There’s a good chance you grew up being told to use your manners at the dinner table. How about at the coffee table? No, not the coffee table in front of your living room couch, but the table you sit at when visiting a cafe or coffee shop. Just as there are ways to be respectful while eating a meal, there are ways to do so while eating pastries or drinking coffee or tea. These may differ depending on a variety of factors including location, time of day, what the vibe is, etc. That is why I am here to give a few bits of advice from personal coffee shop experience that you may find useful.
Where to Sit?
You walk in and the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans and potted marigolds hit you. It’s time to take in your surroundings.
The first question is, is this a new place or one you’re more than familiar with? If you’re a first timer here, take a second to look around. It can often be stressful feeling like you need to find a place to cozy up as soon as you walk in, or you may fear looking awkward or out of place to others nearby. The truth is, no one else is judging you! Take a lap and take the time to scope out a spot that looks appealing to you.
Whether or not you are familiar with the place, if it is a bit crowded and looks as if you have nowhere to sit, it never hurts to ask someone to share a table. The answer will always be no if you don’t ask! This is where you should take caution, though. If you’re going to hop on a conference call or catch up on some juicy gossip with friends, it probably is best you don’t invade the privacy of others who are focusing on their own things. Maybe there is seating out back that a barista can point you in the direction of, or maybe you need to unfortunately move to your car or elsewhere until someone gets up and leaves. If your plan is to quietly read or get some work done, nine times out of ten, no one will mind sharing a table! If the place does have open spots for you to sit on your own, take one that gives others and yourself space. This is a somewhat unspoken rule of etiquette that you do not invade someone else’s space when there are tons of options available to keep a respectful distance.
Now let’s say you have a dilemma. You need to charge your phone or laptop, but people are sitting everywhere there are outlets. What do you do? First of all, if someone is actively charging their own device, leave them be. You can definitely keep an eye on them though to see if they take it off the charger, in which case you could ask if they’d be willing to let you use it. If someone is sitting where an outlet is, but they aren’t using it, don’t be scared to ask if you might be able to. Most importantly, ask politely! See if you can charge your device there without making them get up, and sit nearby doing other work until you get enough charge. If you absolutely need to use the device while it charges, offer up your spot for theirs. Make sure to thank them if they are willing to move and apologize for the inconvenience. Sometimes, this may in fact not work out and you might have to politely go without for the time being.
The Conversation Controversy
Have you experienced a relaxing visit to a coffee shop get interrupted by loud conversation? It’s disruptive, right? If this is something that has happened to you one time or many, chances are you already practice good conversation etiquette in an effort to not bother anyone around you like you have been bothered before.
Most importantly, we all need to be aware of our surroundings while we converse. People often go to coffee shops for a quiet environment where they can focus and be productive. If you or someone else disrupts that little bubble of peace, that customer will become irritated. Not only is this disrespectful to that customer, but also to the business. If loud or annoying conversation bothers a customer enough to make them get up and leave, the chances of them coming back could start to lower. Chances are, the business wants to provide a comfortable environment for everyone, and they don’t have total control over how you make other customers feel and vice versa.
Now what do you do if a conversation is loud and bothering you? It may be very tempting to throw these people dirty glances or shift around in an attempt to make them aware of how they are bothering you, but try your best not to do this. Take a deep breath and wait it out at first. This loud conversation might not go on long or they might be about to leave anyway. If this isn’t the case, maybe you have earbuds or even ear plugs with you that you can put in to focus better. If this still doesn’t work, you can step in. Make sure to do so as nicely as possible. It might feel awkward, but they also might not be aware of how loud they are.
It may be more of a difficult situation if the person being loud is the person you are with. What do you do if your company is disrupting others? Do you quietly show apologetic looks to the people nearby who are obviously bothered by your friend as you continue to have your conversation? Do you interrupt your friend and tell them that they should maybe quiet down a bit? This is a fine line area that can be touchy to cross. It really depends on the person you are with and how well you know them. Don’t do this if you are with someone you met for the first time, such as an interviewer, interviewee or potential client. If your company is someone you are close with, they may be surprised by your comment, but likely thankful you helped them be more aware of how others could be perceiving them in that moment and in avoiding future embarrassment.
Overall, it is important to be aware of yourself while you talk and know how to handle others in a polite and respectful way.
Cleaning Up After Yourself
This one should go without saying, right? Well, maybe not. You might be surprised at how many people are not respectful of the space around them. Whether or not you make sure to clean up after yourself and leave the area looking as good as it did when you arrived, it is important to think about.
Coffee shops can be confusing when it comes to dishes and garbage. There should typically be garbage and recycling bins for disposing of paper and plastic cups, but you may not know what to do with the cups and plates that get reused. Look around to see if there is a sign pointing to a place where you can put them. If you still don’t see one, make sure to ask a barista. It is important to ask, rather than simply leaving your dishes at a table because you didn’t know what to do. Leaving your dishes when there is a spot for them only makes the shop more cluttered and takes up spaces for longer that others may be waiting on. The baristas will appreciate it and are usually very helpful and kind because they see that you want to be respectful. Additionally, if you see someone else looking confused about what to do and you know, feel free to step in and help them out!
These are just a few tips for coffee shop etiquette, and each situation is unique and different. I hope you can all take away at least one piece of advice to think about the next time you go get coffee, or share something you found helpful with a friend. Who knows, just like at the coffee table, maybe some of these etiquette tips could apply at the dinner table!
-Written by my friend, Lauren
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