My Cafe Office
Coffee-shop etiquette for mobile workers
By Marilyn Lewis
As productive as mobile workers may be in home offices or hotel rooms, there comes a time when you simply must get away from your own four walls in search of a cup of someone else’s coffee. By bringing your work to a cafe, you tread a path worn by many a mobile professional, way back to those who carried quill pens. In the hotspot cafe, as in every business venture, etiquette rules, and the Golden Rule is: This place may feel like your office, but it is in fact someone else’s business. Behave accordingly.
A tip from the baristas: Take your stuff home. Starbucks baristas are famous for babying customers. At one cafe, across the road from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., the clientele consists of fast-moving tech types, students, professors and self-employed parents, all of whom expect a lot in their office away from home.
One of the baristas there buys her best regulars birthday gifts and treats them to lattes — out of her own pocket — to celebrate special occasions. Oh! she said, you should see what customers leave behind: briefcases, cell phones, wallets, jackets, file folders filled with clients’ documents, PDAs, even laptop computers. The cafe’s back room is full of orphaned stuff, and the baristas rummage through it looking for identification so they can contact the owners.
Are you taking more than your share of space? If the line of customers is snaking out the door and you have staked out two tables and three chairs for just you, your laptop, your file folders and your newspaper, it’s time to consolidate. Or maybe it’s time to leave and return at an off-peak hour. David Gonzalez, a Dallas entrepreneur who uses several coffee shops in his daily work rounds, is especially alert to this issue. When he notices that a big party has arrived or that the cafe is getting crowded, he moves to a smaller table.
A little consideration goes a long way. Try to be considerate. “I wind up helping clean up, making drink suggestions and making small talk with other patrons while they wait for their drinks,” says Gonzales. “Those little things are most of what I bring to the table, other than a $4 to $5 a day regular coffee charge.”
Don’t hog a parking space. Walk, ride your bike, or stay away during peak hours. Back at the Stanford Starbucks, there is a parking conundrum doubtless familiar to many other Internet cafes: With just 12 parking spaces on a fast-moving avenue, there are too many cars, too much latte lust, too little space for everybody. The cafe lures patrons with different agendas: Some want to grab coffee and run; others want to jump onto the Internet and linger. Thus, some coffee-hounds squeeze cars into what is usually the only open spot in the lot — a gap clearly marked as part of the handicapped zone. The police know this tactic and they, too, like the coffee at Starbucks. The ticket costs $325. Amazingly, many pay it and keep coming back.
Don’t be a bozo. Don’t pinch the shop’s newspapers and magazines. Rather, think of the place as your own little home away from home. You spent $5 on the Sunday Times? You might just leave it there for the next person to enjoy. Or bring in a CD you compiled for the place to play, or a couple magazines from home — in good shape, of course — if that’s the kind of thing they’d welcome at your cafe.
Make an aesthetic contribution. You don’t have to make the whole world a brighter place, just your own tiny piece of real estate. By which we mean, tidy up before you leave your table. And, since this is your office and you’re going to be part of the shop’s decor, dress, as the British say, in “casual chic.”
Boost the business. Host a business meeting to show off your new office and introduce customers to your cafe. Bring your friends on Saturday to show the place off. Bring your family in the evening to buy your kids a cookie and cup of cocoa and introduce them off to the staff.
Drop some cash. Buy the shop’s products. Tip generously. You have probably guessed that baristas don’t earn a lot. Plus, their tips are often pooled among everyone behind the counter. (The good news: Some cafe owners and chains offer workers and their families health insurance.)