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Telecommuter’s 10 Commandments: Coffee Shop Etiquette for the “Work At Home” Crowd

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No Laptops in the Shitter

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about coffee shops in NYC banning laptops during lunch rush hours or even disallowing anything with a screen altogether, so naturally some coffee purveyors in San Francisco are considering a similar move. And while I like to think we’ve got a high enough percentage of Freelancers and Telecommuters out here on the West Coast to keep our neighborhood fueling stations from kicking out those of us who have left cubicle life far behind, we still find ourselves at the mercy of a good WiFi signal to get any work done so we should all do our part to not be dicks and keep them in business. A lot of the coffee shop etiquette is common sense, and I’m sure nobody here is that guy who sits at the outdoor table for 6 hours, leeching WiFi without donating so much as a kind word to the staff, but like those slabs of rock Moses hauled down the mountain sometimes it’s just a good idea to write them down. It sounds more official that way:

1. Thou Shalt Purchase Something: Seriously, every single coffee shop in New York or San Francisco has a sub-$2 drip or house coffee or a $1.50 cup of tea. We’ve all had days where we had to dig in to the change jar and humble ourselves by offering up a pocketful of nickles in exchange for some Organic Peruvian blend, but when it costs less than the bus fare you’re not spending because you don’t have to go to an office, there’s really no excuse.

2. Thou Shalt Not Squat Tables: It’s always a good idea to feel out a place before you make it your permanent home office. Does the place have an extra busy lunch rush? Do people look at you funny if you’re staring at a screen during happy hour? Well then maybe you shouldn’t sit there by yourself during social time.

3. Thou Shalt Tip Whenever Possible: We’re all broke here, but chances are the crew behind the counter slinging lattes and bagels are too.

4. Thou Shalt Not Hog the Outlets: Nothing sucks worse than being in the middle of something, realizing you’re now on reserve battery power and looking around to find all the outlets are taken by designbros who have had their fancy 27-hour battery life computers plugged in for the past 4 hours. That thing you’re reading this on? It’s got a battery for a reason, so use it. Show up with your battery topped off, plug in only when you’re getting low and quit being so anal about getting that battery back up to 100%. If you’ve got power to spare, offer the outlet to that girl holding a power cord in her hand, looking frustrated.

5. Thou Shalt Purchase Something Else: OK, this one is only really required if you’re going to be there longer than just a morning or afternoon session, but if you’re pulling a 10 hour day at the cafe you’re probably getting hungry anyway. So get yourself a BLT. Those things are tasty as hell and are generally the cheapest lunch item on the menu.

6. Thou Shalt Not Bring Excessive Peripherals: I can deal with your wireless mouse – those touchpads can get uncomfortable. And sure some people need a pen tablet to navigate Photoshop or whatever it is you do with those things, but I once saw a guy bring his entire iMac and keyboard setup in to a coffee shop and proceed to plop it down on a table and plug it in. Really, buddy? I know those things are such great achievements in technology and only have one plug, but your 26inch screen is as big as my TV and now you’re blocking all the sunlight.

7. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wireless Signal: If you set yourself up in a coffee shop, only to realize they don’t actually offer WiFi and you’re the only one with a laptop, then maybe you’re in the wrong place.

8. Thou Shalt Keep an Eye on Someone Else’s Laptop While They Go to the Bathroom: No one wants to have a laptop stolen while they go relieve themselves of 3 coffee refills. Keep an eye on theirs and they’ll do the same for you when your caffeine kick catches up with you too.

9. Thou Shalt Not Use Excessive Bandwidth: We all need a solid signal to get to our email, so don’t try downloading 4 gigs of movies while streaming Hulu and buying every Jay-Z track on iTunes. You wouldn’t do that at the office, would you?

10. Thou Shalt Not Poop in Coffee Shop Bathrooms: Emergencies only, please. ‘Cuz that’s just gross.

Caveat: All bets are off if the coffee shop in question is located in a major bookstore chain. That’s a free-for-all.

Photo via Picasa user: Kuval

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Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew is an East Coast transplant from Virginia hamming it up in San Francisco without any intention of leaving. Having worked every typical job from Bike Shop Employee to Bartender to Ad Agency Hotshot, to Dotcom Layoff he now busts his ass covering the "weird things to do" beat for gracious local audiences at and rallies the Western Addy/Lower Haight/Panhandle neighborhoods into action at His work was published in a real, paper magazine one time. One day he might even figure out how to make money from it.