Blog Post

Coffee break- phone day in the coffee shop

coffee_man_2I have worked hard in my office all week but the beautiful weather today enticed me out from behind the desk and down to the neighborhood coffee shop.  I’ve been here for a while but sadly the experience hasn’t been as good nor as productive as usual.  It seems it’s phone (call) day at the local haunt and frankly it’s made it hard to concentrate on getting work done.

Two of the 10 folks working away here are salesmen, and there’s no doubt that’s what they are because they have both been on their phones for over an hour.  One phone call after another, making sales pitches and setting up meetings for next week.  They’re loud enough that we can all hear everything they say and could even tell you the names of some of those they’ve called.  Needless to say it gets pretty darn annoying after a while and it points out that getting work done in the coffee shop is not a given.

Do you run into this often?  I admit I don’t but I am not in a bustling area of town where this could easily be the norm.  What do you do when confronted with the overly loud coffee shop and you need to get some work done?  I have to admit I threw my laptop in a bag and headed out and found I don’t have any earplugs or headphones with me.  Ouch.

31 Responses to “Coffee break- phone day in the coffee shop”

  1. DrCaffeine

    I hope that Weight Watchers group were buying adequate coffee and snacks to compensate the owner for fencing off 1/3 of the shop from other customers. But its quite dissapointing to hear that they were so arrogant and self-absorbed that they did not restore the furniture upon leaving.

  2. Follow-up comment. Yesterday I went to my local coffee shop and found a full one third of it had been cordoned off by a group of Weight Watchers comprised of about five women. They fenced off an area using coffee shop furniture in front of the gas fireplace. I had to listen to their testimony about their personal struggles. I finally used my headphones for a little silence.

    I was amazed when one of them got down on the floor and starting doing push-ups. They left the place without restoring the furniture. A coffee shop employee had to re-set the furniture. The employee told me it was the third such group he had that morning,

  3. DrCaffeine

    To combat the scourge of noise pollution I think we need something more sophisticated than cell phone jammers (because people would also use VOIP and you don’t want disrupt wireless access). These days, if you attempt to enforce silence in a library, you may face indignant allegations from the culprit that you are infringing on their freedom, and on their unruly children’s freedoms — despite the fact that they are infringing on your free right to a quality environment of quietude.

    Maybe some sort of powerful, active noise cancellation targetting human speech frequencies and cell phone ring tones. And take a leaf from the military with their new acoustic HFI (hostile fire indicator) technology used to target the source of sniper fire, and use it to spotlight (literally) those who exceed a certain noise threshold in the hope that it will shame them into shutting the **** up. (Or automatically fine them, like in the Stallone film, Demolition Man.)

  4. I have experienced LOUD coffee shops too, but have you been to a public library lately. OMG, they have become almost daycare centers with unruly and loud infants everywhere and no respect for silence at all. And I don’t even want to get into all those cell phone ringtones and idle chit-chat worthless conversations being broadcast through the library. I think we need certain noise-free zones established that would require cellular jamming devices (like they use in India and other countries). We can start by madatory jamming in Libraries and Theaters. Coffee shops could be put to a vote and be optional at each site.

  5. I always keep a pair of earbuds in my bag that are used *only* with my laptop. This way I never leave them at home – they’re either in my bag or I lost them completely which is very rare. The Sonys ( are cheap enough (in comparison to the laptop itself anyway) that you could have two in your bag, one as a backup. Simple solution but it’s what I finally had to do after almost going nuts one two many times with exactly your situation.

  6. > constant buzz of conversation and activity, which I don’t find distracting at all.

    Constant buzz is one thing, hearing very clearly half of a not very exciting conversation happening at the table next to mine is an entirely different thing.

  7. DrCaffeine

    Oh noes! Shaekspeare would not be amused at my use of an illogical 20th century word with a double negative pairing. Irregardless, ain’t it lucky teh old Bard didn’t make up any words :-)

    (Actually, I didn’t realize “irregardless” was controversal until just now when I checked on Wikipedia. Looks like this blog is improving my vocabulary too!)

  8. In the words of Stewie Griffin:

    Any person who uses the words “irregardless”, “a-whole-nuther”, “all-of-a-sudden” will be sent to a work camps.

    I’ll let Steve Smith explain why…

    “Irregardless? That’s not even a real word. You’re affixing the negative prefix ‘ir-‘ to ‘regardless’, but, as ‘regardless’ is already negative, it’s a logical absurdity!”

  9. DrCaffeine

    Irregardless of my comments earlier, what I love about working for a couple of hours in a coffe shop is the constant buzz of conversation and activity, which I don’t find distracting at all. In fact, it seems to fade away as a steady background noise, helping me to concentrate far better than in an office environment where periods of silence are more punctuated by loud calls, interruptions, etc.

  10. DrCaffeine

    “none of the Starbucks I frequent is usually packed enough that there aren’t any empty tables.”

    All of the Starbucks here (in Japan) seem to be constantly packed to capacity, and I’m sure their rent is astronomical.

  11. DrCaffeine

    “I am a BusinessWorld member of Regus/HQ and for $300 a year get access to all their locations and more.”

    I didn’t know about that fascility! I tried finding a price here in Japan, but they don’t publish prices and you seemingly need to negotiate with a sales representative.

  12. Regarding compensating the coffee shop — none of the Starbucks I frequent is usually packed enough that there aren’t any empty tables. And if it gets crowded, I usually leave because it gets too noisy/distracting anyway.

    If they didn’t want to me to spend up to two hours a day there (which I rarely do), then why would they give me two free hours of Wifi with my Starbucks card?

    The coffee place I frequent most often (a small non-chain local place) has free Wifi, good coffee and great snacks. I don’t think they have a problem with me hogging a table for an hour or two.

  13. “Question: Are you compensating the coffee shop adequately for lost business while you hog a seat for an hour or two? That’s the big problem with people who feel entitled to use a coffee shop for their office, and nurse a single coffee for an hour or more.”

    An interesting point. In my case, we pay T-Mobile $20/mo for Hotspot access and I have a Starbucks card I use that entitles me to 2 free hours of WiFi a day. I usually spend 90 mins to start my day – enjoy my drink, catch up on reading, hit one post. I sit at the tiniest table or the bar, and I’m pretty sure I spend more at Starbucks per year than anyone I know. However, the Panera is another story. I see people lingering there all day (with the free WiFi).

  14. JK,

    I gave up coffee shop for anything more than social type of meetings, or as some call it “social communications” that are less business, more friend oriented.

    Instead I am a BusinessWorld member of Regus/HQ and for $300 a year get access to all their locations and more. They have free water, coffee and Internet access. Read this post and see how it means more to me than a Starbucks Black Card and free WiFi.

  15. DrCaffeine

    Question: Are you compensating the coffee shop adequately for lost business while you hog a seat for an hour or two? That’s the big problem with people who feel entitled to use a coffee shop for their office, and nurse a single coffee for an hour or more.

    I love sitting and working in coffee shops btw :) Maybe there’s a new business oppurtunity… offices that are like coffee shops?

  16. @Luscious — it’s hard to expect silence at Starbucks given the noise of the machine and the music they play. But for some odd reason that’s background noise my brain can filter out. That “suit” at the table next to me who’s talking about his latest sales deal is harder to tune out. Maybe next time when I have my HP2133 with me I’ll start playing JKOntheRun geek sessions through the nice HP speakers at full blast ;)

  17. I agree, when I need work done I don’t get out of my office at home. If I have no deadlines, then I’ll go to a coffee shop. Maybe a library is another option for us mobile workers.

  18. I think if you’re going to a coffee shop with the intention of getting work done, you should not expect silence. I for one would not want everyone within earshot listening in on my conversations, or for that matter, passers-by looking at whatever I have on my notebook screen.

    On the flip side, I can understand folks who enjoy a coffee while sitting at a small table to check their emails, write their blog or surf the web. But those are not what I consider serious business, since you can do that at home just as well.

    If it’s phone calls, marketing promotions and business meetings that fill up your day, get a @#$% office for yourself. Any reputable business can afford a lease these days, and it will earn your business respect. Have the common decency to leave the coffee shop for coffee drinkers and social activity. The last place I would go to sign a six-figure contract is a coffee-stained 2×2 table at a noisy, crowded Starbucks.

  19. A little business is okay, but really some folks are pretty loud, and stay at it for a long time either on the phone, or “taking a meeting”.

    I always bring along some in-ear phones or more recently a some Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphones that can be had pretty cheaply these days. Besides I’d rather listen to my own music than muzak.

    Unless the weather is sub zero I take my calls outside of the coffee shop or keep them short.

  20. Frankly, I don’t think a coffee shop is the place to conduct business. That means business meetings and business phone calls. I mean, this is NOT your private facility where you can do what you want.

    But no matter who you are, or where you are, common courtesy indicates you should conduct your affairs in a manner that will allow others to enjoy the atmosphere too.

  21. Because I always have My Precious (HTC Advantage X7501) with me, I always have a set of bluetooth earphones around my neck (the ear canal Sony’s that block most of the noise). I agree with AnnG that the earphones help in these places as well as others (like the very loud subway and some movie theaters where the projectionist lacks a basic grasp of the volume control)! :0

  22. I don’t know. If we’re all “working” phone calls come with the territory.

    But there’s this family (two or three sisters?) that comes into one of my SBUX with four children (one’s an infant) who run wild, kicking things over, throwing things, screaming, trying to touch my laptop, etc. It’s quite unpleasant. I outwaited them yesterday, but usually I just bail when I see them (weekly). I also feel bad for the staff, because all their food and drinks end up on the floor, cafe sandwiches end up with the mugs, etc. Then again, the staff could tell them to behave.

    Although, I do have to say I stopped going to Panera. Too many people siphoning off the free Wifi (that’s why they should charge) which ended up being a place for college team projects and business meetings.

  23. I have also found the business people in my local Starbux or wifi-enabled Panera annoying. Seems a lot of people are using wifi spots as their main offices these days, and talking loud. iPod and earphones are a blessing!

  24. Frustrated Consumer

    I live near a university and we had a ‘coffee house rage’ incident a couple of weeks ago. Some guy got all bent out of shape with a group of students being ‘too loud’ in a coffee shop. The students shouted back it was a coffee shop, not a library. Cops were called, it even made the paper.

    Frankly, I think it’s a little extreme to expect peace & quiet in a public food establishment. Bars, restaurants, and yes – even coffee shops – are meant to be meeting places for people to gather and talk. Not sit and stare at each other. Loud people on cell phones are certainly annoying, but I don’t think they’re out of character. If you really need quiet time to get your work done, I do think a library is more appropriate for that.

  25. Got your Kodak HD cam with you? Tape’em and put’em up on YouTube (and link here, so people can find it).

    Yes, it’s mega annoying. Some people just don’t realize that they are poluting the place for everyone else with their blather.

  26. Yes, and frankly, it annoys me as well. Worse yet, can you imagine being on the receiving end of those calls? I mean, I hate sales pitches enough, much less with a noisy coffee shop in the background.

    ‘You see, sir, I can save you $50 a month if…TRIPLE SHOT VANILLA LATTE FOR FRANK…and that’s still offering the same level of service you’re currently getting.’