Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rules for Working in a Coffee Shop

(or, welcome to National Novel Writing Month)

It’s November 1st! That means it’s time for National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo). I’ve always been one of those people who can’t work when it’s too quiet and distraction-free; I hate write-ins in libraries and spaces like that where you’re supposed to be utterly quiet. In fact, my favorite place to work is a somewhat-bustling coffee shop.

The thing to remember when working at a coffee shop is that it’s not a library. It’s not your office. It’s not your home. This might seem obvious, but it means there are certain rules of etiquette to follow.

Disclaimer: I was married to a Starbucks shift manager for four years, and my best friend is a shift manager, but I have not actually worked in one myself except as a writer. I’m basing the following rules on my observations and conversations I’ve had with baristas at the like. If you work in such places and you want to add to or argue with anything I say, please do so!

1. Consider the space.

When you’re considering working somewhere like a coffee shop, look around first. Look at the parking lot, the table arrangements, and if there’s free Wi-Fi. If the store is in a tiny parking lot next to a highway and has a total of two bar-height stools, or if they have no Wi-Fi, these are all signs they probably won’t thank you for sitting down to work on your novel for three hours.

2. Be a customer.

I don’t know why this isn’t obvious. If you’re going to work in a place of business, taking up a table, support that business. My personal policy is that, ideally, I should buy something for every hour I’m taking up a table.

For the love of NaNo, don’t come into a coffee shop with food or drink from another store. In many states, this is actually a health code violation, and you put the store in a position of needing to decide if they should ask you to leave. Even if it’s not against a rule, it’s obnoxious and rude.

2. Be a good customer.

Tip. Tip freely. Unless you’re in a no-tipping area, there’s no good excuse for not tipping. If you show up one day and don’t have any money for a tip, bring extra next time (though depending on how the store distributes tips, this may or not help the same people). If someone you’re working next to can’t tip and you have a bit extra, cover them. If someone doesn’t realize it’s polite and expected to tip, educate them.
In general, servers, baristas, waiters and the like are trained not to be rude to customers, which includes saying things like, “Uuh, do you realize I financially rely on tips to survive?” But you can say it for them. If your friends camp out to write, encourage them to tip.

3. Be friendly-- but not too friendly.

Servers are not robots. They’re people, with feelings. Be polite. Say please and thank you. Smile. Chat if it’s an appropriate time-- but pay attention to what they’re doing, and remember what I said above, that most servers are encouraged not to be rude. That means they may not cut off a conversation you’re pushing even if they have a thousand things to do. So be friendly, but keep it short.

4. Don’t be a slob.

Yes, “It’s their job to clean up.” You know what else is their job? Scrubbing poop off the wall of the bathroom if someone smears feces profanity there (true story- my friend had a store where this happened repeatedly). Does that mean it’s polite or appropriate to smear poop on the walls?


We all have our moments where we spill something, but do your best not to be a jerk. Clear your space when you leave at the very least. Don’t make extra work for people who are already working very hard.

5. Watch the crowd.

Most places have busy times and light times, rushes and lulls. As an average walk-in customer, you get your coffee when you get it even if it means waiting in line. If you’re going to be sitting there for a while, you can have the grace to avoid the rush, especially if you’re going to order something obnoxious like a skinny Unicorn Frappuccino with chocolate chips and coconut milk (I have no idea if that’s a thing).

Baristas: How do you feel about customers who use the “order ahead” option while sitting at a table during a rush because they don’t want to stand in line? It seems obnoxious to me, but I haven’t asked about it.

6. Watch the time.

When a coffee shop closes, they have a lot of things they need to do. Anything that doesn’t get done either keeps someone at work late, or is a pain in the ass for the morning shift.

When the store closes at 9, and you’re there ordering a drink at 8:59 (after sitting at a table for three hours) and clearing your table after you’ve been told they’re closing, that means someone still needs to dump the trash you just threw out your last two coffee cups in, mop the floor they couldn’t get to while you were sitting there, wipe down the table, and do whatever mysterious things they do to put to bed whatever machines they used to make your last-ditch coffee.

We all lose track of time sometimes, but don’t make a habit of it. Especially if you’ve gone out with a group of six people, that’s a lot of last-minute work to make for the crew.

7. I’m just an author

I am not an employee or representative of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or any other coffee shop or similar place. I’m not an expert. If I’m wrong on any of the above points, please let me know (or let me know what I should add!) because one of my personal goals of writing is, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Happy NaNo everyone!

(1021 words not in my novel… apparently this is a subject I feel strongly about)

Have a good day! Tip your waiter!


  1. Thoughts on tipping.

    Please try to find out what the location's tipping policy is, if you can. When I worked at McD's, Id get in trouble for accepting a tip (because McD's has no soul). Where I work now, tips go into a jar, counted nightly, averaged over the week and added to our checks. Neither place paid anyone "server wage", so tips were just nice, not a vital part of our pay.

    Basically, take your cues from the staff. Well find ways to let you know.

    As to the order ahead, in some places it's actual a huge help. At Panera we have those kiosks and rapid pick up shelves, meaning the only "trouble" is making your order. No need for a cashier, table side delivery, nothing but the effort of making your order.

    But, that's Panera. Idk about proper coffee shops. *shrugs*

  2. Personally, I can't work if it's too loud. I like a certain amount of quiet, and I can't get that anymore with my baby brother in the house. Having a 1-year-old brother really sucks sometimes. B(

  3. Hello. Ashley here, extremely longtime fan.... as I am 30 lol. Anyways, I first read "In the forests of the night" when I was 11 in the 7th grade. I continued with "Demon on my view" "shattered mirror" then "Hawksong" then as we all know life happens, and that was all I'd read. I'm now 30 and was explaining to my fiance about this writer I so greatly admired when I was younger. It was then I realized how far the
    Is extended and it was like a childhood dream come true! Then, I come to this sight and realize, not only are you and incredibly talented writer, your an advocate to the service industry! Lol As an corporate trainer for servers, this obviously thrilled me beyond belief! So, I guess all I'm trying to say is thank you, thank you for showing me childhood hero's can exist and they can be everything you hoped they could be!