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Coffee Shop Etiquette for Freelancers

Why So Serious?
(Image: independent.co.uk)

Whether you're a freelancer or you just need to get away from the cubicle for an afternoon, working from a coffee shop can be a great idea. The change of scenery, the low hum of background noise, and the easy access to good coffee can get you in a different frame of mind, boost creativity, and increase productivity. At the same time, you don't want to wear out your welcome. Here are a few simple tips to strike the right balance between getting your work done and being a good customer.

1. Don't spend four hours nursing one cup of coffee. Coffee shops, cafes and restaurants all rely on doing a certain volume of business to stay profitable. If you're sponging space and free wi-fi for hours at a stretch without buying, you're losing the business money. Can't knock back more than two cups of coffee (you lightweight, you)? Switch to bottled water, fruit juice, or a good herbal tea. Buy pastries or sandwiches (you're going to get hungry sooner or later). Pace yourself, but be a good guest.

2. Be mindful of your footprint. Don't take up a four-top and two or more chairs with your laptop, notepad, phone, MP3 player, notes, novels, and whatever else's lurking in your laptop bag. Likewise, don't monopolize the power outlets. If more than one device needs to be powered up or charged, think of how to economize on space (for instance, by charging your mobile phone through one of your laptop's USB ports instead of using another plug).

3. Be mindful of the other customers. Customers and staff alike may not say much one way or another, but they'll be grateful if you keep your voice low if you have to take a call (or, better still, step outside for a minute). When it comes to wi-fi, restrict your use to browsing and email, avoiding activities like streaming and downloading that take up a lot of bandwidth. Don't watch porn in the coffee shop (yes, I've seen this happen, and yes, it's rude). And if you're going to fire up music or a DVD, use headphones.

4. Don't abandon your stuff. Sooner or later, the phone's going to ring, nature's going to call, you're going to need a cigarette, or you're just going to want to stretch your legs. It's okay to ask someone to watch your stuff, but don't take advantage. Ask a fellow customer (not a barista), and don't leave for more than five minutes if you can help it.

5. Don't be an ass. Be considerate of your fellow customers and the baristas. Tip well, clean up after yourself, and mind your manners. First of all, it's common courtesy. Second, if you like working from your favorite cafe, you don't want to be the person who ruined it for everyone. More and more often, I'm seeing wi-fi disappear from coffee shops, or seeing signs that request customers not to use their laptops, and I know that some of the impetus behind those signs is customers whose rudeness was finally the last straw for the staff or customers.

6. Know when to say when. We've all had that one party guest (or unannounced visitor) who just didn't know when to leave. Don't wear out your welcome, or become the person who causes everyone to mumble, "Oh, crap. Him again," when you walk through the door.

One last thought: If you're not sure whether your local coffee shop allows workers to plug in, or if you're thinking of holding an impromptu meeting, call ahead. Not only will your courtesy be appreciated, you can also time your visit so it works out best for everyone involved.

Postscript: Baristas on coffee shop etiquette WorkSnug on coffee shop etiquette: