Work From A Coffee Shop

For those who work for themselves or as freelancers, getting out of the home office is often a healthy change that provides social interaction and relieves boredom. It can also provide new ideas and motivation.These days, it’s possible to work almost anywhere, and coffee shops are one of the top spots for the mobile worker.[1]


Finding Your Space

  1. Locate a suitable coffee shop. Coffee shops vary in ambiance and clientele—from the more relaxed Internet cafe to the bustling, trendy bistro—and it's important to find the right "fit" for your personal preferences and needs. There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to find your perfect away-from-home working space;[1] however, there are certain things that anyone working in a coffee shop is likely to want.
    • A comfortable place to sit that is warm or cool enough for your liking.
    • A menu that you enjoy with reasonably priced items.
    • Free Internet access.
    • A place where you can sit for long periods of time without being asked to leave outright... or subtly.
  2. Find alternatives. It's also a sensible precaution to select a range of possible coffee shops to use should one be too crowded or closed for any reason. Things to consider include:
    • Crowds. The noise from a crowded coffee shop can make it hard to think, but the activity from all the people might actually be energizing and inspirational.
    • Music. Shops that play music can create a distracting atmosphere, or the music may be invigorating. Mostly this depends on you, your mood, your tastes, and the music being played.
    • A relaxed atmosphere. In general, this is a good thing; however, some people work better in the middle of a vibrant buzz.
  3. Gather information. It never hurts to research shops ahead of time. There are many resources that will help you find the right coffee shop for you without having to drive all over the place. Try a little research to avoid disappointment.
    • The iPhone app, WHA (Work Hard Anywhere) allows users to find laptop-friendly coffee shops in their area by showing a bar graph that rates things such as internet speed, noise level, and the accessibility of power outlets.[2]
    • Websites such as Workfrom use crowd-sourced reviews (similar to YELP) to inform visitors of laptop-friendly coffee shops as well.[3]
    • WOM! No, this isn’t another app, it simply stands for “word of mouth” and it is considered one of the most powerful forms of advertising. Simply ask people if they have experience with any local shops that are laptop friendly. People are usually very happy to share their opinions.
  4. Equip yourself. If you don't want to have to make trips back and forth between the coffee shop and your home office, make certain you are equipped with everything you need, or even might need, ahead of time. Items to consider:
    • Laptop, iPad, or other form of text processing or Internet access device. You may or may not need this; for some, a simple notepad and pencil may suffice depending on what your work consists of.
    • A suitable bag to carry your laptop, files, books, etc. Choose one that is comfortable to wear and sits well between your feet or next to you.
    • Extra batteries for any of your electronic equipment. Better safe than sorry.
    • Three-prong-to-two-prong plug converter. This is a fantastic item to keep handy if you are using electronic equipment, since you might not always know what type of outlets will be available.[4]
    • An organizer book with a checklist. Checklists keep you on track both for the work you need to do, and the items you will want to always have with you. Just make sure to check it before you head out to the coffee shop![5]

Being Considerate

  1. Spend money. If you want your favorite coffee shop office space to not go out of business, you need to help support it by spending money during your time there. If you’ve chosen a spot with lots of good food and drinks at reasonable prices, you should be able to patronize the shop without putting too much of a dent in your wallet.
    • Buying one drink every two to three hours of work is considered fair.[6]
    • If you are working through lunchtime, consider buying your lunch from their menu.
    • Tip the baristas well. This will also likely keep you from suffering “the evil eye” after you’ve taken up a table for a few hours.
  2. Use only one chair. You don’t need to take another seat for your laptop bag, etc. Put them on the floor if you need to. Leave the chairs for other customers.[6]
    • Chose a bag with a long strap to wrap around your ankle if you are concerned about someone possibly taking it.
  3. Condense your work space. Try your best to make one table work for you by not spreading out too much.
    • One way to conserve space is to have as many of your work materials already in digital form on your laptop or on flash drives.
  4. Leave in a reasonable amount of time. Coffee shops make their money in direct proportion to the number of customers they serve. If they can’t turn over your table because you keep overstaying your welcome, the shop will lose customers and profit.
    • As long as you keep spending money, most places welcome you to stay until closing, but you should NEVER stay past closing time.
    • If you are freeloading, eight hours is considered pushing it, so take that into consideration.[7]
    • Consider using a timer on your phone or laptop to signal when you may be coming to the end of a reasonable stay.
  5. Visit during non-peak hours. It may be best to avoid working in the shop during times when they generate their key profits from turning tables.[8]
    • Try having two shops or more to frequent that have different high volume schedules and then working your schedule to accommodate those times.
  6. Cleanup after yourself. Although shops generally don’t require you to do so, it’s a very good way of showing consideration for the employees.
    • As a regular who cleans up after themselves, you are likely to find employees will be much more receptive to your long visits.[9]
  7. Be responsible for your things. If you go to the restroom, take easily carried valuables like your phone and wallet with you, and ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on the remainder of your stuff.
    • If you are a regular who has earned the respect of the employees, you will often find they will be receptive to keeping an eye on your things.

Staying Productive

  1. Manage your time. Decide how often you'll work from a coffee shop. It may not be practical to work there daily, especially if you have a lot of reference texts, papers, and other information you need at your home or studio space. However, every freelancer should be able to slot in at least one occasion a week that is marked for working outside the home so that you can have the chance to mingle with people and soak up the energy from being near others.
    • Creating a regular schedule will depend on your ease of getting to the shop as well as what days and hours the shop is open.
    • Don’t forget to factor in travel time. For a suburban worker it's going to take more effort than for someone already situated near a cafe and restaurant district.
  2. Set specific goals. Ask yourself ahead of time how you can best use your time away from your office. Plan out what you want to accomplish by the end of the visit.
    • It can help to write down your goals in a calendar or activity book so that you can prepare ahead of time and keep track of what you have, or have not, accomplished.
  3. Use headphones to shut out noise. These can be an excellent way to stay focused on your work if the ambient noise is distracting. They will also come in handy if you need to listen to an audio or video file.
  4. Take periodic breaks. Sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen for long periods of time can cause serious health problems, so it's a good idea to schedule in your breaks from the computer.[10]
    • Look away from the computer every fifty minutes or so to refocus your eyes from the screen.
    • Get up and stretch to refresh and restore your circulation.
    • Enjoy a breather; just don't forget to eventually get back to work!
  5. Be prepared for unwanted interruptions. Working in a coffee shop can attract attention. A curious bystander might try to strike up a conversation with you. Being friendly is great, but be aware that too many interruptions will likely prevent you from finishing your work.
    • If you don't wish to be disturbed, you can smile and say something like: "I wish I had time to chat, but I'm on deadline. Maybe I can catch you during a break." This is friendly but also keeps you in control of your time.


  • For some workers, cafes in bookstores are a good choice because of all the reference materials available! Be sure to choose one that allows reading of books you haven't yet purchased though, as some don't allow this habit. Alternatively, check out whether your local library has a cafe; some do!
  • Factor in peak hours and peak hour public transportation costs. You can save a lot on fares if you travel non-peak times, and saving money is something many freelancers are always looking to do!
  • Have a "prompts" notebook with you when you're out of the home working. This can be used to quickly scribble down what you were last working on when you got interrupted or asked to move on, and it can also be the perfect place to jot down ideas and thoughts for exploration.
  • It can take time to find a good balance between working at home and outside of it in hospitality related premises. Give yourself plenty of time to ease into a routine that works best for you and don't feel like a slave to any particular way of doing things. After all, freelancing is about choice and you need to be careful not to become rigid in your self-discipline!


  • If you're not feeling well, keep your cold or 'flu at home. It's bad enough when people bring sickness to the workplace, but there is something particularly nasty about sharing your cold in an environment where people are consuming food and drink!
  • Take care to avoid expressive behavior over instrumental behavior. Expressive behavior is when you look busy but you're actually achieving nothing because you're too intent on demonstrating to others that you're mobile working. On the other hand, instrumental behavior is actually performing the goals that get you to the desired goals. Expressive behavior is a risk wherever you're "on show" around people.
  • If you purchase roaming Internet, be sure to configure it so it is encrypted and safe to use. Also be aware of any hidden costs involved so that you don't get any ugly surprises.

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Sources and Citations