Top 5 Coffee-Shop Etiquette Tips in the Age of Laptop Hobos

Top 5 Coffee-Shop Etiquette Tips in the Age of Laptop Hobos
Photo from Daniel Lobo

I don't know about you, but I can easily hole up in a coffee shop, start writing (and by that I mean scouring Facebook and watching cat videos on YouTube) and not realize until three hours later that I haven't moved or refilled my cup. But coffee-shop owners, it seems, are noticing.

I've read a number of recent articles detailing the measures taken by coffee shops around the country to ensure that "laptop hobos" aren't taking up space that could be used by paying customers. As early as August 2011, some New York City Starbucks locations began covering outlets so people could only partake of free Wi-Fi as long as their batteries lasted. A Denver shop called Wooden Spoon recently stopped offering free Wi-Fi and banned laptops and cell phones altogether. Some businesses are taking an even more passive-aggressive route, changing the Wi-Fi password every two hours or placing an automatic time limit on Internet access so you have to buy something else if you want to continue to use the free service.

I talked to a few Houston coffee shops to see what the baristas thought about "laptop hobos," and the responses from employees of Agora, Blacksmith and Antidote were surprisingly pro-technology. All agreed that the use of free Wi-Fi on laptops and tablets was generally not an issue.

"The only time it's egregious is when they don't buy anything," one of Antidote's coffee gurus told me. "It's okay if you buy the cheapest thing and stay as long as you want. But I have kicked people out for not buying anything."

Fair enough. With that in mind, and after talking to some customers as well, I came up with this list of coffee-shop etiquette tips. And no, I didn't write it while drinking one cup of tea for three hours at Starbucks. Not this time, at least.

5. One chair per butt. Yes, that is a nice laptop case. And I bet you spent more money on that purse than I do on my rent. They're both lovely. Now put them on the floor. No matter how empty a place is, it's rude to take up an extra chair for your belongings. It's especially inconsiderate in a busy place with little seating such as Blacksmith and most Starbucks locations. Don't be a table hog, either. If it's just you and your laptop at a giant table, don't fill it up with papers and plates and empty mugs. It's not your personal desk. Make it clear that someone else can sit there too by keeping your clutter to a minimum.

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