7 Rules for Working From a Coffee Shop (Like a Boss)

Working from a coffee shopWe’ve all been there – you need to get some work done, you’re on the road or just can’t work from home, so you roll into the local coffee shop. You’re paying for your coffee, so no harm, no foul, right?

Coffee shops exist in part to provide a work space for freelancers and those in need of a wifi connection, don’t they? Well, that and for people to socialize while enjoying their favorite caffeinated beverage, or to catch a little peace and quiet to read the paper with their favorite cup of joe.

I think they do (in part) and have enjoyed working at my fair share of establishments in the past. But I also believe there’s a right way to do it, while being respectful of the space and your peers. Here are my five best tips to work from coffee shops without being a pest.

1. Don’t Take up a Table Bigger than You Need

This might seem glaringly obvious, but there have been countless times when I’ve seen the biggest table (in the best spot) taken up by one person who spreads all of their stuff out to work all day long. I get that it’s first come, first served, but one way to limit your impact (if you’re working there for hours and hours) is to take up one of the smaller tables rather one that seats four or more. This is especially true during busy times.

Next time you set up shop, in addition to finding a location near a power outlet, try to pick a table that will support your work space, but not one larger than you actually need. Consider keeping some of your stuff in your bag and only taking out what you need as you need it, rather than spreading out everything at the same time. Your local coffee shop thanks you.

2. Visit in Off Peak Hours

If you plan to spend the majority of your day working from a restaurant or coffee shop and have flexibility in your schedule, consider going during off peak hours. For most places, this would be early morning, after lunch and in the late afternoon/evening. Try to avoid the rush as much as possible if your local establishment has a line out the door and no tables to spare.

By going in off peak hours, you will probably get a bit more peace and quiet and won’t have to worry so much about overstaying your welcome. The service might be easier to come by and you also won’t have to worry about taking up their prime real estate (see above).

3. Order Enough Stuff

No, it’s not okay to go work from a coffee shop for an entire day and only order a cup of coffee. If you’re only going to be there an hour or two, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but if you’re going to work there for more than four hours, reconsider.

It’s also not okay to bring your own drink (i.e. a to go cup that’s already filled with your own java, tea bags, etc). I do bring my own water usually, but this is more to save them time and bother, than anything.

It can be challenging to balance spending enough with not spending too much (or eating too much!), but it can be done. If your local establishment offers lunch, it may make sense to engage if that’s the time you’re there for example. Remember, they’re running a business too, so you taking up space for hours on end and not buying much doesn’t help them to pay the bills.

4.Wait Your Turn

This also ties into the above, but if you’ve purchased a bottomless cup of coffee (with free refills), you should make sure to be polite and wait your turn. If the place is packed and you don’t feel like standing in line, wait until the rush has passed to get your next cup of joe. Or get the barista’s attention and let him/her know that you’d love a refill when they can squeeze you in.

It’s not always the case where you need to wait in the same line as everyone first ordering their coffee. Feel out the particular establishment you’re in, be friendly and get to know the staff if you’re a regular. Being nice can go a long way and you might just get your cup topped off before you ask next time!

5. Clean up After Yourself

Many places have bins not so secretly displayed for you to clean up after yourself. Make sure to follow the signs or the rules and tidy up after yourself throughout the day or when your shift is over.

If they compost or recycle for example, try to follow the rules. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask! It’s obviously important to them if they do it, so they’d probably be more than happy to help train you to do it right if you ask.

Follow your mom’s advice and try to leave your space just like you found it or maybe even a little cleaner. Again, a little effort goes a long way!

6. Tip Well

This should go without saying, but if you’re spending the majority of your day working from a coffee shop and getting unlimited refills (i.e. not paying for a new cup of coffee each time), you should tip well. I consider it my “office rental fee” for the day and try to not only to purchase enough, but also to make sure to tip extra well.

This holds extra true when I’m pestering the staff for yet another refill or when they catch my eye and squeeze me in between customers in an extra long line. Again, if it’s someplace you frequent, a little extra can go a long way. Also, consider a little extra come holiday time or during an extra busy rush. They will remember you!

7. Be Friendly

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but being friendly or extra nice is just common sense. You don’t have to go out of your way to engage in extra conversation (which let’s face it, you might try to do to get out of actually working at times), but it doesn’t hurt to make small talk as you place your order or get that refill.

You also never know where your next business opportunity will come from, so being an engaging and friendly person is just good business sense too! If you frequent certain establishments often, consider investing a bit of time to get to know the people behind the counter and maybe even the other regulars as well. Consider it networking.

In Conclusion

I think coffee shops can be a great place to get some work done. I also seem to thrive in the hustle and bustle that a busy one provides.

There are a few rules of thumb you can follow to avoid being “that guy.” Try only taking up a table big enough to suit your needs, visiting in off peak hours, buying enough stuff and waiting your turn. Don’t forget to clean up after yourself, tip well and be friendly to the staff and your peers.

If you’ve ever been a server or in customer service, you know what’s like to be on the other side. Remember a decent tip, a comment or two on the weather and a smile can also go a long way.

How often do you find yourself working from a coffee shop?

Photo Credit: elmada

About Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.

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Cynthia Badiey

Great (and much-needed) article. Another rule might be “If you must do a meeting, keep your voice low,” and its corollary, “Don’t do conference calls on speakerphone.” I was in a Starbucks working with a friend one day when a woman behind us made a very loud phone call, in another language, on speakerphone. Finally my friend, who spoke the language, turned around and told her she was being rude. The look on her face was priceless.


Great points! If you’re not going to pay rent to have your own office space, the least you could do is budget to buy more than one coffee while utilizing a space for 15-20 hours/week.


It’s a shame if there are people that need this article to come to these insights. It’s just common sense and being polite, right? 😉


What does everyone do if they need to take a restroom break and you’ve got your nice (expensive) mobile workstation set up? Anyone else get their nerves shot up just thinking about someone swiping your laptop?


Actually, I had to change my habits/equipment when I was working out of the local Starbucks.

I came back from going to the bathroom and a punk kid was unplugging my laptop.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that this was my laptop. I have one just like it.”

“Really? On which table?”

After that, I realized that if I lost my laptop I would be exposing a lot of SPI… so I went out and bought a cheap laptop off of craigslist, installed linux on it, encrypted the hard drive, and stored all of my documents on google drive.

Nothing logs in automatically, and no account names/passwords are saved. I open the doc in Drive, work on it, and save it back to Drive. If I need to save anything off Drive, or get printouts, I use a thumbdrive which is on my keychain.

That way, if anything gets stolen, they basically get a brick.

(I realize that not everyone can do this, however, you can do the same thing with a ChromeBook, and they’re relatively cheap.)


Side note: The Starbucks in a Target is a really good place to do the “remote office work.” They are usually empty, quiet, and have someone there that can watch your stuff when you leave.


And don’t hog the bandwith, would be really good to add. Generally politeness is needed when working from a coffee shop.


Great insights. Its a must read for all those on the go.


Tom Nora

As someone who has been doing this for many years, here’s another little thing: Acknowledge the people around you with a simple nod. Don’t bother them but make a gesture. You never know if you’ll eventually speak to each other, but it warms the place up a bit.

Tom Ewer

Great comments guys! I would definitely add that you shouldn’t leave your laptop on the table when you go to the bathroom if you value it at all!

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