Lifestyle Geek: Cafe Office Etiquette

Freelancing has had an exciting side effect: I now do a lot of work from coffee shops, cafes, and tea houses. As I have begun spending more and more time in them, I have been trying to learn the office cafe culture. That is to say, the culture of a group of people who, on a regular basis, make a local coffee shop their office. Most days I am surrounded by at least ten other people who are engrossed in their daily office work. Some are doing design work, others writing, some even conduct job interviews; I have even been present for the drafting of a last will and testament. There is a great deal of work being done in public spaces these days, and there is a culture that goes along with it.

The cafe office culture isn’t new, it’s been around for a while now. I’m not breaking any news stories wide open here, but I’m new to it. So my experiences are fresh, and I have been trying to understand my new environment as I find my place in it. It’s like being at the office but not working with, or for, any of my co-workers. Everyone has deadlines and is hard at work on something, but no one is working together. There are plenty of people who are willing to chat, which is nice for a guy like me who thrives on human contact, but none to collaborate with. It’s an interesting change and I’m really enjoying it, though mostly due to the people watching I get to do.

So the reason for today’s post starts with a little back story. As I was setting up my coffee shop office and looking to plug in to what was the last outlet in the whole shop, another gentleman walked in the front door, set down a laptop and plugged it in right as I was reaching for the socket. I gave him an angry look but he just shrugged, sat down, and began to work. I’ll admit that I was a bit pissed that this guy swooped in and ganked my outlet but I had enough battery life to get past it. What the story did for me though was caused me to take notice of the people around me.

As I sat and worked for the next three hours neither the guy sitting to my left and the guy sitting to my right had a drink. The guy who snaked my plug never once got up to buy a drink; the guy to my other side once got up and looked t the snacks as if he were going to buy something but then returned to his seat to continue working. So I began thinking, “Is there an unwritten rule about how many drinks one should buy when working out of a coffee shop?”

I decided to poll the internet for the answer to this, here are some of the responses I received: [Ed. note: The following tweets and FB posts were pasted as-is, complete with any original typographical and/or grammatical errors]


@voiceofthebigjb wrote: .5 – 1 drink for every 2 hours. Use table 2.2 to determine the effect of the sugar/caffeine/fat on your character.

@zachdonovan wrote: one every two hours.

@deadorcs wrote: I would not go buy drinks. I would go by money spent. For each $5.00 you spend, you should get 2 hours.

@RefugiaFelanAVR wrote: Are you wanting a no cost apple ipad? Click on the profile of XXX

@d20Blonde wrote: I typically snag a coffee and a pastry, but rarely work for more than 3 hours. So, $5-7 for 3 hours of work time.

@MooreAlida wrote: I usually buy something every hour if I’m there longer than 2 hours. If not, a drink and a snack is sufficient, imo.

@evafortuna wrote:  I usually stay for about 4-5 hours and buy one drink, occasionally two. If it gets crowded I leave though.

@Alphastream wrote:  Depends on how busy it is. If it is busy, then I buy something every hour. If not, maybe every 3 could be ok.

@AnExtendedRest wrote: I try and do 1 at small size every hour, refills at sbucks makes that pretty cheap.

@dantack wrote: Either 1:1 or 2:1. (Hours)

@Porkfry wrote: Why am I buying drinks at hourly intervals at a place I worked at? Like I’d think maybe one drink would do for the day.

@kryowyrm wrote: realistically one or if you are really camping out maybe 1:4 hours tipping well will do more to ensure goodwill anyway

@AlioTheFool wrote:  I’d say at least one per 1.5 hours. Better at one to one, but that might be too much for some. oh also, I’m talking from the perspective of someone who orders grande size. Smaller should be at least 1-1.

@frequentbeef wrote: Depends on how busy it is. Empty? Don’t matter. Reasonably busy? Buy something every hour or so.


Rasmus R. wrote: One drink per hour, plus tip. That way you’re not just leeching on the wifi and taking up real estate. FWIW – I got my ratio down by talking to baristas and managers at coffee shops.

Corinne W. wrote: I asked Jessica (the only barista I know) and she said a $2 drink every 2 hours was what she thought was appropriate. A drink an hour makes it a pricey workday.

Reddit: These yahoos decided to answer three or four completely different questions other than the one I asked so I decided not to let those kids play in this pool today.

In the end I guess there isn’t one solid answer to my question, but it is clear that drinks or treats of some sort should be purchased at some point while working in a cafe/coffee shop/tea house. Soaking up a table, outlet, and internet without throwing out at least the $2.15 for a cup of tea is a dick move (in direct violation of Wheaton’s Law) and should be avoided if you are one of the many who now call a local coffee spot their office.


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