Café etiquette is key to keeping your neighbourhood coffee shop open to hosting tables of remote workers on laptops. When you work remotely, whether that’s from home or when travelling, cafés become a second home. The ambient noise helps you concentrate, the coffee keeps you typing a million miles a minute, and when you’re used to working on your own it’s just nice to be around a room full of happily caffeinated people.

Oh, and coffee smells good. So good.

A year ago, I was approached by a café owner as I opened my laptop to start working. They informed me the coffee shop wasn’t meant to serve people working and if I would like to use the wifi to please do so in the adjacent hotel lobby. Needless to say, I haven’t been back.

This isn’t the only place discouraging people working on their laptops. There’s been a movement all over the place with cafés shutting down their wifi and asking people spending hours with their devices to stop doing so. Some cafés even post notices that no laptops are allowed.

Why are they doing this?

Some argue that a coffee shop full of people staring at their devices ruins the ambiance. Others complain of the costs with visitors only spending $5 on a coffee while taking up space for hours using wifi. It doesn’t make business sense.

I love working in coffee shops and I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t do so. I think we can find a happy middle ground where both café owners feel happy running a profitable business with a good vibe and remote workers, students, etc. can use cafés as their short-term offices and co-working spaces. Some of this might seem like common sense but let’s all be on the same page.

Buy something

I’ve been to coffee shops where someone joining me will just get a free glass of water, then sit and work for three hours. As nice as it would be, coffee shops are not free office space. Please buy something! And bring a couple of friends. Give your favourite coffee shops good reviews, take food to go. If all of us ambiance-ruiners bring the business money (especially during slow hours), they’re more likely to be happy to host us.

Go during slow hours

Taking up an entire table during the noon rush, especially if you only buy a $2 coffee, could really piss a business owner off. Go early in the morning, during the mid-afternoon, or later in the day if you can. And if it’s just you, don’t take up a table for four. Sit at the bar by the window or grab a table for two and make the extra chair easy for someone to pull over to their table.

Get to know which cafés are laptop-friendly and which aren’t

Returning somewhere you’re not welcome doesn’t feel great for either parties involved and since it’s their business, not yours (in fact, you may be running your business using their resources) you should play by their rules. Find a new place that’s welcoming to remote workers. When stuck, look for Starbucks. When travelling and working here in Canada, I always map out where the local Starbucks are because they have reliable wifi and I know there’s almost always a seat available. Don’t love their coffee, but I’ll drink it…

If you live in Victoria, BC, I’ve mapped out some of my favourite cafés, pubs, and public spaces with wifi.

Bring your headphones and don’t expect to be able to take calls

The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop down the street from my house. I was brainstorming with a friend, sipping espresso in the quiet early hours when all of a sudden a video BLARES right beside us. It was distracting, annoying, and I would have understood if it was a mistake—we all forget to turn our audio off sometimes—but they kept watching this video at what seemed like max. volume! They were oblivious to all the angry stares from nearby patrons.

Bring your headphones. And if you’re going to have to take a call, be prepared to have to go outside or find yourself a corner table. Coffee shops get really noisy. Bean grinders, espresso machines, milk steaming wands, music, chatting. That’s part of what’s great about them, this coffee shop orchestra that provides the perfect background sound to work to.

Get to know the staff

Granted, I’m not great at this. The coffee shop I’m a regular at seems to have a revolving door of employees. That said, it’s great meeting owners, chatting with the employees, leaving good tips. It seems natural that they’ll be more amiable to you spending hours staring at your screen with one latté if you’re on good terms.

Essentially, be a courteous person and you’ll help all of us in the laptop workforce enjoy good coffee, company and focused work time in coffee shops.

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