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Fresh Eats: Working in Cafes: How Much Should You Buy? 

Wednesday, Oct 19 2011
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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. 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), whose coffee I also love. Smart cafes acknowledge that their afternoon traffic is heavily bulked up by people like us.

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. So, the rule I've settled on: one purchase per hour.

If you're settling in for a two- or three-hour work session, start with a coffee and a good — and obvious — tip. Then, on the hour, buy a refill, a pastry, or simply a bottle of sparkling water, tipping each time.

Paying $3 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.

Well, 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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Jonathan Kauffman

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