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Monday, October 10, 2011

When You Sit and Work in a Cafe, Do You Need to Buy More?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM


Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me.

It's not unrare to settle down in a cafe in San Francisco, look around, and realize that every person around you is staring into a laptop with a glowing apple on its lid. (The liberal elite: such conformists!) This week's etiquette question was voiced by L.T.:

How often in an internet cafe should you buy a new coffee/pastry while you use their internet for hours and hours?

L.T., as a restless writer who spends an awful lot of time working in cafes, I feel you. I find writing more productive when I can make faces into my screen and swear to myself in front of an audience that is not my refrigerator.

A few years ago, there was a movement to "reclaim cafe culture" and disconnect the laptop in favor of promoting "conversation" and "community." This high-minded stance is why Ritual (wi-fi: yes) gets so much more of my money than Four Barrel (wi-fi: sneer). Smart cafes acknowledge that their afternoon traffic is heavily bulked up by people like you and me.

Even if you're sitting up in Coffee Bar's mezzanine, it's polite to keep buying coffee. - CHRISTIAN NEUGEBAUER/FLICKR
  • Christian Neugebauer/Flickr
  • Even if you're sitting up in Coffee Bar's mezzanine, it's polite to keep buying coffee.

I do feel for cafes who claim they lose valuable table space and

income when new-economy drones colonize a table in order to

do something they should be doing at their home office, which the

baristas presume looks like this.


Matching Half, the cafe where I spend most of my work time, the owners

have taken a tack now common in wireless-enabled cafes: blocking the

outlets so people can only stay for as long as they have battery power.

This seems to be a reasonable compromise, even though it meant buying a new laptop earlier than I'd planned.

The rule I've settled on to keep the baristas from poisoning my cone of creativity with toxic glares: One purchase per hour.


you're settling in for a two- or three-hour work session, start with a

coffee and a good -- and obvious -- tip. (Never sneak it into the jar when

their backs are turned.) Then, on the hour, buy a refill, a pastry, or

simply a bottle of sparkling water, tipping each time.

Paying $3 to $4 an hour is fair

for renting table space and internet access to work, don't you think? I hear you now: The

whole reason I'm in a cafe is because I can't afford one of those shared office

spaces, and if I spend another hour in my studio I'm going to take a

hammer to the only piece of electronics that loves me back.


you, I say: The library is a serene place to work. Or, if you want to

stretch out the time between purchases, you're going to have to pour on the charm.

I'm talking learning the name of your barista's partner's cat.

Giving him mix CDs not copied off of Pandora, or a jar of lemon curd

made with fruit gleaned off your neighbor's tree. Whatever -- and I mean whatever -- it takes to

keep your barista on your side.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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