Coffee Shop Etiquette for Mobile Workers

When I wrote about productivity tools for road warriors using wifi hotspots, I touched upon manners. Any boorish or inconsiderate behavior could hurt your reputation.

In case you were wondering what would qualify, I asked my social networks what were some of their pet peeves:

  • Buy something: This actually is a commonly held rule for people who don’t own coffee shops. We realize that wifi is offered for free to encourage us to spend money there. So help subsidize your bandwidth.
  • Don’t hog space: Even if you’re a paying customer, you’re only one paying customer. Unless your laptop and papers are buying expensichinos too, don’t spread all over a four top. Leave room for more customers to gather and subsidize your bandwidth. If you end up at a table larger than needed, offer to share it when someone else is looking for a seat.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome: Like the first item on the list…only longer.
  • Don’t hog bandwidth: You really don’t need to be watching Office reruns on You really don’t need video chat either. Be realistic about what you need to do so the rest of the patrons don’t start taking the router’s name in vain.
  • Keep it down: Use headphones so the rest of us aren’t forced to listen to your entertainment. A few “You Got Mail” notices every once in a while aren’t awful.
  • Take it outside: There seems to be a gray line here concerning if you should use your cell phone. Some suggest you take the call outside. I’m in the camp that believes a cell phone conversation is the same as talking to someone at the table.
  • Clean up after yourself: Don’t make the staff clean up after you.

Think of the coffee shop as a community or networking opportunity. It’s likely that you will get to know other regulars – including the staff. It’s important to make a good impression.

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Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. dean on the 5th July

    No, a cell conversation is not like talking to someone at a table. Usually they’re very loud. And annoying. The worst are those people who somehow need a walkie talkie.

  2. Nathan Nash on the 5th July

    There’s a local sandwich/coffee place that I really love, and I often use their wifi when I want to get off campus. The regular servers all recognize me, and they all see me there enough that they don’t even bother carding me anymore. Whenever I’m there I tend to follow those rules. This would’ve been a good post for me when I first moved to the city for school. Good common sense advice.

  3. Good advice. It can be amazing how many people won’t have the basic common manners.


  4. Avi Tzurel on the 6th July

    Although I don’t normally work outside of coffee shops I do sit in them once in a while, mainly between meetings or something like that.

    Cell phone is a big no no, either I keep it very short like “i’ll get back to you in X minutes” or I don’t talk at all, because combining the reception of the phone and the people near me talking you do have to shout to be heard.

  5. P.S. Jones on the 6th July

    Now that the Hubs is on unemployment, avoiding distractions at home is even harder than usual. I’ve got to load up my laptop and hit the streets a few times a week if we expect to stay married. And I agree about not using the cell phone if possible, but you have to take a look around you too. If other people are on their phones, why can’t you be? Should you be taking an hour long conference call on speaker? Probably not. But a few short conversations won’t hurt anybody if the cafe seem cell friendly.

  6. Avery on the 6th July

    I agree with Dean. Many cell phone users speak much more loudly than normal when on a cellphone because they think or know the person on the other end can’t hear them well enough. Nextel phones with their loud chirps are a delight for the rest of us to listen to as well.

    The point about talking on a cellphone being like speaking with someone at your table is a good argument which I’ve heard before although the brief pauses while you let the other person speak breaks up the white noise for the rest of us making it harder to ignore you (I’m just nitpicking now). Then again, it is a public place and so dealing with annoying people is part of the deal when we leave our homes. So long as your laptop cord isn’t tripping everyone I’ll get over it.

  7. Carl Natale on the 9th July

    I guess if you’re a loud talker on the cell phone, you probably don’t realize it. So it won’t do any good to ask you to keep your voice down while talking on the phone.

    The problem isn’t the cell phone. It’s the volume of your conversation. So it’s possible to be rude by talking to someone at the table if the whole room is forced to hear it.

    It’s a privacy issue. I don’t want the coffee house to hear most of my conversations so I will take calls someplace more private.

    To me part of the charm of someplace like this is the chatter and background noise. It’s a social setting not meant to be a library. So find someplace that matches your expectation of noise level.

    • Richard Erkas on the 7th December

      Research shows that even cell phone conversations held at a normal volume are more annoying to bystanders than loud conversations between two local people. Here are the result of one study:

      Be nice to your neighbors and take any phone calls outside unless they’re very brief.

    • John on the 16th January

      I agree w/ Richard

  8. Nathan on the 23rd August

    There has been an explosion of cafes suited for mobile workers to help solve some of the challenges. I know of a few, one of which is international

    Hope this helps.

    • John on the 16th January

      Great idea!! Let’s make it happen here!

  9. John on the 16th January

    I firmly disagree with you that a cell phone conversation is equivalent to a regular conversation. (1) The phone calls often impact the atmosphere as the calls have the B.S. business/corporate feeling, (2) if I wanted to chill out with a book or my journal in someone’s office I wouldn’t have come to a coffee shop I would have gone to your office and sat at your desk, (3) calls are often frequent and a one sided conversation is often more disturbing (hard to drown out) than an actual conversation.

    So those are my more logical reasons but I have to be honest with you, how “business” people ruin the atmosphere is what gets me. The fact that I bring my headphones to drown out their babble BS is really annoying. And really, anyone who’s doing it knows that it’s just not right and that it doesn’t fit with the environment. That is, if they’re really honest with themselves. Sure, you can rationalize any defense but when we really take an honest look, we know that we should be going somewhere else for business and conference calls.

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