11 Coffee Shop Commandments

1408971366.556579.IMG_7976The RB closed. It’s as simple as that. One day when I got to one of the two coffee shops in town, the guy behind the counter explained—to me and to everyone else in line—that Sunday would be “our last day.”

Want to buy a coffee shop? He directed us to the sign next to the cash register. Only $10K, he said when I asked what they were asking. Basically the cost of the expensive espresso machine, he said. Of course there’s the rent. That was my next question, briefly entertaining the notion of buying the place—having a coffee shop all to myself. What writer wouldn’t want that?

But seriously. This is a problem. Granted I live in a town of only 8,500 people. But here’s the thing. Both of our two coffee shops—the RB and the MRC—are always crowded. MRC is always my first choice. In fact, I wrote one of my WIPs at the choice corner table. (It’s the most coveted table in the place.) But I would go to the RB when the MRC was full (which it often was even before RB closed). And if you sometimes (or more than sometimes) work in a coffee shop, this is especially a problem.

That’s not what this blog is about. By the way, I don’t want you to get the impression I go to the coffee shop every day (I don’t…not anymore). No, this blog is about coffee shop etiquette and acceptable coffee shop behavior. How you should (and should not) behave in a coffee shop—according to me, of course, because it is my blog and it is critical to my life right now with coffee shop real estate (and I mean in both the table- and shop-sense) at a premium. Good behavior is mandatory.

Here’s my list.

1. Thou shalt not talk on the phone. Especially all the time. One woman does this non-stop (she used to be at the RB and has now moved to MRC—yes at the coveted corner table). She had her headphones plugged into her phone last time I was there when she was; she talked for over an hour before I couldn’t stand it and had to leave.

2. Thou shalt not listen to movies/trailers/music outloud. This seems self evident (to me), but I’m just saying.

3. Thou shalt not hog electrical outlets. Back to the phone-talker. She does. Talk on the phone and hog the outlets…many outlets at once. What is she doing? It’s hard to imagine what combination of electronics could require four plugs. Shouldn’t she get a room (and by room I mean office)?

4. Be polite and friendly to all. This includes pulling in your chair when someone is trying to go by, keeping your voice at a normal speaking, inside—not outside—voice level, kindly greeting others who greet you first. You know, all the things most of us learned at home or if not at home then in kindergarten.

5. Don’t act like you’re at home—you’re not. No matter if you do go everyday (or almost everyday). Don’t speak in a loud voice (even if it’s an interesting story), don’t yell across the coffee shop to other patrons, and never ever put your feet on the furniture…yes, that means you Miss Pink Flip Flops who just put her foot on a table.

6. Make yourself comfortable, but not for too long. And if you do stay too long, for the love of God, don’t bring your own food, particularly coffee. Or soda machine. Or… is it just me or is this self evident? Even if you don’t buy something to eat every day, I like to at least sometimes buy a bagel or croissant—just to show I understand it’s a business. (Maybe then the RB wouldn’t have gone under and then maybe other places won’t go under like the RB did).

7. Make friends with the barista. Sometimes this is impossible (no matter how much you try). But let’s face it, if the barista’s not happy, no one’s happy. Smile at the people behind the counter, put something in the tip jar, care about their lives.

8. Chat with your fellow “coffee shop workers”—but only if they want to—and then not too much, after all—like you—they’re there to work. Making friends with other regulars can be fun and also is helpful when you’re looking for someone to empathize with about other particularly annoying “co-workers.” Need I mention phone-woman again? Or the couple who had the huge argument one day?

9.  Thou shalt not take cuts in line—yes even if it’s to ask “a quick question.” Again, is this not self evident? And yes, I’m talking to you, lady, the one who cut in front of me a few minutes ago to ask for napkins and didn’t even bother to excuse herself to me.

10. Clean up after yourself. Throw your trash away. Bus your table. Brush crumbs away. Sometimes things are so busy the staff doesn’t have time. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is standard. (I’d extend this to the bathroom… there’s nothing worse than going into a public bathroom that someone hasn’t bothered to keep tidy during their visit. Throw paper towels away where they belong, don’t leave hair in the sink, and—well, I hate to be the toilet police, but shouldn’t guys always lower the seat?)

11. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor-writer’s computer. Now this is totally in fun, offered to me by one of my writer friends at MRC. He calls this the 11th commandment. By the way, he does covet my computer. Last month I got my first new computer EVER. A Macbook Pro. Retina display. Super light. My first very-own, non-handmedown computer. It’s pretty slick, I do have to say, and I have to pinch myself occasionally to believe it’s really mine. Don’t worry, there are downsides, if you doubt it, take a look at the blog I wrote about email.

Can’t we all just get along?

What about you? What are your pet peeves and commandments—or am I just too picky for words?



  1. Rivki Silver says:

    Oh, yes. I was a barista in college, and it always amazed me how people would bring in their own food or drink (hello! That’s what keeps the shop in business – food and drink!). I remember it also used to drive my employer batty that the med students would come in, buy the smallest coffee and then sit for hours and hours and hours.

    The only commandment I don’t entirely agree with is #9. Sometimes if the line has gotten really long since I left it and I just need something like napkins, it would be very tempting to just pop in. Of course, I don’t know if I’ve actually ever done that, because of my extreme aversion to annoying those waiting patiently in line. But if I *did* pop in, I would totally say “excuse me!” Of course!

    • It’s amazing how clueless people can be. And I totally agree about the interruption on a long line being fine (with an “excuse me” or even a glance of understanding). I can well imagine being on the other side of the counter as barista, the things you see. What an education. Thanks for the comment and visit to my blog, Rivki!

  2. I love this post, Julia, though I have to confess, I have done number 9) and would again and don’t mind other people doing the same. Pushing in line in front of me to get served though – that’s a no-no and my elbows come out! I agree with all the others, although (I confess… again) I do make myself very at home in one particular café – my fave! It’s a Vintage Café and our town was in desperate need for something individual and not mainstream (everything is Nero’s or Costa’s!) and it is divine with huge leather sofas and an amalgam of old and quirky chairs, all with price labels hanging from them as almost everything is for sale too… thus, the environment is ever changing. You would love it! If ever you make it across the pond I will take you – and their hot chocolate is to die for! xo

    • Glad you enjoyed, Abi! #9 may be voted off the list 😉 And I confess to making myself at home as well (although I do draw the line at feet on the tables). Vintage Cafe sounds lovely and I will definitely add it to my (long) list of must-visits. That hot chocolate alone sounds worth the trip!! xox

  3. Ann Mc says:

    I hear ya…especially the phone part! If you have to talk, make it brief or step outside! I’d love to see you buy a coffee shop! It’s be perfect for you!

    As for my pet peeve….if you’re with a large group – remember that you aren’t the only people there and tone it down a bit.

    • You know, I’d love the owning of a coffee shop in theory but wonder at the logistics for getting my writing done. Funny you should mention the large group. That exact thing happened the other day and even with loud music in my ears I could hear every word and every laugh… I finally left after 2 hours. What’s interesting to me is sometimes I think that people are so performative, wanting others to think they’re having such a great time… is that perhaps one reason they don’t always tone down?

  4. Lisa says:

    I confess, I’ve done the phone thing. It’s because my internet was sucky that day, and I had to have a phone conference. I wish I had a reliable office to go to, but I don’t. Bad coffee shop patron. Sigh.

    • Luckily you didn’t have an overly judgmental blogger in the shop with you 😉 And I admit that even I have made a short phone call once in a land far far away. It’s a problem for us homeworkers and I can sympathize about the internet. I looked into a co-working space but they can be pricey. The one near me is $135 a month. (p.s. this is, after all, just my opinion and for humor to boot!)

  5. Kristen says:

    I don’t write in coffee shops on any kind of regular basis, but I just love this list. It’s like you were reading my mind!! The rudeness that is par for the course is mind boggling sometimes! I hope you find another space soon—a space that cell phone/outlet woman never learns about!!

    • Thanks so much, Kristen — glad you can relate! This morning the space is my kitchen table (where there’s no danger of rudeness), but I’ll keep you posted if/when I find the perfect space. Believe me I won’t tell phone-woman 🙂

  6. Julia – Not only do I love your comprehensive list, I agree WHOLE-heartedly!

    At one of the coffee shops in Boise (near the capitol) they have a glassed-in room for people who go there to work (many of us who use it are writers). They intentionally don’t pipe in music, and noise of any kind is prohibited (cell phones must be in airplane mode, and if you’re going to listen to something on your laptop, you must wear headphones). It’s my kind of place!

    • Laurie! That coffee shop glassed-in room not only sounds amazing but makes me want to buy the RB and MAKE a glassed-in room. What a fabulous idea. If I visit, I will add it to my must-visit list (but we’ll need to agree not to chat, right?).

  7. Nina says:

    YES!! I have been saying this about bringing your own food. I think it’s so rude, especially since most shops sell food. I know it gets expensive . . . then eat before or after. The shop is not a community center and nobody is “entitled” to the table, the space, the outlet, the wifi. Etc. seriously– I get heated over this issue!

    • The bringing your own food is truly boggling. Yes, eat before or after (or stay home). What’s a little crazy to me is that after the RB closed, more than a few people said just that: “It was such a community space.” No. It really wasn’t. It was a business. Perhaps telling…

  8. Nina says:

    Oh wait, one more thing. Bryan (my “MEH”) is such a celebrity at the coffee shop where he goes several times a week that the ONE time I appeared the baristas came around the counter to shake my hand. Everyone was all, “Oh . . . You’re Bryan’s wife!” It can really be a special connection people form!

  9. I love this post, and I agree with every point whole-heartedly!

  10. I think I might print this out and post it on my favorite coffee shop’s bulletin board. So true, and though they seem self-evident, they clearly aren’t (or they wouldn’t be such a problem). My biggest peeve is people who stay for an hour or more and don’t buy anything — ever. It’s a business, not a free lounge. If you want to keep going there, you need to buy something! Even if it’s a 99 cent “refill” of black coffee. Come on!

    • Thanks, Annie! They really do seem self evident, don’t they??? It’s boggling to me that someone might never buy anything. I feel super guilty only (sometimes) buying a coffee and nothing else. “It’s a business, not a free lounge.” <<< EXACTLY. As for posting in your coffee shop, that's fine, haha... I think if I post it in mine, I'll black out my name & pic. Not sure how the phone-talker would take it. I honestly have thought of writing a short story about coffee shop wars between writers, featuring me (the rational sensible one) and Ms. Phone Talker. Haha. I wonder what her impression of me is? Maybe I'm the uptight one in her blog post 🙂

  11. Oh, your commandments just made my day, Julia! I live in a coffee shop-writer culture. So many people here use the coffee shop as their home office. (Our apartments are small and a separate room just for a home office is a luxury I can’t even think about.) Because of that, I think that most people adhere to all of your commandments. I can’t recall anyone taking a phone call at the table. They excuse themselves and go outside. And one outlet per person — this goes without saying. I wholeheartedly agree that if you’re going to be spending all day there, you need to buy more than one item, or get a refill.

    We are spoiled here that we have so many coffee shops, each one has its own vibe — the one where the moms bring the kids after school, the one with the aging hipsters, the one where EVERYONE is working and no one talks above a whisper. (Yeah, you know that’s the one I go to.) 🙂

    • So happy I made your day — and you just made mine, Jackie! It’s quite heartening to hear that this is not the norm. I sometimes do think that when you live in a small town, and when you frequent the same places over and over again, you do develop a sense of ownership or at least comfort that allows “home like behaviors.” They do say that familiarity breeds contempt (maybe mine, right?). Anyway, I’m afraid that perhaps that’s what’s happened at the MRC. I’m glad to hear you have a place you can go where everyone is working and doesn’t talk above a whisper. For me these days, that’s my kitchen table. Thanks for your kind words and reassurance 🙂

  12. Julia, I’ve been writing in coffee shops for years. At one point the people noise became such a distraction at my favorite place (nothing else in the lil VT town could compare) that one day I decided to just use it as a writing prompt. Eves dropping opened up a whole new writing avenue for me. I actually have a file folder full of stories seeded from my annoyance with coffee shop loud-mouths. . .which once fleshed out contributed to both character and plot creation for future work. I’m right there with you though, regarding the bathrooms and table clean up, regular feeding of the tip jar and (of course) no feet on the furniture.

    • Alison, thank you so much for your comment and your visit to my blog! I love that you used the loud mouths for writing prompts. Believe it or not, based on my interaction (the first time) with Ms. Phone Talker when we clashed over her taking ALL the outlets up in a four-outlet box, I sketched out a short story about two writers in a coffee shop. I’ve written a few pages and who knows if it will go anywhere but it did help me to alleviate my aggravation to write about it humorously. So I definitely agree with you that coffee shop culture can be useful in that prompting way! Thanks again for your comment, nice to meet you.

  13. Lisa Ahn says:

    These are SO good!