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Coffee Shop Etiquette for the Home Office Shingler

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The Wall Street Journal reports that several coffee shops in Brooklyn, New York and San Francisco are restricting laptop use.  With unemployment on the rise, patrons are spending more time and less money in coffee shops, taking up space that might otherwise be occupied by paying customers.

As far as I could tell, home-office shinglers who work out of coffee shops aren’t likely to be impacted by the new limits.  Most of restrictions on use apply during busy lunch hours, though in at least one instance, one customer reported that she was asked to put away her laptop and leave a cafe on a Friday evening even though the place was empty.

Even where coffee shops don’t impose any restrictions on laptop use, if you’re a home office lawyer who uses a cafe to work or to meet clients, you should be sensitive to the needs of coffee shop owners, who like you, are also in business to turn a profit.  Thus, you should abide by certain rules of etiquette when you use a coffee shop as an extension of your office.  Below, are a couple of my own suggestions, but I’d love to have you add yours as well:

1.  Always buy something, preferably more than you would if you weren’t using the space. When I work at a coffee shop, I make a point of buying more than I ordinarily would.  It’s a small price to pay for use of space.  And whatever you do, don’t bring your own food as did some of the people mentioned in the article.

2.  Don’t be a table hog. When the coffee shop fills up, invite other lap top users to share the space.  It’s not just good etiquette, but good business:  you might meet a potential client.  I haven’t met clients, but I have gotten friendly with other bloggers and kept in touch via other social media tools.

3.  Bring an extension cord. To avoid monopolizing the single two tables near a power outlet, bring your own multi-pronged extension cord.  That way, you’ll have the option of different places to sit, plus you can meet even more people.

4. Don’t talk too loudly on your cell phone. It’s tempting to take business calls in a coffee shop, but when you do, don’t talk too loudly.  Not only will you disturb other patrons, but you may disclose client confidences.

5.   Try to repay the favor. Why not ask your hosts if you can sponsor a one hour “meet the lawyer” session where you treat other patrons to coffee, answer law related questions and give our your business cards?  It’s a win win for both you and the coffee house – more sales for them and potential clients for you, plus a nice way to show your appreciation to your host.

Do you have any other etiquette tips for working in a coffee shop?  Or  any success stories you want to share about clients you’ve met by working in a coffee house?  Any favorite places you want to give a shout-out to?  I’ll even feature them in a follow up post.

  • LawyerCoach

    I liked your idea about sponsoring a legal information or Q&A session at your favorite coffee shop, assuming it's during their otherwise slow hours, and doesn't come across as too self-promoting. Here are some more thoughts on how to make your coffee shop time a win-win experience. Join their frequent buyers club so they can see you're a valuable patron. Greet the people who work there by name, and introduce them to new customers you bring in. Look for little ways to benefit the owners or workers there. Write to the manager or corporate headquarters about the good service you get at that store and how it has become part of your community. Tweet about what a great place it is & why. Give a small gift card from that shop to clients when you give them a big stack of documents to review. (A win-win-win.) When you behave as a giver and not just a taker, you are much less likely to have complaints about using the services they offer.

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