Six Commandments for Indie Coffee Shop Customers

Independent coffee shops are a great place for entre-commuters — small business owners who work out of a briefcase wherever they can find free wifi — to get work done, conduct meetings, or just a place to sit and relax. However, many coffee shops are growing tired of the tech homeless because they take up space without ordering anything.

Here are the six commandments of coffee shops everywhere (not just the indies).

1. Buy something every 2 hours

That's my No Bullshit Social Media co-author, Jason Falls, at Hubbard & Cravens, 6229 Carrollton, Indianapolis, IN.

That’s my No Bullshit Social Media co-author, Jason Falls (left), at Hubbard & Cravens, 6229 Carrollton, Indianapolis, IN. Note the single person taking up the 4-top to his right.

Some coffee shops are limiting their wifi because people are taking up valuable space for several hours after only buying a $2 cup of coffee. THIS IS NOT YOUR MOM’S HOUSE! DON’T PARK THERE ALL DAY! Every hour that ticks by without you buying something eats into that business’ profitability. If they don’t make money, they can’t stay open.

You need to buy something every hour or two, and it needs to cost more than a couple dollars. Get a latte, get a muffin, get a sandwich. If you can’t afford it, then work from home or your local library. While a coffee shop is a nice home-away-from-home, it’s not your second home. Get up and give someone else a chance.

2. Better yet, limit your visit to half your battery life.

Other coffee shops, like Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn, are covering up their outlets to reduce the number of people sucking up their electricity. Forgetting that it’s actually better for your laptop to run on battery power, rather than always being plugged in, keep in mind that it does cost the coffee shop money to power up our laptops all day long.

You can help save their electricity costs, as well as limit your time there, if you work without your power cable and then pack up and leave after you’ve gone through half your battery life.

3. Don’t turn rectangular tables into desks

Some coffee houses have rectangular 2-top tables, which often turn into solo seating for the tech squatters, which means these same coffee houses will sometimes fill up to exactly half their capacity. I’ve seen people walk into coffee shops and leave again because every table was taken by people working alone. Next time that happens, take a risk and invite someone to sit with you. Tell them you’d be happy to share the space with them, have a conversation for just a couple minutes, and then get back to work.

It’s worse when people turn these 2-top tables 90 degrees and make them their own personal desk space. Not only is it inconsiderate, it ruins the sense of community the coffee shop is hoping to create. These 2-top tables are ideally there for you and a friend to share a conversation. They’re not a desk for you to spread out all your textbooks or TPS reports. If you can’t limit your footprint to half the table, work at home or your local (or school) library.

4. Don’t take up a 4-top by yourself

A coffee shop is a restaurant, and they make money by squeezing in as many customers as they can, which means they want to maximize their table space. Just like some restaurants don’t like seating two people at a 4-top (a table with 4 chairs), coffee shops don’t like to have one person occupy an entire 4-top.

Understandably there are times where it can’t be helped. Maybe every 2-top is taken up, and the 4-top is the only one available, so go ahead and sit down. But be considerate and move when a 2-top frees up. Otherwise you may end up costing the coffee shop a 3- or 4-person order because those people didn’t feel like they had a place to sit.

5. Offer your table to someone who’s been waiting

When a coffee shop gets crowded, it’s usually a mad scramble to grab the next free table. The problem is, someone who’s been waiting for several minutes may get screwed out of a table by the guy who just showed up two minutes ago.

If the place is crowded and you’re leaving, catch the attention of the person who’s been waiting the longest and offer them your table. Don’t clear out until they’ve staked their claim.

6. Watch your neighbor’s stuff

At most coffee shops I visit, the veterans don’t need to ask someone to watch their stuff. We all do it for each other. We know not to let a stranger grab their computer or their purse. So I always smile a little when someone asks if I’ll watch their gear while they run to the bathroom.

Of course I will! That’s part of the indie coffee shop community; that’s just what we do. I may be a little spoiled, however, since we typically don’t have roving bands of hoodlums bursting into our shop and grabbing every unattended laptop they can find. Even so, keep an eye on your neighbor’s stuff, even if they don’t ask. It’s just a common courtesy.


What other expectations do you have for yourself in your favorite coffee shop? What coffee house sins do you silently judge others for? Share them in the comments.


Photo credit: Erik Deckers (used with permission)

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