The Do’s and Don’ts of camping out in a coffee shop

If you’re a freelancer who works remotely, you’re well-versed in the coffee shop campout. You arrive prepared early in the morning, laptop in hand, ready for a day of quiet work alongside dozens of other freelancers. But oh, what’s this? The barista is giving you the stink-eye. And so are the people sitting near you. But why?

Is this you every day of the week? Be nice, buy something else
Is this you? There are some things you should know.


Well, probably because you’re violating basic rules of camper etiquette. While we can agree that wi-fi enabled cafés are a god-given right these days, there are also basic courtesies that should (and do) go along with that privilege. So in that spirit, here are our Do’s and Don’ts of spending your workday at a single coffee joint.

Also tip. Very important to tip. Photo by Sam Corbin
Also tip. Very important to tip. Photo by Sam Corbin


You’re working in a space that somebody else pays for, enjoying a curated music playlist, benefiting from a social environment that isn’t your bed and getting constant access to a clean bathroom. So a refill of your beverage, or a snack purchase every now and then is the way to let the establishment know you appreciate what they’re providing for you. And tip as you go on every purchase; you never know when shift changeover happens, so if you meant to tip on your next cookie you might miss the first barista.


It’s a major health code violation, not to mention incredibly irritating to everyone working behind the counter. First of all, they can see you. No matter how discreetly you try to sneak bites of whatever is in your Ziploc bag, everyone has noticed. Second of all, most every coffee shop has something snack-y you can eat to tide you over. If they don’t, or you’re picky about food, then consider finding yourself a co-working space.


"You're gonna have to speak up, I'm in a coffee shop." Photo by David Colon
“You’re gonna have to speak up, I’m in a coffee shop.” Photo by David Colon


How would you like to hear someone blabbering away on the phone during your precious work hours? Treat the workspace like a cool library, and just let the coffee shop staff be the loud ones. If you absolutely must take a phone call, keep it short, or step outside the shop and ask a nice person next to you to keep an eye on your laptop. Oh, and don’t plan a Skype conference for your session! You’ll bother everyone in sight, it looks unprofessional to your online colleague, and the use of headphones will definitely distort your sense of volume.


At the end of the day, a coffee shop is a coffee shop, and not your personal internet connection. If for some reason the wi-fi conks out, and their re-starting it doesn’t fix it for you, you’re shit outta luck. Just switch locations, and make a mental note not to rely on that particular place for your next camp-out. Tip: most DHCP wi-fi connections have only a certain number of IP addresses to give out a day. If the coffee shop you like to work in gets hundreds of customers with laptops in a day, they might be out of addresses by the time you sit down to work. Hence the “I can’t connect!” issue.


There's room for everyone!
There’s room for everyone!


Some shops have tight quarters, which means you might encounter a situation in which someone asks to sit across from you at a small two-person table. Hey, guess what? That table is meant to accommodate two humans who actually talk to each other, so you don’t get to claim it all for yourself. Let someone squeeze in across from you, and don’t order a massive plate of food just to force them out. Also: everyone has batteries. Everyone’s batteries die. If you were lucky enough to shack up next to one of the few outlets in the café, great. But don’t give someone shit for asking to plug in or trade off with you, especially once you’re all charged up.


If you’ve been in the shop all day, then you had better be out of there at least 15 minutes before they close. Here’s why: coffee service usually winds down in the last couple business hours, with maybe two or three stragglers left. And nobody behind the counter likes to kick customers out, since it seems rude. So if you’re still plugged in on a laptop, chances are, you’re getting the staff worried you might actually try to stay past closing time because you’re “just finishing a big project” or “need five more minutes.” Just put everyone’s mind at ease by packing up before they have to cut off the music and start stacking the chairs up around you.

Follow Sam for more etiquette lessons at @ahoysamantha


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