Food & Drink

Brokes Populi: How much do you spend at a coffee shop?

Tea Lounge photo by Jennifer Bernstein.

Picture a rainy Brooklyn morning. Perfect day to hunker down in a coffee shop in the company of other morose creatives, wondering what novel or secret IPO they’re up to. But don’t ask, lest they’re just paying ConEd online and you’re reminded both of the banalities of human existence and your own possibly overdue electrical bill. You give yourself props because you haven’t used a single kilowatt at home this month as you plug your laptop into the coffee shop’s outlet instead, sip your 17th hot water refill on a long spent tea bag and settle into reorganizing your Spotify playlists for the next four hours. You’re a laptop squatter, the bane of coffee shop owners everywhere.

The point of this obese windup is not merely to get our bloviating muscles working on an arthritic Monday morning, but to ask you, Brokistas, what you think is fair to spend at a coffee shop where you’re taking up space for half a day? Do you nurse a small joe all day, or order a chai latte for every hour you’re there? Are you required to order food after two hours? Is your bill $3, $10 or $20? And do you order more if you use electricity? Confess, our dear child. You too, café owners. We want to hear your side.


  1. this is why i normally just hang out at home… less guilt!
    when i do go to a coffeeshop to work it’s usually around 1 drink/hr. food usually comes into play at some point (coffee on empty stomach = ugh). so maybe $10 for an hour or two?
    i worked briefly for a startup that literally had their office in a coffeeshop. the coffeeshop was wise enough to require a purchase for a certain amount of time on the internet (you got a little code, good for 15 mins). probably the most effective defense against squatters.

  2. beezy

    If it’s a lightly traveled shop, you should probably order at least $2/hour worth of stuff, and a “food” if you are there 2 hours or more. If it’s crowded, you should probably just find another shop.

  3. racheld

    I often spend entire days in coffices working which usually equates to approx 2 large coffees and something to quell the embarrassing moans of hunger around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. About $12-15 bucks over the course of the day is way more than I should be spending, but I do because I need a place to work that is not conducive to napping (e.g., my couch) and I feel like I’m stealing from the sweet looking barista/owner whose life dream was to open this adorbs (but money sucking) neighborhood coffee shop. BUT – and I am prepared for the hate on this one – this is why I unashamedly work at Starbucks most days! You can bring your own lunch. No one leers at you when you overstay your welcome (you can work in there from 9-9 and no one will even notice most of the time). There’s almost always seating (one of the ‘bucks in my hood has a basement working lounge). AND (little known secret) bring a reusable mug or recycle the first cup of the day back up (remove your own lid) and they’ll give you a refill for 52 cents (on hot or iced coffee, not sure about the fancy stuff I’m low maintenance when it comes to my caffeine). They make all their money on frappamachichinos so they don’t care if you mooch their internet. Sure sometimes I feel guilty giving my money to a giant corporation instead of a homegrown local business. But that guilt is negated by the fact that I can work in peace and spend a lot less money over the course of the freelance week. Hate all you want; I’m caffeinated, productive and guilt free.

  4. Tim Donnelly

    I agree on the 1 drink/hour standard, and if I’m going to be there all day I try to buy a sandwich or something more substantial. But of note: I’ve recently tried to buy sandwiches at two different coffee shops only to find out they were out of food for the day, so it was coffee or nothing. I don’t feel guilty about it in that situation.

  5. At Starbucks, or other chain, 2 hours on a cheap coffee, longer if they’re not busy. Independent place, a drink or doughnut every hour to hour and a half. If it’s lunch or dinner rush in a place with food, don’t hang out, go to the library or Starbucks for a while.

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