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What to Do When Laptops and Silence Take Over Your Cafe? (nytimes.com)
179 points by js2 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 306 comments



This is such a bizarre stance. "Finish up what you’re doing and close the laptop, please" would have me leave a venue immediately and never return.

In the UK the concept of people taking up space in coffee shops and not spending enough is not limited to people on laptops. You're just as likely to see an entire crowd of teenagers with one drink between them, or a group of mothers with pushchairs hanging about for hours (though I suspect the mother groups are good customers to have).

Personally I make sure I buy something at least every 30-45 minutes, and then relocate somewhere else if it gets busy. Cafes are rarely busy during the work day, so it's not like I'm depriving them of space.

But I've never come across a cafe with the approach of the ones in the article. Pretentious nonsense like that doesn't survive long here. If you want people to spend more money, ask them to leave if they haven't bought anything within the last hour. That's a simple rule that's easy to enforce, don't just blame a subset of customers.


You have to find the space that's compatible with your needs. Don't blame the no-laptop space for being what it is, any more than the laptop-friendly one.

Perhaps its not just about spending money. A coffee shop is (by some people's ideas) a place for folks to socialize. Those other 'offenders' are socializing, so are compatible with those spaces. Sitting in silence at a machine makes for a boring space, which drives away the other sort of customer.


We can discuss what they are doing and also vote with our money.

I'd hate to be kicked out of a shop because I'm reading a book. Or not talking. As you said: maybe it's their right to require socializing, but that doesn't make it a good idea.


Well, except that laptops are a plague upon the industry. Its not in the same league as reading a book.


Yeah, the laptop user might actually break out and MAKE something. Quelle horreur!


It's more a case of too many laptop users in a space, transform what was meant to be a social space into a work space.

It changes the vibe and the mood.


Not all laptop users are working.


A space filled with laptop users gives off a work vibe, and a somewhat anti-social vibe too, regardless of what they are actually doing on their machines.


I don't want to come across as grumpy - this is an honest question. What is so valuable in the guests' "socializing" with each other?

If I come to a cafe with my date or friends, I'll feel more comfortable sitting among people with laptops rather than among noisy teenagers mentioned in the gp comment.


Do you feel free to talk out loud when everyone else is silent? It can be stultifying. Like entering a library.

Many folks have a coffee shop because they want the community to meet there. A romantic notion, to be sure.


>What is so valuable in the guests' "socializing" with each other?

Its the same value as socializing at any other venue. Or taking it back further, whats the value in socializing at all? Maybe there isn't any value for you. I personally prioritize meeting new people and forming local connections, over virtual long-distance connections. A cafe is a good place to do that, if people are open to the idea. AFAICT people glued to their laptops, aren't.

> I'll feel more comfortable sitting among people with laptops rather than among noisy teenagers mentioned in the gp comment.

Those aren't the only two options.


What meaningful local connections have you formed taking to strangers in a coffee shop? I listen to the conversations people have at coffee shops with random people and it's been pointless smalltalk every time so far.


To give one example: I randomly met a person who like me, was also interested in learning Japanese and we ended up taking a few lessons together, and subsequently became good friends.

>I listen to the conversations people have at coffee shops with random people and it's been pointless smalltalk every time so far.

That's how our conversation started too..


ah, well, when the laptop users start complaining that the people talking to each other are too loud?


Remind them they set up their workspace in a public place


I can understand that. I don't think I've come across many shops near me that don't have a good mix of different people in there during the day, though. I've been in one recently that was largely empty aside from people at laptops, but it was 4pm and everywhere was quiet. Cardiff is pretty chill, however, and I've not yet come across the situation described in the parent article. But we do get hip trends about 5 years after everyone else!


I don't blame them, but it's reasonable for me to share my experience as a customer on review sites. So they shouldn't blame me for the one-star Yelp review they're getting, either.


Its unreasonable. You walk into a place with "no laptops please" posted with a laptop and settle in for the afternoon, get asked to finish up, and somehow that's their fault? You want to tank a coffee shop for enforcing rules of etiquette? Sounds spiteful and childish to me.


My question is how many cafes really make money off of people who come in and sit for an hour or two and order more than one drink.

Don't most people just stop by, grab a cup, and then go on their way? I've never seen a cafe a-la 'friends' where people hangout and constantly buy things.

In my experience the only people who DO hang out at cafes and order multiple items are those doing work for extended periods of time.


You are either young or have lived your life in a dystopian movie. :)

Friends and Frazier are accurate portrayals of how cafe culture used to be. People used to go to coffee shops for hours, drink coffee and other stuff and just shoot the breeze. It was pretty great, and in a lot of ways better than a bar. The one by me growing up had a big leather couch in front of a fireplace that we liked to sit at, and it was pretty great in the Ohio winters.

In the DC area we have a big Ethiopian community. Ethiopians are big into coffee and coffee shops. If you go to a Ethiopian coffee shop, it's still like that. Some of the higher-end coffee shops that have sprung up in the area are also like that. We live by one that we often go to as a family every Saturday morning and get coffee and breakfast and just chat.

I have found the chain coffee shops have been taken over more and more by people camping out on laptops. It probably also depends on how much your area has actually coworking spaces.

I have also found that if a place offers more of a true cafe menu, you'll find more people talking. If a place can be something where you would realistically get lunch and coffee, it's much more likely to be lively. And for me, I'd rather be in a lively place regardless if I were there for lunch or if I wanted to work on my laptop a bit.


Interesting. I guess it must be a product of my age (born in '91). Thanks for the insight.


Consider that “Friends” first appeared when you were ~3, and it should be more intuitive.

I feel really old...


I've never seen a cafe a-la 'friends' where people hangout and constantly buy things.

I've had my entire social life based on hanging out like this at one point in my life. (Late 90's, early 2000's) It was in a walkable neighborhood, the kind where a friend might invite you to dinner because she saw you from her apartment balcony. I'd have to say those were some of the best years of my life.


> I've never seen a cafe a-la 'friends' where people hangout and constantly buy things.

I'm becoming an old, so I'll chime in with the others.

Before laptops and - maybe more importantly - before cellphones, the coffee shop was the place to hang out and meet up.

From 1993-2000, I practically lived in the coffee shop downtown. We had one main shop in a city of about a quarter million. We didn't get a Starbucks until 2001, of you don't count the Barnes and Noble.

It was awesome.

It was the nerve center of our music and art scene. It was the only place where college kids and lawyers downtown could get a latte. It was the only place where kids who couldn't get into bars yet could hang out, and the people who could go to bars would pregame there with a cup of coffee. There was a lot of cross-pollination.

I met every single one of my close friends at the time at that cafe. We would sit there all day long and talk, smoke cigs, play chess, venture out into the park or the rest of the city, then meet back up at the cafe.

And it was packed - in the summer, there would easily be a hundred people hanging out in and around this tiny place. We'd spill out onto the sidewalk. It was almost like a daily block party.

But back to the whole pre-cellphone pre-laptop thing - absolutely no one was there to work. It was where you went after work, to do your socializing.

And without cellphones, it was a rallying point - everyone got out of work or were at their home phones at different times, so if you wanted to meet your friends, you had to hang out at the coffee shop because the odds were high they'd show up there too, uncoordinated. This concept is foreign to anyone in their 20s.

The 90s coffee shop culture was real, it was awesome, and for better or worse, it'll never come back. Sometimes this makes me sad, but the upside is that I don't waste half of my day alone hoping to bump into friends.

But - so many good memories!


oh, gosh, how many hours have I spent just hanging out at cafes shooting the breeze?


But are you constantly buying things when doing so? If I meet up with a friend at a cafe, it seems we usually just buy some coffee when we get there and then sit there and chat without buying more.


People chatting may buy more food and drinks, but an important difference is that people on laptops often take up entire tables that can seat a bunch of people. It's not just how much someone buys but how much space they take up. There have been times when I was walking with someone to grab coffee and chat, and we passed up going to that place because all of the tables were taken by people alone on their laptops.

Some places have a policy that you can only use a laptop at the bar seating, which eliminates the issue of people on laptops taking up a ton of space.


back when I had the time to do that I didn't have so much money. probably a drink per 1.5 hours or so.


It depends on the kind of neighborhood you live in too. You definitely see the hang out type coffee shops more in hipster neighborhoods vs like business districts or suburbs.


> "Finish up what you’re doing and close the laptop, please" would have me leave a venue immediately and never return.

Isn’t this the ideal outcome though? Your actions show you’re not the audience the business owner wants.


Would you consider it pretentious for a library to ask noisy guests to leave?

If someone wants to run and maintain a social space, they have every right to prevent it from becoming a cheap office or work space.

I imagine most coffee shop and café owners intentionally didn't choose to go into the office rental or co-working space business.


If you want people to spend more money, ask them to leave if they haven't bought anything within the last hour.

House of Pies in Houston will straight-up charge you rent if you don't order something.


What are you buying every 30-45 minutes?


Coffee, but there's obviously a limit as to how often you can do that ;)

I'll normally alternate coffee, soft-drinks, and snacks for a couple of hours, then bail out, grab lunch, and afterwards head to a different shop. It's not a hugely regular thing for me, as I mostly work from home, so I guess I can afford to spend a little more than the serial coffee shop dwellers.


This article feels is one of the very few cases where i read something online and totally feels weird to me due to where i am from. In Greece coffee shops are really mainly places to hang out and staying for hours on a single coffee is pretty much normal and expected. There is a huge "coffee culture" here. Me and my friends would go for a coffee at 6pm (or later 7pm, due to jobs) and often leave at 11pm or sometimes 2am (note that many coffee shops, especially at the most popular areas in the bigger cities remain open from morning to very late at night and after some point they also start offering drinks). This was also one bit that i missed when i lived in other countries (i had a sort of culture shock one time when, visiting a mall a bit after work, i saw other people from work leaving from a beer outing at around 9pm or so :-P).

Laptop users aren't seen very often in general though (and TBH with how noisy the shops are i doubt they'll ever be), although i live near a university and there is a coffee shop nearby with nice flat tables looking at the street and i often see students with laptops there. Also years ago, at my first gamedev job (although before i joined) on a startup, the team didn't had offices for a few months and the programming team mostly worked from laptops at the roof of a coffee shop :-P (and AFAIK generally all meetings with the entire team and everything were held in various coffee shops around the city).

Of course all that means that there are tons of coffee shops everywhere and i remember when i lived abroad, my landlord - who visited Greece - telling me how strange he found that there were so many coffee shops.

Personally i considered visiting a nearby coffee shop with my laptop a few times (there are 5 shops just 100m range, two right outside of my place), but i always change my mind because of the noise... and because i don't like working from a laptop :-P.


I'm guessing that rents are low for the coffee shops.

I also decry the loss of public spaces such as libraries (in my northern European city the main public library was rebuilt at fabulous cost and has less seating than the old one).


>...and has less seating than the old one

Is that a problem though? From my experience, at the library I frequent, while being well visited at all times has at most 20% of their seating occupied.

Don't live in northern europe though, so YMMV (maybe it's too cold outside to justify going to the library only for a short visit :D)

EDIT: The library I'm talking about is also a great social development. It's been built (about 10 years ago now) in the most densely-populated part of town, which was and still is considered by too many people as 'problematic' and it really lifts up the whole area.


I'm from Canada and the local library near me was also recently renovated with less seating than the old one. The actual building is probably twice the size, it used to consist of tightly packed 10ft bookshelves and cubicle desks and little nooks and crannies where people can sit. Now it is a more "open concept" layout with two story ceilings, short bookshelves that you can see over, big lounge chairs. I would glady go to the library when I want to work on my laptop but there is usually nowhere to sit, now I prefer to go to a coffee shop.


If you haven't already, be sure to talk to the manager at the library to leave this feedback. They can't improve what they don't know.


I think that culture is widespread in Southern Europe, at least Spain and Portugal also have plenty of coffeeshops where people get together in groups.

I'm never bothered about "hogging a table"; if a certain coffeeshop happens to be full, there are at least three others within 5m of walking distance that will have many free tables.


> coffee shops are really mainly places to hang out

Isn't that so in the US? I mean, the guys from Friends practically lived in that Central Perk coffee house.


It is. But the issue is remote workers that go and take up a 4 person table with their laptop and a bunch of papers then sit there all day...meaning a group of 2-4 no longer has a place to hang out.

I both work out of and hangout in coffee shops in the US, when working remote I make sure to always use the long community table if there are already a few seats used, or sit at the bar, or a two person table if I must. And if it is super busy and people are looking for seats I’ll go elsewhere.


> But the issue is remote workers that go and take up a 4 person table with their laptop and a bunch of papers then sit there all day...meaning a group of 2-4 no longer has a place to hang out.

Nah, the issue is, multiple groups of 2-4 people no longer have a place to hang out, meaning the shop earns less money.


in some places cafes are practically empty at certain times of the day. probably not in NY though.


I'm Greek too and I had the same thoughts. Specifically that it's perfectly possible to have a profitable business while expecting your customers to take over four or five seats for several hours for the price of a single coffee per head- because all the cafés I went to when I was in Greece did exactly that and they stayed in business for ever (most are still open like 12 years after I emigrated).

The difference is probably in the fact that Greeks go to the cafés with their friends. You almost never see a single person sitting at a table with a coffee cup for hours on end- except in the traditional cafés (kafeneio, vs cafeteria) that have basically single-person tables.

It works for the café because if you have a parea of five that stay around for five hours, that's like having five single customers each hogging a table for an hour- except you can accommodate several groups at once so you sell many more coffees per table than you would if your clientelle were single remote workers and their laptops.

Maybe, if it became much more common for remote workers working from cafés in Greece, then the economics would change- and our (café) culture would be in danger :)


I'm portuguese, so don't take this as a jab, but cafes are also notorious for tax evading, specially on the single coffee or 2 beers kind of bills.

I have two very good friends that own cafes here (which seem to work similar to what you are describing) and he hates when someone uses a table for hours on end and ends up paying one euro or something, even groups. He always told me that his best customers are the ones that come in, have their coffee, pay the euro, don't care about receipt and leave after 10 minutes. Those are the ones that keep him in business (and yes, tax on a 1 euro coffee isn't much, but multiply by easily 500 a day, and it starts to add up)


Cultures are different. Dutch people don't hang out in cafes during the day. So on weekdays cafés are quiet places.

The economy has also shifted. Lots of people are self-employed. And most jobs that people make money with only require a laptop and WiFi.


> In Greece coffee shops are really mainly places to hang out and staying for hours on a single coffee

From my experience on Samos, this might be attributed to the current economic situation. At bars it's not uncommon to see a person drink a pint over 1-2 hours. Most of the people that I observed did more smoking then drinking at bars and coffee shops because cigarettes (especially hand rolled ones) are a lot cheaper then drinks.


Coffee Lab, perhaps? I thought it was a really cool coffee shop when I was there last year and, as you say, very much a hang out sort of place.


How common is it for people to do actual, regular, serious work at coffee shops and the like? I've tried a couple of times and I always feel like such a pretentious wanker when I pull out a laptop and start working on stuff, like I'm somehow broadcasting "oh look at me, I work remotely, aren't I special?"


I wrote kind of a dumb amount of my dissertation at Mishka's Cafe and the Delta of Venus in Davis. Mishka's has a thin row of seating at the front with a 'no work' policy - including no reading except for newspapers - and then a huge area of grad students on laptops. Delta's much less structured, has a lot more ambient conversation, and has a real (and excellent) kitchen which I imagine rounds out their business nicely.

So, yeah, it's a pretty easy habit to get into as a student.

These days, I mainly get my solo research in on weekends, and spend a few hours in a local coffee shop. I tip generously, and occasionally buy a pound of coffee to keep things on the up and up.


I work in the Bay Area as a software engineer but live in Davis and work from there two days a week (wife is a PhD student). Delta of Venus is the only place I can get work done.


++ For DoV. Wrote a bit of my dissertation there, but also just sat there listening and chatting with interesting peoples


Are novels not allowed?


Delta of Venus. Great place.


No one thinks that, especially near universities where students are doing their homework anyways. I always used to hit cafes when they weren't busy, so super early morning, or late afternoons...if the place is full, you can't do thinking anyways, but if its empty, the cafe's appreciate the business.


How common is it for people to do actual, regular, serious work at coffee shops and the like?

I don't know the answer in general, so I can only offer the anecdote that "I do it." I work a day-job and am working on a side-project, and I visit a coffee shop / cafe environment usually 2 or 3 nights a week after the day-job to work on my project for a few hours. And I typically do the same for up to 8 hours on Saturday and maybe 4-6 hours on Sunday.

I've tried a couple of times and I always feel like such a pretentious wanker when I pull out a laptop and start working on stuff, like I'm somehow broadcasting "oh look at me, I work remotely, aren't I special?"

Interesting. Such a thought has never occurred to me. But I live in a college heavy area and visit a cafe that's near UNC, Duke and NC Central, and there are always plenty of people with laptops out. A lot are clearly students, but I'm pretty sure there's a decent number who are working professionals as well.

On the OTOH, despite the prevalence of laptops there, there are always plenty of tables with people who aren't on laptops and who are socializing in-person.


All the time.

My complaint would be people yapping on their cell phone for work. That's a big distraction, you blend in with a laptop, but nothing says "I'm important" yelling into your bluetooth for an hour.


Being someone who works remotely exclusively...I wouldn’t survive without going to a coffee shop to work 2-3 times a week. Just need to get out of the house and be around people sometimes (during the day.)

People go to coffee shops to talk, to read, to write, to think. It doesn’t seem like much of a reach to think people would go there to do work. The common theme seems to be wanting to focus.


Right, I've worked from home for 10 years.

Oftentimes my partner would come home from school, work, and want to relax. I'd want to go anywhere. "Where?" "I dunno, even the mall." "Is there something you want?" "Not that I can think of."

But it was to be "social". Be around people, even with minimal interaction. She wanted to relax, had been busy and around people all day.

I'd been at home with our cat and our dog.

You can be "social", or at least "not alone", without having to talk to people.


Being someone who works at the office exclusively, I have the same need. A change of context is awesome.


I literally go every morning for 2 hours before the morning stand up. Guarantees a good couple of hours to start the day.


>I've tried a couple of times and I always feel like such a pretentious wanker when I pull out a laptop and start working on stuff, like I'm somehow broadcasting "oh look at me, I work remotely, aren't I special?"

This though can be turned around easily: that the one feeling that way is self-centered and believes unknown people in a cafe care about what he "broadcasts" when he uses his laptop. What makes he believe he is special enough to warrant attention for having a laptop out? Who even cares about what they do? (short of ritual sacrifice).


You don't have to be self-centered or believe you're special to feel awkward when going against social norms. If remote working at cafes was something that happened regularly around where I live and half the tables had laptops on them then I wouldn't feel pretentious at all. But sitting alone at a table with a laptop in a room full of people socializing is a completely different situation and feels weird.


Yup. I find that people complaining about different habits of others are usually the one with problems.


I find that there’s a percentage of people in the world who are oblivious to cultural norms, and become indignant when it is explained that some habits are problematic.


I'm very productive in cafes. If you work remotely you really don't want to be at home all day long. Working for a few hours in the morning in a cafe helps stave off cabin fever. Headphones and music are a must though.


Ironically, i’m more focused there than in my open plan office. been hitting the cafes hard for years now.


Not surprising, the people in the cafe aren't constantly coming up to you and interrupting you.


There was a HN story about this recently, there's a certain level of noise that can help with creativity.


Reality is nobody cares about you in the (semi-)public. Unless you of cause go really crazy.

Determine your actions based on the imaginary judgement of completely random strangers is going to serverely limit the way you live your life.


> Reality is nobody cares about you in the (semi-)public. Unless you of cause go really crazy.

A few people have been saying that. But, how can you possibly know? It sounds like a platitude one tells themselves in order to not feel self-conscious, rather than an actual discernable fact.


I guess I read this as "as long as you're not disrupting other people/going against the cafe's policies then who gives a shit if other people care about you" more than "other people will never care about you"


I can get 2/3 hours sometimes of serious hacking work on a noisy, busy coffeeshop. The combination is 3-4 days of isolated work and then boredom and then boom. Working alongside of very annoying people can work.


Dunno, that's just a self-limiting belief that's doing you no good. Like not approaching women because you think it broadcasts "oh look at me, thinking I'm good enough to approach you, how pretentious!" And then just stewing alone for the rest of your life because, hey, at least you avoided the thoughts you thought other people might have!


I feel the same way, and have never been able to work on a laptop in a coffee shop. I prefer to work in silence too, and never listen to music etc. while working, so this probably is a big factor for me.

What I do enjoy in coffee shops though, is writing ideas and planning/brainstorming projects (by hand) in my paper notebook.


Many years ago, I went to meet a friend at a cafe and show him this game I'd just bought. Pulled the laptop out and it was incredible just how fast I felt like that.

Besides which, the noise levels would drive me nuts. I have difficulty working with any kind of unstructured noise.


If you're feeling self-conscious, it's in your head though, isn't it? I feel like it's not that hard to just sit there and do your work, minding your own business.

Sure, it personally makes me feel anti-social, but when I do hang out with people at coffe shops and see someone else work, I do know how they feel and won't judge.

And yea, I've done some pretty good "work" at coffee shops, where I didn't have the distraction of super high bandwidth and playing games at home. And as others have pointed out, being around people is fun, even when you're not interacting with them, though that doesn't relate to your point.


Is this what you think about other people you see working at coffee shops?


No, and so I don't really believe that's what other people are thinking. But it's how I feel, and it messes with my concentration.


I think it a little. Never really "got" the whole thing I guess. I also wonder why does a supposed "remote worker" (for money, I presume) want to eat (literally) into their profits by spending money constantly at a cafe? My home would have to be a heckhole indeed... Or I'd have to be stricken with a loneliness so gnawing that I had to get out. Otherwise I'm perfectly content to have total control over a pleasant private environment that I'm already paying for!


I also wonder why does a supposed "remote worker" (for money, I presume) want to eat (literally) into their profits by spending money constantly at a cafe?

I'm not a full-time remote worker, but as mentioned above, I do work out of cafe environments quite often. Why? Well, in my case, I'm single, I live alone, and if the only place I'm ever at - besides my day-job office - is my apartment, I'd get really bored and go stir-crazy. For me, the cafe is a "3rd place". That is helped by the fact that I drink copious amounts of coffee.

Also, sometimes (as somebody else in one of these threads mentioned) there's something satisfying about being around other people, but not being required to interact with them. And there's something about the hustle-and-bustle / hum of activity in a cafe that is comforting. See, for example, how some people working in an office will put on a "coffee shop noises" audio track while working, to attempt to partially simulate that environment.


I work remote, I enjoy working from my pleasant private environment about 90% of the time. But I get bored of it and want a change of pace, and I enjoy espresso drinks that I can’t duplicate at home.

$25 a week spent on breakfast and coffee plus a new environment isn’t really going to ding my budget, maybe that is different for other people depending on their field.


for what it's worth, you can go to Starbucks, get a coffee for under $2, and with their current rewards program, unlimited refills all day long as long as you don't leave. if you bring your own lunch, it can be a really cheap place to work, as long as it fits your work style.


I do it for high focus tasks. I like the noise level of cafe's and that interruptions are very rare. I can be extremely productive, and sometimes I'll do work at a cafe even if it isn't for my actual job. For instance I'll work on some fiction writing, or a coding project.

At least around here most people seem to be on laptops. Whether they're playing a game or doing actual work I don't know since I try to not peep at other screens, but nobody has given me any stare-downs or anything rude.


I find it very convenient when I have meetings far away from my workplace. A lunch meeting and a late afternoon meeting, great I can work from a coffee shop in between.


I did this in tearooms. There usually were ~3 sections in a tearoom, one with tables and stools, one with cushions and one where you could smoke nargile/hookah.

Sitting at a table for two with a laptop was fine. There usually would be at least one more. It would more often than not broadcast "student" than "pretentious remote worker"


I find it really strange too, for a similar reason. But at least one developer I have a lot of respect for constantly bemoans the lack of a really good development laptop because they like to work at coffee shops. One of the most productive developers I know of, so it's hard to say it can't work.


Do you live in a small town? I've found that when I go home to visit my parents at their small town, it does feel slightly uncomfortable to be the only one on a laptop in any cafe.


This is the appropriate emotional response. Kudos to you. Thanks for not being a tool. I would say, though, that the reason it's a "pretentious wanker" move isn't because they work remotely but instead choose to work silently in a public space not designed for it, essentially for free. Paying for coffee, pastry, whatever and using the place as an office is not providing the appropriate monetary remuneration to the business for having an office space.


People are different of cause, they have different types of jobs, and cafes are different as well. However; when I see someone with a laptop on a tiny little round cafe table, I assume that they just want to be seen, or if they're just setting up for an Instagram photo. Their 13" MacBook is often dwarfed by their huge coffee cup, how can anyone work in such crammed conditions? And the noise.... don't people need to think?


Strangely enough, knowing that so many people have doubts about coffeeshop nomads was very motivating when I did exactly that. I sometimes lacked the discipline to get work done from home, but when I sat down at a coffeeshop, I never opened social media because that would only prove you people right - so I worked all day.


A tiny laptop works great for focused work. When I'm feeling scattered I take my X-series ThinkPad to the coffee shop and work until the battery dies.


At the wifi cafe near me, everyone gives off that vibe and seems pretty proud of it. I've discovered it's a great place to take my kids to do their homework. They get a hot chocolate and someplace quiet to focus on their work and not be distracted by games and toys. I could never get much work done at one of those place, but then again I don't get much done at my office either.


The library served the same function for my father when I was growing up. He could take us there, we'd do our homework, and there was a solid social code enforcing silence and focus. At the end, we got to pick out some new books to read.


It's very common. If you don't have a workplace, and are an independent developer, many people work remotely from coffee places.

If you feel like that, you just have to overcome that feeling. I have no problem doing what is my passion from anywhere. Except if it's too noisy or there's too much people. But then you figure out something else.


Masters thesis write up. Especially the Literature review, was made more bearable by shitty caramel machiatto's in Starbucks.

If you don't need your workstation for heavy lifting.

If you're mainly reading research papers or writing little scripts, to apply the documentation to your use case or something, then coffee shops can be great.


You probably think the other patrons are more interested on what you are doing there than they actually care. I can understand feeling this with a cafe that has explicit rules about laptop use, otherwise what anyone dose in a cafe is their own business unless they are interrupting the experience of others.


I know a few people who do. One still lives with her parents (she freelances while going to school and tending bar at the family business). Her room is small, so it's mostly set up for relaxing. Thus, coffee shops for working.


If I have a day when Need to Get Shit Done, I go to a cafe. That way I can't be physically bothered and I can just turn off all communication software and devices if I need to.


Common


> At Triniti, Mr. Wynn offers free Wi-Fi, but after two hours a customer must have “a face-to-face interaction” with an employee, he says, to get a new password

This is the best approach. (The "a staff member will approach the uninitiated customer whose laptop is open for more than a couple of minutes with a gentle but firm request ‘to finish up what you’re doing and close the laptop, please,’ approach is the worst. No sign, no explanation--just a demand.)

> the Rose doesn’t provide electrical outlets; a dwindling battery should be a sign that it’s time to go

This is also fine, albeit ineffective against my MacBook Air.


Or just set a purchase minimum. Must buy $x worth of stuff for every few hours you spend there. Seems fair.

Cafes aren't your free all-day office offering complimentary wifi for the price of a $2 coffee, they're businesses trying to make money to pay their rent.


Maybe you could have a wifi system that disconnects after a set time period. Buy something and your code gets renewed.


That’s what a cafe that I frequented in Chicago did (buzz). Two hours of WiFi with your purchase. I thought it was a great system


>"a staff member will approach the uninitiated customer whose laptop is open for more than a couple of minutes with a gentle but firm request “to finish up what you’re doing and close the laptop, please,”

Agreed - I understand that cafe owners dislike people lounging around for free, but I'd be seriously pissed if someone came to hurry me along after a couple of _minutes_.


In the 'old days', you had to either subscribe to the service (usually AT&T or something ran the wifi) or you got a printed code on your receipt that was valid for an hour or two.

Then a some point, most chains started offering free wifi. Which was useless because many of the places only have 2-6mbs which is useless with anyone else using it.

Starbucks at least went with 'Google wifi' and have ~ 100mbs service which is really nice. But they are empty for some reason, the local Barnes and Noble is packed with laptops and unusable wifi.


Not really, 4G is good now, local wifi is not needed


I'm guessing most people using cafes as workplaces are going to baulk at paying for 4G? It can get really expensive if you're working more than a couple of hours a day.


I haven't paid-by-the-byte for 4G for about half a decade now. It's unlimited with my reasonably priced monthly contract (about $30USD/mo), from a mainstream provider in the UK (Three), lets me tether and gives me free data when I'm abroad too (I'm in the US and France a few times a year typically). I hope this doesn't sound too let-them-eat-cake, but I'm surprised that anyone with work-on-app-in-a-café-in-a-trendy-city lifestyle wouldn't have a sim plan with unlimited, or at least a very high allowance of, data.


That and find a good library. Libraries are designed for people to focus. Cafes are not.


I guess your not in the UK? Libraries here are not quiet places anymore. Wi-fi often sucks too.


You are not trying hard enough. I was at Trinity College Library, Dublin a few months back. There are few spaces that are more peaceful and inspiring to work in than that one.

You have to understand that cafés like churches or pubs or the town square have traditionally been designed as the "The Third Space" in people's lives behind home and work. It were community building happen. It's designed for that, not for work. Howard Schultz founder of Starbucks tried to bring this to the US where he felt people were loosing touch with those community spaces but still had/felt a need for them. It has been very successful for his company to tap into that need. But on the flip side lot of misguided notions have developed in peoples(cafe owners/patrons) heads about what that third space is for or why they need it.


Dublin isn't in the UK though.


free wifi to freeloaders who aren't students though?


I can't speak for all universities, but my alma mater allows public access on a limited basis. For example, you can apply for courtesy membership if you have a basic need for research purposes. It can be as simple as, "I'm trying to build a static analysis tool, and I need books or publications on ASTs."

It makes sense to me, because one of the tenets of higher education should be to serve in the interest of the community.


Sure. My university has unsecured 100+ Mbps up/down and free access to libraries during the workday. Other universities I know of (USA) are the same.


I see. In Australia, they tie guest wifi login to one's student email address via the 'eduroam' SSID. This allows students from visiting universities to connect but not the general public.


I'm not aware of any such plans in the US. All carriers throttle "unlimited" plans so unlimited plans simply don't exist. Not with the major carriers anyway.


ATT unlimited plus says you might be throttled after 10GB of tethering, but in my experience, I haven't been restricted. I think it only throttles you if the tower you're connected to is saturated.


I suppose it's a matter of how much streaming video you need while you're working.


That's not really fair though - Three hasn't offered unlimited for years now, I also have friends who bought Unlimited few years ago and they will continue to have it until they switch plans, but that level of unlimited, where you can tether and where you can literally download 500gb+ a month and no one will care doesn't exist in the UK today. No mobile ISP offers such a thing as it stands right now.


I'm on that all-you-can-eat tariff with Three as well, but tethered data is normally limited to 30GB/month or so. Did you make any account changes to get unlimited or are you bypassing the tethering detection? I haven't seen unlimited tether plans, but it would mean I could work virtually anywhere.


Change your ttl to 65 and you'll be fine


Could you expand on this? I have always wondered how carriers recognize tethering vs normal use.


The TTL (time-to-live) field of outgoing packets is one of the ways to detect when someone has another device behind the connected device (phone). The traffic from this device has an extra hop to go through, so TTL of every TCP packet will be decreased by one, compared to packets originating from the phone, when it reaches the ISP.

This, together with the fact that default TTL different OSes set for packets they send is well known, and virtually no user ever changes these defaults, means that if the ISP detects different packets with TTL for example 64 and 63 coming from you, you very likely have something tethered to your phone.

There are tools like https://github.com/p0f/p0f (it does much more, than just this, though) to make exploiting this technique easy. I remember we used p0f to detect unauthorized connection sharing in a certain university dorm network, and caught quite a few people.


Yes, I get what you're saying, maybe I just know a lot of tight-fisted people?

I have one colleague who won't answer an email or whatsapp unless she's on free wi-fi somewhere. This is an extreme example but I know others who are not much worse.


Tbh that sounds like an excuse to not be bothered by work 24/7


Maybe, although she doesn't worry about messaging me at 8pm?


Not when you have 50gb per month.


I don't work in coffee shops - or drink coffee for that matter - but I do take long lunches at times at restaurants just to just take a break during the middle of the day and take my iPad and go through my RSS aggregator. There is something relaxing about the combination of being around other people and still not having to interact with them. I don't get it either.

It's the same way about going to the gym. On one hand, after I stopped teaching fitness classes part time and working out with friends, going to the gym became a chore. I like working out at home and converted one of our bedrooms to a mini gym. I love the convenience, but kind of miss just working out on the gym equipment around other people even if I never talk to them.

Maybe it's the sense of shared purpose?


> There is something relaxing about the combination of being around other people and still not having to interact with them. I don't get it either.

We are social animals. At least most of us. If you go for a few days with no interaction/seeing other human beings you'll go crazy.


I'm married with a teenage son so it's not about being isolated. But it takes mental energy for me to actual interact with people. Being alone in a crowd is sometimes the best of both worlds. I get to be around other people and don't feel isolated but I can also relax and don't have to interact.


> If you go for a few days with no interaction/seeing other human beings you'll go crazy.

I've done solo backpacking trips for more than 'a few days', and I did not go crazy. I think there's a difference between choosing isolation and being forced into it (the later probably contributes to insanity, not the former)


> RSS aggregator

Why do you still choose to use them today?


It's a nice way to aggregate content creators who have good, but sparse or irregular posts - i.e. where it wouldn't be useful to pull every single one of them to see if there's anything new, you just have a single "inbox" for that, curated down so that it's not too much to read everything.


I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum - if I don't go through my RSS reader at lunch, I can easily have 700-1000 articles. I may read about 30 outside of HN.


What alternative is there to rapidly scan through sites that have interesting content?

For the most part, I use RSS to read HN. Every now and then I will go to the home page to see if there is something I missed that didn't gain enough traction to make it to the feed.


Have you tried http://skimfeed.com ?


How is that any different than using an RSS feed of sites you find interesting?


Because it's a standard that allows an effective way to curate and browse lists of articles without having to fully commit to a single walled garden service. My primary method of browsing HN, for example, is via the RSS feed.


I work in cafes a lot and have my own code of conduct:

- Don't work in a place that's really busy. If it becomes busy, I'll wrap up and move somewhere else.

- Buy something at least every 2 hours. If I've had too many coffees, then decaf at least, or a pastry. Spend around $5 each time.

- Tip! (Where appropriate). I like to add $1 for each purchase.

- Get to know the employees. Learn their names and greet them.


I like the way it works in France: There, many coffee shops have set-up co-working rooms, which are separate rooms where you can rent a place by the hour.

Yes, it is a bit more expensive (usually ~20$ for a day), but you get the same "coffee shop experience" and don't have to feel guilty or obliged to eat/drink (often not so healthy) stuff all the time.


This is great evolution! I like it.


I like your tips. I also take the approach of just awkwardly asking when I'm buying my first coffee for the day: "Hey is it alright if I work here and mooch your internet?" - I've found that the staff seems to appreciate acknowledgement that I'm mooching. I've only seen one or two coffeeshops that have paid wifi access, which I appreciate even more!

Once you've worked from a few coffeeshops you can recognize the places that welcome remote workers - they go out of their way to provide lots of outlets and lots of 1/2 person tables. If a place has bright lighting, loud music, very few outlets - it's polite to find somewhere else.


Buying something every 2 hours seems excessive and expensive. I agree about the tipping well part.


I don't usually stay at a place more than 3 or 4 hours anyways, so it's just a midway refill point for me. I usually work the rest of the day at home, or switch to a new place if I want to stay out.

Also, the amount to spend can scale with your budget; it seems more important to just to get up and buy something, just so you don't appear completely cut off from the rest of the world.

I normally get espresso drinks, but sometimes I'll get a normal drip coffee, which usually has a cheaper refill ($3 for the first, and $1 for a refill), and I'll tip on each refill.


Try to ask how much is the rent and you'll see what's expensive.


I like to work at coffee shops. Its true. But I don't blame coffee shop owners, especially in high-rent areas, for complaining about coffee shop workers. First, when they start a business, they likely have an idea of what they'd like to see it become. Running a place like a cafe isn't likely just a business proposition for them; its a cultural one. Maybe they like the idea of their cafe being a hub of social and cultural activity, full of quirky personalities, artists, and political theorists; rather than remote white collar work spaces. Also, they've got to pay the bills, and their margins are pretty thin.


Similar dynamic at the boxing gym I go to. The owner is a real boxing guy, but he knows the suburban moms and cardio/aerobics classes pay the bills. He's managed to find a good balance, training a few competitive fighters and putting on a few fights a year, but he could be making so much more money doing the whole volume aerobic/kickboxing model. We joke about the Title franchise gyms that have sparring rings for display purposes...but in the end that's what makes reliable money. Gotta respect those that go out of their way to foster unique culture at the expense of "good business", its a rarity these days


The true enthusiasts rarely pay the bills. For one, people really dedicated to a certain hobby typically don't have the money that the casual folks do. For another, they know the cost/value of the service.

People building their own gaming rigs aren't paying local computer stores' markup. Ski bums have cheap season passes, get way more than their money's worth, and pack a lunch rather than pay $20 for a cheeseburger; only tourists pay $120 a day for one-day-pass. And so on.


It's also a pure numbers game.

The number of people who just want kickboxing-cardio is much greater than the number of serious fighters. The number of casual skiers is much greater than the number of ski bums.

Mathematically, although a business owner might love the serious hobbyists, usually, there just aren't enough of them to pay the bills.

That's why really serious pro-level coaching and training is so expensive: they can't spread their costs among enough customers to make it cheap for everyone.


I’m somewhat surprised by the article. There is recently a giant indi cafe boom in Taipei that made it one of the most developed cafe city in Asia, but almost all well-regarded shops do everything they could to keep the place as quiet as possible. Maybe it’s the introvert eastern Asian culture in play here, I don’t know. The article assumes it is abnormal for cafes to be taken over by silence, but I mean, it’s totally cool to build your cafe a social place, but it’s not an inherently bad thing if your customers want it to be quiet either. Maybe your customers actually want that—and if that’s the case (maybe it’s not, I don’t know, but if it is), it sucks to have another quiet place taken away.


I don't think it's the silence the owners really care about, it's more that people aren't paying and they hog the seats all day for the price of a $2 coffee.


Charge them, or install some kind of time limiting then. Cafes here either charge at least $5 for a coffee (note that wage in Taiwan is about half than the US), or would ask you to leave if you stay for 2 hours (they will tell you first, of course). If this is what the owner really cares about, I feel the article is solving the wrong problem.


> If this is what the owner really cares about, I feel the article is solving the wrong problem.

True, but then again the hallmark of NYTimes aspirational twee writing is to harp on some wannabe hipster psuedo-retro twee bs - "Cafes are too silent!! People aren't interacting in social old fashioned ways! Nobody makes 3-week brine horseradish pickles anymore except for this one Fort Point Hassid who only works on the 8th Tuesday of the Month!!!" while simultaneously ignoring the common sense factors (Cafe owners are losing $$ because people use their cafes as free office space, and horseradish pickles be gross).


There's a place I often visit in Shoreditch called Ziferblat[0], and I think that they have something of a solution to this (they have other places too).

Essentially, you are charged for your time and everything else is free. Presently I think it's about 7p per minute for the first hour, and then 4p a minute afterwards - there's also a cap.

While in there, coffee, snacks, etc, are all "free".

Perhaps this sort of model could work? Obviously if you're not willing to kick out all the remote workers. I guess this turns it into more of a coworking space though.

[0]: http://www.ziferblat.co.uk/


This doesn't seem like it's a solution to the problem, it's just a different type of venue with the opposite problem. If I go in and grab a coffee and a crumpet they're not going to be very happy.


Pretty much. Perhaps billing per minute if you're going to stay for longer than an hour, or per item if you're staying for less. Though that seems overly complex and a logistical nightmare.


Just have a 1 hour minimum fee.


A similar place has opened over here. Billed by the hour or day.

https://www.anticafe.eu/strasbourg


Reading this is surreal, like Opposite World. You are selling me on quiet, wifi & power, at the price of your fancy coffee (and preferably even real food), so I can work/read/study in nice atmosphere. Why else would I tolerate paying nearly $6 for a latte and $5 for a muffin? If all I want is to get coffee itself and immediately hit the road, I can go to coffee stand or vending machine.

"Your $3 coffee doesn't entitle you to sit for an hour." First, perhaps I'm typically more than the average user, $3 coffee sounds either horrid or a miracle. Second: Why not? Isn't that the whole point? You're luring me to come in & buy your wares so that I get the benefit of sitting for a while and do my thing, whether it's read a book or work on my laptop.

To the people who see silence & laptops as bad in and of themselves: who are you to prioritize talkers over non-talkers? In my mind and those of many near-university dwellers, cafes are precisely for sitting, reading, working, not for having (sometimes loud) conversations that disturb those around you.

Finally, I'm not aware of "taking up space", as there are typically multiple empty tables at the (independent, non-Starbucks) coffee shops I go to. Maybe this article applies to high-volume areas & times, but I'm not interested in such places anyway.

TL/DR: If you ban people working and studying on laptops, that will just be even less revenue for your establishment, because that is the only reason many of us showed up. Ration out the wifi with time limits and access codes on receipts if you like, I'm fine with that, otherwise just be happy I'm there rather than having yet another empty table.


You should be able to get a decent cup of coffee for $3. Either you live in a really expensive coffee market, or you have really ... high standards.

I find the idea that cafes are not for socializing pretty out there.


Did you read the article? Coffeeshop owners are not open office landlords, they want to cultivate a cultural hub for the local area. Yes, to them conversationalists are more interesting than non-talkers, not to mention that it feels awkward to be the only one talking in a room of people not talking. If you want a quiet space with wifi and power, work from home, rent an office, or go to the library.


I get that, but I also get a vibe of "adapt or die" we said about Blockbuster when they thought they were cultivating an atmosphere of the joy of picking out a movie with your family.

I'm sure everyone wants to be a real life Central Perk from Friends, but that's not coming back in the age of smartphones, laptops, and remote workers without some serious trade-offs like the alienation of a potentially majority subset of your customers in the first place.

Business owners of course are free to do as they please and I think it's interesting for them to experiment with cultivating a modern social experience in a cafe. Hopefully they are upfront about their rules, though. I would feel some resentment if I was blindsided by some of the behavior in the article.


I worked in the restaurant space for many years... technology in the restaurant space. That's a very interesting story too.

Running a restaurant or cafe is pure social engineering. Because you control the environment you can influence the behavior of customers that occupy that space. Restaurants and cafes are a hospitality industry. You must treat your guests like kings and queens. But you also have to make money. Margins are razor thin.

You can change the mood and behavior of a place with music and lighting alone. If the customers are too sedentary crank up the music and make it a fast pace. Turn up the lighting. It gets people moving. Send waiters out and ask customers if they need any thing. Be nice, cheerful, and helpful. They will realize that this isn't an office.

If you have a problem with laptops you can kill the wifi and power. A better way would be to work with the laptops and devices. Give people an opportunity to spend. Make it work for you. Offer them technology to use! That's what I helped do.


If I bought a cup of coffee at your shop and sat down, only for you to tell me that laptops are "not allowed," I'd be very unhappy with your store.

Anyway, this is why coworking spaces exist.


Your $3 coffee doesn't entitle you to sit there for an hour though.

If I was running a cafe, I'd expect that you'd be leaving within 5 to 10 minutes of finishing your coffee. The very few times I've worked in a coffee shop, I've done that myself. It's not a coworking space.


Can I ask where you're from? The purpose that you seem to imagine coffee shops serve us totally foreign to me. Neither I nor anyone I know would ever dream of staying in a coffee shop for only the duration of a coffee. Either you're passing through and you grab a drink to go, or you've come to hang out for a while (either with friends or to pass the time in a "3rd space" working/reading/studying). All my coffee shop visits are either less than 1 minute or over 60. It would be truly bizarre to leave my apartment and spend 10+ minutes getting somewhere, only to stay for 5.


> Your $3 coffee doesn't entitle you to sit there for an hour though

Read up on the history of cafes. This is what they historically were—places for people to be, not grab and go. If a coffee shop owner wants grab and go customers, they’re a glorified vending machine. (The article notes a conversation-versus-quiet dynamic that I can better empathise with.)


In Europe they still are places to sit down. But people that chat with one another still tend to order much more, because they're more aware of their surroundings, in touch with the smells of the freshly baked croissants. The laptop pulls you into a void where you might even forget to drink.


Oh, when I'm working at a café, I tend to drink much more than I otherwise would.


While I tend to get mad at the cafe dwellers that spend 4 hours on a table sipping on the same latte, I disagree with you here. It's all about finding the middle ground. I have had to work in coffee shops before and if you hold yourself to a code of conduct (e.g. consume something regularly, don't take up too much space, pack up and move somewhere else when it gets busy and you see people looking for tables) you are literally costing nothing to the coffee shop, while making it appear more full.

The problem isn't laptops, it's people being assholes.


Meanwhile, Starbucks encourages people to sit around for as long as they'd like to and is pretty much taking over the world. What does this corporate giant know that every stingy corner coffee shop owner is ignorant of?


A good share of Starbucks locations worldwide actually run at a loss. The mega-busy ones elsewhere make enough profit to cover the loss making stores. It's simple economics of scale.

Obviously independent coffee shops can't do that, so if you want to sit in a coffee shop all day working on your laptop, try to pick a large chain, instead of an independent.


> A good share of Starbucks locations worldwide actually run at a loss. The mega-busy ones elsewhere make enough profit to cover the loss making stores. It's simple economics of scale.

I'm probably missing something obvious, but how does this work? What is the purpose of keeping the loss-making stores running?


I haven't read this about Starbucks in particular, but that is a pretty common trade-off for large retail businesses to make. They accept the fact that a certain percentage of stores will operate at a loss, but keep them in existence for other reasons (branding, in most cases) if the losses can be managed.

A friend of mine is a middle manager at a retail kitchen goods chain you've probably heard of. I've heard from him that many of their stores are always struggling to break even, and that most of the business is supported by a small number of stores that do an outsized amount of business.


To create brand loyalty. If you regularly get coffee in a loss-making Starbucks, you are more likely to always get coffee from Starbucks where-ever you are.


Worked on me. I associate Starbucks with a place I can go to work for as long as I need after buying a large coffee.

These sorts of submissions have made me self-conscious about going to non-Starbucks to get any work done, heh.


I don't believe this. It sounds like something you came up with yourself. Do you have anything to back that up? I'm not saying it couldn't be true but I have hard time swallowing that based on supposition alone.


"expect that you'd be leaving within 5 to 10 minutes of finishing your coffee"

hah... Living in Spain right now.. That attitude wouldnt fly


That's kind of an odd assumption. I suppose for a coffee stand that only has a chair or two that might be true, but most cafes around me have a dozen or more seats and I've never sat down just to drink a coffee or have a snack.

It seems if you don't want people to hang out, then don't have seating?


Says who? I would understand it if the cafe place would enforce rules like this. But they would also lose many current customers. Many people just come to a cafe and stare at their phone. Or read a book.

How I see it this is a problem for the providers of the cafe service to solve, not the customers.


I've walked past cafes that have no seats available because they are full of people with laptops, they have lost my business because they don't enforce any rules.


I don’t get it. Those people shouldn’t sit at the tables... because you want to be sitting at the tables instead?


Traffic, would you rather have four customers using a table in an hour or just one?


I think you're just assuming a lot - about how many coffees they'll buy and how profitable these people are.

But we don't even have to guess. Big businesses that are very careful about monitoring things like this, such as Starbucks, actively encourage laptops (with tons of power, wifi, rows of single-person desk tables) so maybe your intuition about what is profitable is just wrong? I mean you've thought about it for ten minutes and were already coming into the situation annoyed because you want to sit down and someone else was there, and Starbucks are running this business full time with I would guess people dedicated to thinking about this kind of thing.

I'm more inclined to believe their reasoning on it.


I mean you've thought about it for ten minutes

Sorry, did I say something to offend you?


The way I interpreted the parent post: that was intended to note the contrast to businesses who probably have several people who's full-time job is to think about these things.


What does your $3 coffee entitle you to do in a cafe?


I actually cannot relate to this at all - I'm assuming that in your city, $3 is a cheap for a coffee?

For reference, typical Switzerland prices are:

instant, homemade: $0.20 Keurig/Nespresso, homemade: $0.50 supermarket: $2 bakery/coffee-to-go-place in a train station: $4 nice café: $6 Starbucks: $8

So what exactly would I be paying the extra $2 ($6-$4) for when ordering at your café? Assuming here that it all tastes the same to me - after all, if I really cared, I just made it myself.


The $3 coffee most certainly does entitle you to sit there for an hour. That's the whole point of getting a coffee in a coffee shop. And if you told me to leave after 5 to 10 minutes, I'd tell you to call the cops and make me. With that kind of attitude, however, your coffee shop won't be in business long, so it shouldn't really be a problem that you treat people with so much disrespect.


if you told me to leave after 5 to 10 minutes, I'd tell you to call the cops and make me.

Presumably the owner would actually have asked your mother or whichever other adult is with you, though.


Why do you insult OP?

If they had signs stating their policy clearly upfront I would accept it, but if not, in the cultures that I know the purpose of a coffee shop is exactly to sit there for quite a while. I'm in Germany and I used to live in the US for a decade. If I go to a real Italian coffee shop (i.e. the owner is an Italian), of which there are quite a few, I see people sitting and chatting for long times, an hour is not unreasonable at all. They don't order much after the initial purchase either.

Also, the entire history of coffee shops is that they are places of meeting people, not vending places. So if a particular coffee shop wants to have a "10 minutes only" policy I'm certainly fine with it, everybody can lead their business as they wish, but to what I know this is against all expectations, so it should be stated right away.

For laptop policy it depends more on the local context and I would not always expect to see a sign if they don't want it, but just the acceptance of larger amounts of time spent sitting there alone is a more global thing I would think taht cannot be easily deduced just from looking at a place.


Not so sure, depends if someone is taking the proverbial.


So is this about sales or about the vibe of having a coffee place where people hang out and chat? I'd be happy to pay some money to work for longer than one drink at a cafe, but I don't really want to drink 5 coffees to work for a day.


In France we have this small chain of "Anticafes". They're basically coffee shops but instead of paying what you drink, you pay for the time you spend there (5€/hr. or 20€/day) and you can order beverages at will. It's not a coworking space, even though there are plenty of people working, others are chatting or just enjoying their drinks.


Neat, I'd never heard of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-caf%C3%A9


See Workshop Cafe[0], $2/hr for fast wifi, order-by-text table service, suitable spaces for groups, and even some external monitors lying around (as of 2016...)

[0]: http://www.workshopcafe.com


$2 per hour sound like a honest and fair price.


Oh wow, that's awesome! If they had a location near Caltrain, anywhere from Redwood City down to San Jose, I'd start going there once every week or so.


that looks amazing.


This is called a coworking space ;)


Local coworking haunt (UK) is about £20 per day or more. That equates to about 10 coffees. Or 6 coffees, 1 soup and 1 cake. Which starts to make the cafe more appealing.


Sure, for one day this makes no sense. The problem is the pricing there, maybe there are better more sensible priced coworking spaces?

I know coworking spaces (Betahause in Berlin comes into my mind) which combine a "cyber"-cafe with an optional regular coworking space which gives you flexibility for showing up only 1 day and buy a coffee for working some hours.


I don't think £20 a day is so bad really but my experience of co-working spaces is they are often just cafes without the coffee, so not worth paying for.

When I lived in Spain I managed to find an office for 150 euro a month (all inclusive), which was ideal. Now back in the UK I'd likely pay that a week for anything comparable.

Outside of London there is a dire shortage of accessible and affordable work spaces.


If a cafe is making 20 pounds a day per table before VAT, rent and any other expense/tax, they will be out of business.


Agree. We ran a cafe (in the UK South-East) (or rather me being the kitchen hand...), started out enthusiastically with the aim to please and make and serve nice food and drink, then the realisation kicked in that selling beer and quicker table turnaround was more profitable. We still sank. (Small premises mind.)


It makes the cafe more appealing because you're abusing it.


This feels rather personal. I'm not saying I would or would not. I'm just doing a simple comparison. For many, they probably think they are doing the cafe a favour, and getting a change of scenery and a slice of cake.


See if there's a makerspace around. The one I go to has free coffee, and as a bonus, I have access to an entire workshop worth of tools, good for almost any project I could imagine.


A lot of cafes have good local juices, small snacks, or mineral water.


When I am touring the USA, (i.e. as a tourist) and enter a cafe and it's full of people heads down, earphones in, working, I walk out. It's not a nice space to be in. Even with music in the cafe, there is not the shared music in the customers. Why would I want to share a space with people who don't want to share with me?

In the UK, it's reasonably uncommon to find people wearing earphones in cafes. Most cafes have a good selection of music. It's more common, at least around here, that those working on laptops are students doing work. Often they will meet their friends and work together.

However, there are workers in these cafes too - and their etiquette is atrocious. I often see people leave their computers at the table, and head out to do some shopping in the local shops. Often they would have loud telephone conversations or conference calls. One even came back with their own food. When the cafe staff said "sorry, you cannot eat your own food here", they replied "oh, it's okay" as if the cafe were apologising!

When I bring my laptop, I make sure I spend the same amount of time in the cafe as if I was using it as in any other way, and never over the lunch period when tables are at a premium. One drink per hour seems fair.


The problem that gets touched upon by the article but never really explicitly stated is simple - these people are using a retail business as their office space. And they are doing so without a contract which guarantees the business owner any income. They are basically left running like a charity, in the hopes that these poachers will be gracious enough to throw enough money at them so they can stay afloat (which then requires them to produce food/drink, so it's worse/less than a charity). It doesn't matter if the cafe is mostly empty during a work day. They are taking advantage of the situation and the business. Many of the cafe owners want to create a certain environment, one of social interaction that is designed to be a pleasurable experience. I totally understand why they don't want to have zombies sitting there all day.

Why don't these people either work from home or one of these shared workspace places that have become popular in recent years? I presume they want to get out of the house but also don't want to pay what is surely a higher amount of money to get a shared space. The article mentions that it was $100 more than that one person spends regularly on their cafe budget. I find that hard to believe that it can be that cheap, but apparently it is based on a quick search I just did. But that extra $100 also comes with 1) a contract and 2) no food/drink.


The local co-working space costs the same as about 3 euros an hour, so the same as a coffee.

But the co-working space is a 25 minute cycle which requires clothes and preparation and the coffee shops are 10 minutes. There's practically no one in the co-working space and it's not much difference to working at home.

Further I'm really focused in a coffee shop, stick headphones on and some how the noise helps me work constantly whilst there, for typically 2 hours max.

Almost entirely I'm the only one on a laptop. I come first thing in the morning when there's lots of empty tables.


I completely agree. I usually go to Workshop Cafe in SF to work in a "coffeeshop". Everytime I go in a coffee shop to work, it feels awkward from a convenience (lack power, wifi or space) and social perspective.


I never use power, the laptop battery lasts 3 hours which is as long as I stay. If there's no space I typically wouldn't stay. I just use my phone as a WiFi hotspot if the cafe doesn't have any.

But yeah I get kind of odd looks from one of the café owners, although he's the one who has the least customers.


It's very easy to avoid any problems when working in a cafe. Upon entering simply ask if it is okay to order a drink or two and work on your laptop. If they say no just try another place.

And it depends a lot on culture / country / area as well. In Slovenia I have never asked as long as there were empty seats still available. It is common for people to hang at a place long after the last order. In my opinion it even adds to the atmosphere because the cafe or restaurant is less empty.

On the other hand I was in a group of 4 at a Tokyo cafe which was 90% empty and we were asked to make a new order or leave 30 minutes after the last order.


When I work from cafés I try to spend at least a few € every two hours, and avoid places that are overly busy (I don't like noise, but also if there's spare seats then I'm not costing anyone customers by sitting in one all day). Feels like common sense really - don't be an asshole.


Sadly, the always useful "don't be a douche" rule of thumb is something that very few people internalize lately.


I live in Knoxville, and we’re up to about 10 independent little coffee shops, with the bulk of them having opened in the last few years. Most of the owners don’t seem to mind people on their laptops, but then again, there is a university nearby so I’d say about 90% of people in the coffee shops are on their laptops focusing on school work. Most of my research in grad school was completed at these places.

That said, I normally don’t stay longer than 3 hours at any individual coffee shop, particularly if there’s a lack of seats for new customers. I also generally tip $2-3 — more if I buy a pastry. You can typically tell which places are amenable to laptops because they have an outlet at every seat.

I think remote work will only increase over time, and I’m sure there are other people like me who focus much better in a coffee shop with strangers and music than in an open office. I’d really like to open my own coffee shop one day with ample seating and a sign that says “laptops and conversation both welcome”.


I briefly needed to stay in Maryville (~3 months) while remote working, but I had no real workspace in my extended stay. I should mail the owner of Vienna a co-work space sized check for the amazing service she and her coffee shop provided while I worked there every day. +1 for the people and especially the coffee shops in that area.


OK, to the person who tore wallpaper in order to get to a power outlet, I really hope I never meet you, as I have absolutely no respect for you now. Do not destroy/deface someone else's property like that.

And for the café, I know it's not a perfect solution, but beyond solutions like obtrusive locking outlet covers, or turning off outlets at the breaker, you could also look at swapping the outlet out with an L5-15R. That's the same voltage & amperage as a regular 5-15 receptacle, but uses a circular plug that pushes in and turns. You'll see them (or a similar amperage) on certain Metrolink (in LA) and Caltrain Bombardier cars.

You could either get an adapter (NEMA L5-15P to 5-15R), or change out the plugs on the stuff you'd plug in (like vacuum cleaners). And no, it won't stop someone who is absolutely determined, and who is willing to go out and buy an adapter. But it makes it all the more obvious that this receptacle is not for people to use.


A cafe thats hostile towards their customers is a great way to get a bad review and a lost customer. If you don't want people working there don't provide tables or chairs.


Some people like to sit down, or rest their food on a flat surface. If you don't want people working there, take away the power, the WiFi, and play some music. Maybe even make the tables smaller, but don't take them away altogether!


Wel it seems that café don't want "customers" that use their café as a workplace. You're a customer if you come in, grab a drink (with or without laptop) and leave shortly after you finish your drink.


There's a restaurant near me with a 5 cent cellphone charge that just doesn't get enforced. The simple fact that it is noted and low keeps people aware that it is a faux pas but not too grouchy about it (especially over a $150 dinner). Feels like a reasonable compromise in that environment.


No power plugs (I think most effective) & time limited Wifi. A cafe is not a coworking space although when beeing in USA or more specifically in SF I have the feeling people think it's the same.


A place near me limits WiFi to 45 minutes at peak times, which I think is best. AC outlets on the other hand are for more than laptops. If I'm going somewhere for a coffee, it's good to be able to charge my phone too.


> If I'm going somewhere for a coffee, it's good to be able to charge my phone too.

Here it's more common you leave the phone at the bar to be recharged if charging your phone is what you want.


Interesting. Do baristas check your identity or anything when giving your phone back? I'd worry about them turning their back and someone reaching over and grabbing it. There's a lot of crime in my area though - especially the "taking the phone out of your hand" kind.


Plenty of cafes in SF and the Bay Area actively encourage laptop use. (Rows of outlets, large tables, not a peep from the staff.) In practice, most people seem to leave within an hour, so it's kind of a moot point.


moot? Using and charging your laptop and phone for one hour can be very practical.


Why shouldn't it be if it fills some peoples need?

Why should a cafe not offer that if it brings them customers?


It depends on how many spaces the cafe has and how expensive rent is.

If the cafe has plenty of free space, then people working on laptops is extra customers and beneficial. If it has little space, then a person ordering a coffee every two hours is taking away space from more profitable customers who eat, drink and leave in 30 minutes.


Because the owner can't pay rent and wages if all customers sit around the whole day working on their laptops and buying two coffees and a sandwich.


Customers are people who spend money. Someone who bought one coffee, but is taking up a seat all day is not a customer.


It's the owners decision to make. Not mine or yours, it's his/her business. And it's definitely not making everybody happy ;)


I usually use my mobile connection remotely, it is much faster than WIFI. Is using store provided WIFI really that commonly used?


It is. A lot of providers in the USA prevent people from tethering their phone to their laptop unless they pay an extortion fee.


The hipster café across the street from me does this to discourage people from sitting all day. They have no outlets. Still, there's people there working all day long.

To me, when the battery gets low it means time to go. So I don't mind.


> A cafe is not a coworking space

This is, of course your opinion. To me, a cafe is an ideal co-working space. It encourages deep thought, the chance to collide with other smart people in my industry, get out of the house, etc.


Good for the owner, I guess, but why do I have to talk to people wherever I go? Why is being alone with your thoughts considered antithetical to being out in public?

I don't mind being around other people but sometimes I just don't want to talk to them. I stopped finding "awkward silences" awkward long ago. Silence is ok.

FWIW, I'm not usually on my laptop in public.


> Cafe owners find it difficult to define a consistent strategy without a proven, profitable relationship model.

Revenues seems the main objective of the cafe owners in this article.

In Paris is a cafe [1] that solved this by giving out access passes if you want wifi. If you did not spend enough at the end of your session, you have to pay something extra. I was there several times having lunch and staying most of the day without having to pay extra. Really liked the place, also because this system helps to not feel guilty ;-)

[1] http://cafe-craft.com/home/


I have to imagine wallpapering over a functional power outlet is not up to code.


The photographed lightswitch that is haphazardly installed on an open pattress with no cover is probably not up to code, either.

However, it does add to the atmosphere.


If its just revenue, then I think the alternative is to charge for wifi, for time-in-seat.

e.g. here is your table. its yours for $8/hour. House coffee free. Anything else, go to the front.


There's a place like this in SF: http://www.workshopcafe.com/ . Their location in the Financial District (I imagine the rent is high) is only $2/hr. So, it doesn't have to be much.


The other model I found interesting is the Capital One Cafe. It's a Peet's inside, but they offer banking services and ATMs as well. They have plenty of space and outlets at every table, seemingly at the cost of your eyeballs on their materials. Obviously not every coffee shop wants to be corporate, but for workers it's pretty nice.


I came to the comments to recommend a subscription model as well. If it's a great place, I would mind doing this at all.

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