Brother, can you spare a latte?

Photograph by Kathryn Amnott


How has the economic downturn affected business in local coffee shops? According to several general managers of the neighborhood’s mocha meccas, sales may not have increased dramatically, but the customer base has. More people now have the freedom to hang out on the street, even if they don’t necessarily have a lot of money to spend.

One thing is clear: The rules have changed as more and more office-spacers descend upon the cafe culture. Before you snap up your laptop and head out to set up camp at one of the neighborhood’s many coffee shops, consider this report from the front.

Etiquette: Cell phone calls are now accepted behavior inside most coffee houses, if done in reasonable tones and for a short duration. But remember that your neighbors can hear you — and not many want a dose of diverticulitis with their danish and double macchiatto. If you have to shout above the din, take it outside.

Wear ear buds if you plan to listen to audio on a laptop. No one wants to hear the Wonderful World of Uvulas while sipping a caramel latte. And if you’re sick, stay home. One advantage of being laid off is that you don’t have to prove to your boss that you’re a trouper.

Finally, be respectful of your host. Don’t bring in food or beverages from outside sources to fuel your work.

Tech Tips: Since access is not always obvious, first ask the barista how to get WiFi. Each cafe has different protocols, codes at the register or designated networks with the cafe name. Most laptops can automatically detect the nearest unsecured WiFi networks, but you may need to refresh your browser or reboot in a coffee shop.

When it comes to electrical outlets, some cafes have only a few strategically placed outlets. Survey the area or inquire politely if it starts to turn into a scavenger hunt. Don’t lift up people’s pants-legs in your search. Most folks are happy to plug you into an empty outlet.

Security: It is never a good idea to leave laptops and handheld devices unattended, even in neighborly digs. Theft is not the only concern; documents or passwords can be compromised or accessed while you are indisposed. Bring a laptop lockdown device to at least deter the grab-and-go possibility.

As with cell phones, remember that public places are ripe with eavesdroppers and roving eyes. A laptop privacy screen is a good idea when working on sensitive or private documents. Shut down or log out before stepping out. Public WiFi is unsecured — that means that anyone can have access to your online information.