Young Man In Headphones In Cafe With Charts Laptop And Empty Coffee Cup

Latte or not, your local café is not your office

Why you may be overstaying your welcome at your new work station

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
4 minute read
Young Man In Headphones In Cafe With Charts Laptop And Empty Coffee Cup

You can get a soy latte, a double expresso or a hot cup of peppermint tea – but overstay your welcome and you may be asked to move on.

With an increasing number of workers choosing to work away from the office and tiring of the solitude of working from home, the local coffee house has fast become a workplace destination of choice. 

If in doubt, take a stroll to your local café and watch the workers who have escaped the daily grind of the home office and are sipping their brew while fixated on their screens.

You may think that baristas are throwing the doors wide open to cash in on those who wish to swill their drink of choice and hog the free Wi-Fi – but a problem is brewing.

The lack of basic café courtesy of laptop-wielding customers, who have made their local coffee shop their “office away from home”, has some owners frothing at the mouth.  

It is these bad manners that are pushing some café owners to take drastic steps to tackle those who arrive at their premises complete with office accessories such as smart phones, tablets, charging devices, portable printers and office stationery. 

It is hardly a surprise that cafés are many workers’ cup of tea when it comes to working remotely.

Coffee shops are bustling and noisy while the hive of activity provides an attractive alternative to the social isolation and silence of WFH.

Add to that the exquisite coffee aroma, spacious tables to spread out on, powerful Wi-Fi, plentiful power, comfortable seating, food for the famished and the ability to chat with others.   

To be clear, most café owners welcome people setting up in their shops when it is not too busy or when regular customers want to conduct a short business meeting over coffee – and preferably cake, too.

But the growing frugality of many workers is at the centre of a brawl that has many owners at boiling point.

The fact is that coffee shops are private businesses, not public spaces. 

Some workers will buy a single cup of coffee and then stay in the café from 10am until 3pm.

While larger outlets may not feel the pinch because of a drove of daily grab-and-go customers, smaller business owners will struggle to make a living with a business model based on five hours for just $5-per-customer of revenue.

There are other patrons reportedly showing up with a supply of tea bags for free hot-water refills throughout the day while some quietly unwrap homemade sandwiches as they sip on a chai latte during the busy lunch hour.

But it is not just the shot of frugality that is stirring up problems for many a café owner. Many baristas also want to pour grande-sized cups of cold water on a raft of other discourteous customer behaviours. 

There are those who set up office in a café, put on their headphones and proceed to act as if they have leased a co-working space, others who shush customers who interrupt their train of thought and some even have the cheek to leave a mess.

Some laptop warriors occupy that prime parking spot right out the front of the café, others expect staff to watch over their gear when nature calls and still others speak on the phone like they are stuck in the middle of a cyclone.

And busy baristas have a beef with customers who make crazy “off-menu” requests as well as those who are impatient if their coffee does not arrive instantly.

Increasingly, many owners are refusing to be taken for mugs and taking steps to induct WFH customers into an appropriate café culture.

In a bid to pour water on those who overstay their welcome –  especially those who take all day to consume one decaf skinny latte – many café owners have taken to placing time limits on free Wi-Fi.

Some have deliberately removed power outlets hoping that a dwindling power supply will be a subtle cue that it is time to move on. 

Others have placed limits on the number of workers on the premises at any one time by introducing laptop-free zones or requiring workers to book a table.

And there are also those café owners who scan tables for workers whose special brew has gone cold but are refusing to free-up prized table space. These remote workers are increasingly – and politely – being issued with “move-on” orders. 

For those interested in doing the right thing while toiling away in a café, here are some basic rules to observe. 

Reduce your footprint by taking a small table, visit during off-peak hours, take long and loud conversations outside, wait your turn and spend some money in the café every hour.  

And do not forget to clean up after yourself, act courteously to staff and other customers, turn your computer sounds off and deliver a nice fat tip to the staff who have served you so well throughout your “work” shift.