power plugs for laptops. If people don’t have a place to power up, they won’t hang out. The good coffee shops have a power plug every few feet. The bad ones make 20 people share one plug. With some basic rewiring, or even creative use of some power strips, they can give laptop users a place to plug in and recharge while they get work done. I know a lot of people who avoid certain coffee shops because they don’t have any public plugs.

While some coffee shops may want to avoid the entre-commuter crowd, they aren’t looking at the big picture. A good entre-commuter should spend around $4 every couple hours, dropping $8 – $10 in 4 – 5 hours. These regulars are worth $50 per week, $2500 per year. Having a group of regulars who are each responsible for $2,500 a year should be the goal of the owner of any decent coffee shop.

To be fair, entre-commuters also need to learn to be respectful of the coffee shop owners who need to turn tables in order to turn a profit. Spend enough money to justify your taking up the table for several hours, or go get an office. Practice good entre-commuter etiquette.

Be an Entre-Commuter With Just a Latte and a Laptop

I’m the mayor of my office and my church.

At least that’s what Foursquare tells me. I’ve checked in enough times at both places that I’ve been declared the mayor.

Foursquare is a location-based social networking site that lets you tell people where you are via Twitter and Facebook.

Think: 50% friend-finder, 30% social city guide, 20% nightlife game. We wanted to build something that not only helps you keep up with your friends, but exposes you to new things in and challenges you to explore cities in different ways.

You check in at different places around a city, give tips and recommendations, and in general get to know your city better.

I’ve been using FourSquare a lot lately, especially after I got my new Droid phone a few weeks ago.

I’m starting to earn the reputation for being out and about all the time. I check in everywhere I go: the office, the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store. I’m not out any more than usual. I’m just telling people about it.

But it’s become a whole lot easier now for me to be out and about too, thanks to my laptop and the proliferation of free wifi around the city. I’ve become a real entre-commuter.

(Entre-commuter: entrepreneurial commuter who works out of a coffee shop, cafe, restaurant, library, or any other place with free wifi. Term coined by Erik Deckers and Paul Lorinczi to justify why they don’t sit in the office all day, every day.)

We came up with the term entre-commuter for those people who own their own business and have the ability to do it anywhere. They can do it from home, the local library, or their local coffee shop. We happen to favor Hubbard & Cravens in Broad Ripple, although I’ll travel just about anywhere around Central Indiana for good coffee.

The great thing about being an entre-commuter is that you get to network with other people, and collaborate with them on occasion. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met with, helped, provided connections for, and done business with, just because we both happened to be out at the same time in the same place. And meeting some of the same people in the same place several times has blossomed my network beyond the typical Chamber and other networking events.

Where do entre-commuters gather?

I prefer to patronize local coffee shops and restaurants, although I’ll hit the occasional chain once in a while. We need to support our local establishments more than the chains — the chains don’t support our local economies. The locals do.

Is there entre-commuters etiquette?

There are a few rules for entre-commuters. They’re fairly common sense, but I still see people violate them from time to time.

  • Don’t camp out. They have to turn tables during peak times. If you’re sitting with a computer and a bottled water over lunch, they’re losing money on you.
  • Only occupy tables during low times. Don’t take up a 4-top all by yourself if you can help it, and don’t be afraid to share a table with a stranger either.
  • Buy something. Spend money, and more than just a little. Don’t buy a $2 coffee and then sit for 8 hours.
  • Be respectful. This is someone else’s business, not your office. Don’t treat it like it’s your place. You’re a guest.
  • Keep your voices down. Other people are there too, so don’t have loud conversations. You’re not at the club, you’re at a quiet little shop.

Entre-commuters just need to be somewhere we can find free wifi and good coffee. Somewhere we can connect online and offline. Find your local shops and spend some time there. See if you can create some business, as well as giving the local shops some business as well.

Photo: Nina Turns 40 blog