Code of the Coffeehouse Warrior

Ever work at the neighborhood java joint? Here’s a guide to branch-office etiquette

I remember well Las Vegas’ Golden Age of Coffeehouses. It was the mid-1990s; we had Java Hut on the west side, Café Espresso Roma and Café Copioh across from UNLV, and the late, great Café Enigma at Charleston Boulevard and Fourth Street. I was so well-supplied with caffeine and wingback chairs that I was able to write nearly all of my articles for the early Vegas alt-monthly Scope Magazine from these “remote offices,” with only a couple of trips home to fire up the coffeemaker. I think I still have a lingering buzz.

Thankfully, those halcyon days are here again—and this time, they’re digital. Today, I’m able to pack up my field kit (MacBook, Android phone, Nikon D80, Zoom digital recorder, headphones, pen and pad, USB card and lip balm) and take it to one of many WiFi-enabled coffeehouses around town, from Sunrise Coffee Co. or Espresso Culture & Cuisine in the southeast to Sambalatte in Summerlin or The Beat on Fremont. (And I guess there’s always the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the UNLV area, but that one makes me feel old.)

From those comfortable vantage points, I’m able to make my negligible contributions to this publication while feeling like I’m close to the people whose needs, wants and desires fill these pages. True, these new coffeehouses aren’t Enigma or Copioh by a long shot, but these are different times. (I sometimes wonder what Copioh, or Scope for that matter, would have looked like had Facebook and Twitter been around back in the day. Would I have filled so many notebooks with so much writing? Would I have been a writer at all, or would I never have breached the 140-character limit?)

After all these years of branch-office literary labor, I’ve adopted something of a coffeehouse code of conduct. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules; every coffeehouse has its own rules and requirements—what’s good for the UNLV Coffee Bean may not work at The Beat. Still, they don’t call it “common courtesy” for nothing, and I try to conduct the same quiet, unobtrusive business wherever I unpack my Mac. A few suggestions for a respectful out-of-office experience:

Do order something substantial. I’ve seen people order nothing but hot water, drop their own teabags into it and then use the café’s WiFi and power for several hours. While I’m not one to fault a personal preference—your favorite tea is your favorite tea— it’s kind of a crappy thing to do to a business that’s providing a free service and a comfortable space in which to use it. Order a scone or something.

Don’t spend too long talking on your phone. Some coffeehouses are OK with ringing cellphones and loud, one-sided conversations, while others forbid the use of cellphones entirely. I try to split the difference: If I get a call that I have to answer, I walk outside to take it, and keep an eye on my laptop through the window. Mostly, though, I keep the phone’s volume turned down, let calls go to voicemail and make my apologies later.

Do offer to share a large table. There’s nothing wrong with taking a seat at a four-top if there’s nothing else available, but be prepared to have other people sitting across from you. You’ll both be staring at laptops; it’s not like you’re on a date or something.

g>Don’t be there all day. Even if the place is dead, you should clear out after three hours. If you still have some work yet to do, move it to another café. You’ll keep the crew of that café from becoming annoyed with you—and it feels good to change the scenery.

Do wear headphones if you’re watching YouTube clips. There’s something about the sound of compressed audio that just cuts through everything.

Don’t eat up too much bandwidth. No downloading movies or huge packets of data. I’ve heard that the WiFi networks at some coffeehouses will bounce you if you try to eat too much bandwidth, anyway.

Do ask if it’s OK to plug into an outlet. Especially if it’s not wholly obvious that you’re allowed to. Most coffeehouses have visible power strips along the wall, but if you don’t see any and don’t see anyone plugged in, ask somebody before you unplug a lamp to plug in your brick.

Don’t read Facebook over someone’s shoulder. It’s tempting to do, and I’ve even caught myself doing it once or twice, but it’s kinda dirty. I shouldn’t even be looking at my own goddamn Facebook when I’m supposed to be writing, but alas.

Do share your iTunes library. It’s led me to more than one musical discovery I might not have made on my own, and I like to think that I’ve given some back.

Don’t leave without leaving a tip. A nice, big, fat one. You aren’t just paying for the preparation of your coffee or for a place to sit, but for the hospitality of the house. Your courtesies allow the café and its employees to continue extending that hospitality.

Do bus your own table. Don’t make them call your mom to come do it. And if you want to really endear yourself to staff and customers and maybe get yourself laid, bus your neighbor’s table, too.

Do switch to decaf after the noon hour. No one will think less of you. I learned this one the hard way.