How To

How To Use A Coffee Shop As An Office and Not Be THAT Person

photo by Karen Apricot
photo by Karen Apricot

Confession: I used to be that person who got super annoyed at people who work in coffee shops. I hated how they would spread their laptops all over the place, hog up space because they had to be near an outlet, sip the same damn cup of coffee for three hours when the table could have turned over several times in the interim and brought the coffee shop more money.

I still hate those things, but I am one of those people who uses a coffee shop as an office now. Unashamedly.

Since I got this writing gig (not to mention being the editor of my own, less illustrious site), I found that I really did work better when I was out of the house and pouring a steady stream of caffeine into my person. I concentrate better when I don’t have fifty things in my peripheral vision nagging, “Hey! We are things that need to be done! Why aren’t you doing us? WHY? WHY? WHY?” And that’s before my cats start grumbling at me or using me as human cat furniture.

So where do I go? The coffee shop. Of course.

I imposed some rules on myself, though. I think these rules kind of mystify the employees, who will occasionally give me a break on something and look at me like I’m insane when I say no, no–I want to pay full price. Because I’m aware that camping out in the same seat for hours doesn’t help my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and I don’t want to hurt their business while also using their electricity and free WiFi.

These are my rules for using a coffee shop as an office:

Take up the smallest space possible. I see people unnecessarily using two tables when they really could condense down into one and scoot that second table over so that it could be used by someone else. I know being near an outlet is Mission Critical, but if you have a laptop, a beverage, and a snack, you can work that with only one regulation-sized coffee shop table.

Spend money. One cup of coffee is my ticket to work for maybe an hour, and I kind of feel like that’s pushing it a little. (Yes, even if it’s fancy.) Coffee shops are affected by turnover, too; if, for example, you are not going to the cafe to work, and you know that it will be full of people not getting up from their work and there will not be a seat, you will probably choose a different shop. That coffee shop just lost business due to low turnover of tables. When I’m working, I try to buy things at least once an hour to justify my time there. If I’m getting refills, I add snacks or switch up my drink.

Tip well. Even if I’m spending money periodically, I’m still probably not spending as much as the table could earn were it open to many people, or groups of people, who might sit for just fifteen or twenty minutes (unless your cafe of choice is just totally dead). Tipping well keeps the baristas from giving me the side-eye.

I also take the baristas treats sometimes. I’ve taken cookies and soup (uh, not at the same time) to the baristas at my “office.”

Be cognizant of rush hour. High volume times = more seats needed and more opportunities for table turnover. I don’t like going during rush hour anyway because it’s harder to find an outlet seat. Or any seat. I try to target off-peak times for maximum consideration.

Do you have personal rules for working in your “coffice”? (And also are you a little squigged out by how that sounds like “coffin”?)



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  • JoAnn Nelson

    Thank you. Am I awful to admit that I never considered these rules? I frequently interview for my job, at a local cafe. I’m usually not more than an hour. I do purchase a drink and snack. Because I’m a fatty! But I didn’t consider the total of these factors. I will be more aware.

  • Samantha Owens

    It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to spend all day at the coffee shop, but I miss it a lot. My local one is one of two in the area, but the one closest to me has a better atmosphere so people do actually stay to study, work on photo editing, writing, etc. The baristas are super cool, I like the early morning crew best, they are always laughing and joking when I just feel like going back to bed.

    I like trying to buy as much as possible when I’m there, but usually when I do get a chance to go, something about the environment just wakes up my brain, and I can get what I set out to do done within the time it takes to me to finish that first coffee and pastry. My laptop also has a fairly decent battery life, so even if I don’t get a seat with an outlet, it’s more inspiration to get done faster.

  • Nikki Steele

    I think the rush hour rule is the most important. If you’re working during the day, I think you can spread out and take up as much room as you want. My “coffice” *snicker* in particular specifically caters to workers during the day because it’s the only traffic they would have. But I would never roll in at 6 AM or right after work and take up a whole bunch of space. I also try to have my husband meet me over here sometimes for lunch or hold meetings here so they’ll have some more new traffic coming through the door.

  • Kaulie L.

    As a barista who used to give a lottttttttt of people vicious side-eye, I can back these rules of thumb up one hundred percent. The point about taking up as little space as possible is especially important – I see so many people working alone at tables or booths intended to seat four, and it drives me crazy. While baristas try to be understanding and patient with people who work in coffee shops – after all, we do too! – being considerate of both the shop employees and other patrons goes a long, long way towards keeping the whole cafe happy.

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      As both a customer and a former barista, YUP on people taking up full booths or four tops and that being frustrating.

  • Alexandra Jacunski

    I’ve always tried to follow the minimum space rule.

    The most blatant snub of coffeeshop space I’ve seen: people bringing their own lunch and spending hours there! I mean, come ON.

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      OMG, I know. When I’m super poor and can only afford beverages, I bring like, a snack bar… But a full-on meal? Jeez.

  • Amanda Waters

    Knowing your local coffee shop is so key – when is the best time to come and sit for a while. Like someone else mentioned, the coffee shop I used to work at would have been pretty slow during the late morning/early afternoon if not for people working on their laptops. and fortunately all our working customers were gracious, considerate, and good tippers. I haven’t worked at a “coffice” regularly since grad school, but when I did I tried to do what I could to purchase appropriately and not hog the space. (and definitely not bring a whole lunch!). Honestly, while it doesn’t have necessarily the same “vibe”, if a person needs to spread out and spend zero money — use the local library. Free wi-fi, power outlets, stay as long as you want.

  • Teresa

    I used to do a lot of coffice work but they were mostly interviews and other meetings. I would go in to the place earlier in the week and ask the manager when her slow times were as to not hog up a table when she needed them. The chain place looked at me like I had two heads. The local small business place gave me a reserved table with an extension cord to an outlet (they didn’t have many tables within outlet reach).

  • Michael Rodriguez

    Be pals with your baristas. Shoot the breeze with them. Wipe the table when you get up to leave. Push in your chair. Smile. Do these things, and they will forgive you for smuggling in a Clif Bar.

  • Find a Coffice

    Great tips! That’s being a cofficer is all about. Feel free to use our app to find and rate your favorite coffices around the world :)