I have a confession to make: I love doing work for my small business in a café. I’m not alone. Look around most coffee houses, and you’ll see businesspeople and students toiling away on laptops. But remember: that café owner is a small business owner too. How can you be fair to them while turning their business into your “office?”
Though I have a real office and a home office, I get a lot of writing done in a coffee house. Working at home can be isolating and working at the office can be distracting. The trend of working in cafés is only accelerating as an ever-increasing percent of the workforce is freelancers. More than a third of American workers are already freelancing, and that number will rise to more than half of the working population by 2027, according to a large study conducted for Upwork and Freelancers Union.
Sure, with good wifi, good coffee, and often good access to electricity, cafés become comfortable, easy, free places to work. But as I work away on my laptop, I look around at all those tables being hogged by one person for hours while nursing one $4 cup of coffee, and I wonder: how can the coffee shop owner make a living this way?
In fact, it’s a huge problem for the small business owners who own these coffee houses. As a result, many café owners are starting to put time limits or even charge ‘rent’ for the use of a table. Some are starting to pull the plug on wifi altogether.
If you work regularly at your corner café, remember this: it’s a small business just like yours. And if you want it to stay around, let’s find ways to make this work for everyone: you, the business owner, the baristas and workers, even the person who just wants to come to the café for lunch.
Rhonda’s 8 rules for turning a café into your office:
- Go local. You’re a small business, so support other small businesses in your community. We small businesses need to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Find a “mom and pop café,” head over there and be sure to follow the rest of these rules so both your company and theirs can thrive.
- Pay your “rent.” When you work out of a café as a freelancer, if you want that café to be there for you in the future, make sure it’s generating income for café owners. So spend money, frequently. Buy something at least once an hour. Buy the largest size coffee because profit margins are higher on large size drinks, and you need to be caffeinated anyway. And buy food too, especially if you stay through a mealtime.
- Sit at a small table. Don’t hog a large table; a large group of paying customers could use it. Don’t put your stuff on an extra chair. If you get up to move around, make a phone call outside, or just to flirt with the cute freelancer you keep seeing there every week, don’t leave your stuff hogging a table for a long time.
- Park on the street. Just like you shouldn’t squat for free at a table all day, don’t hog a prime parking spot, especially if your café has limited parking. Ideally, find a local café you can walk or bike to.
- Don’t bring your own monitor. Really? Do I even need to say this?
- Turn off the volume. If you have to listen to something, wear headphones. No one wants to hear the cat videos you’re watching. And, of course, take phone calls outside.
- Keep it confidential. If you’re doing confidential work—you’re a lawyer, a consultant, your startup is in ‘stealth’ mode—find a more secure place to work. Otherwise, eavesdropping by strangers is fair game.
- Remember: this is not really your office. Be considerate of other patrons and of the small business owner who owns your favorite café. Get out of there at lunchtime. Don’t shush kids who come for meals with parents. Be nice.
I want to keep my favorite cafés in business. You do too. So always keep in mind that, as a small business, they need to make money and survive just like you.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on March 28, 2018