Using Starbucks As Your Office? Here Are Some Tips

150 Comments

When we started our little company, Katie, Liz and I would sit at my neighborhood Starbucks (s sbux) and co-work. That was four years ago. That experience prompted us to start WebWorkerDaily, our blog that is about the dynamically shifting nature of work in the 21st century. My friend Greg Olsen called it “going bedouin”.

Just as cloud services from Amazon (s amzn), open-source software tools and a plethora of technology platforms have helped accelerate the emergence of the lean start-up (something I chronicled back in 2003), the redefinition of the modern workspace has helped catalyze the post-broadband start-up movement.

Our early co-working experience is now commonplace, as many entrepreneurs and the freelance nation use coffee shops to work. More often than not, that coffee shop happens to be the near ubiquitous Starbucks location. Much of it is thanks to free Wi-Fi. Today, Starbucks launched a plan that offers free Internet access at 11,000 locations. Matt Shapiro at the tech blog Xconomy writes that maybe Starbucks should be known as Startbucks. We agree –- in fact we have been on this bandwagon for a long time and had this free service on our wish list for a very long time.

On the eve of the launch of their service, I thought I would offer few lessons we learned while working at Starbucks for almost five months.

  • Almost always favor a single location. It makes it easier for your contacts to drop in for meetings.
  • Learn the names of most of the baristas and also take time to have a conversation with them. It helps build a human connection.
  • Make the baristas involved in your venture – share your news and make them feel part of your struggle.
  • Make sure you buy coffee or something at least three times a day.
  • Tip generously – up to $10 a day will ensure that folks at the store don’t view you as a freeloader and a pest.
  • Don’t spread out your stuff and take up too much space at the store.
  • Invest in great noise-cancelling headphones (to counter the loud background music).
  • Keep your mobile phones on vibrate and leave the store for conversations.
  • Make sure that the number of people attending a meeting is fewer than four so that you can all circle around a single table.

Is this the most complete list of tips for working from a Starbucks? Perhaps not – but it worked for me. It even got me the much-coveted moniker of customer of the week. If I was to do it again, I know where I would hang my first virtual shingle.

P.S. I would love to hear your tips of working at/from Starbucks.

150 Comments

jiznakefoo

I constantly use Starbucks for meetings, creative thought, etc. It’s a relaxed atmosphere and you get a great cup of coffee to boot!

Dmajor

I think the next step will be “caffices” — somebody (probably Starbucks) will have a section of their shops, or additional shops, with tables even more convenient as office space, while still retaining their cafe vibe. If working customers play nice and don’t wear out their welcome, and continue to show they’re worth it, economically, this trend could put abundant freelance open officespace everywhere.

NeoteriX

Question regarding the “Keep your mobile phones on vibrate and leave the store for conversations.”

How does this work in practice? Back when I used to study at coffee shops and the like, I ended up only staying as long as my bladder could hold out because just like “leaving the store for conversations,” leaving to go to the bathroom meant leaving your laptop and other valuables sitting around (or worse, picking up all your stuff just to return a few minutes later to find that your seat/table has been taken.

How do people manage this, or is it all about trusting in the good faith of your fellow man that someone won’t pickup your things as they walk by?

Katrina Miller Fallick

I’ve had the same problem, with leaving my stuff…however, when I had a regular shop that I worked from, I knew the barista’s they knew me, and I’d leave my stuff there to run the the bathroom when the shop was quiet, trusting them to keep an eye on it for me.

They key is to have a relationship with the baristas (or other regulars) and pick a time when they shop wasn’t busy.

Also, I rarely take calls. For me, hitting the coffee shop to work is my “out of the office” time, for me to work with out interruption.

ToreUs

Invest $15 – $20 in a security cable for your laptop. Loop it around the base of the table, even through the straps on your backpack. Yes, someone COULD upend the table to get the loop off, but that would be noticed by others :) I do this when I need to for a quick trip to the restroom or a refill, never had a problem.

9thpoint

Om – your story resonates in so many ways with my life for the past couple of years! I frequent a coffee shop called “Jitters” (love the name) – they have had free WiFi for years. The place isnt fancy but the coffee is better and the baristas know my order and keep it ready when they see my car :) – There are also a bunch of 80 something old ladies who provide daily entertainment for an hour or so.

entrepreneurcensus

Om,

Very cool piece, and thanks for the link back to my Xconomy article. You may want to check out the Entrepreneur’s Census, our not-for-profit research on entrepreneurship, that ties into this topic (www.bit.ly/entrecensus).

More importantly, my rules:

comfort

1) sit away from the door (poor temperature control) and far from the counter (lots of noise).

2) find a wall outlet. sit near it.

3) face a window. even looking outside reduces stress.

4) bring a water bottle. help the environment, share cost savings with baristas.

5) prop your laptop up to eye level. it will reduce poor posture, back and neck pain.

Etiquette

1) clean up after yourself always.

2) help other customers. you know the ropes. become the mayor. it will benefit everyone.

3) say thank you every time you leave.

best,
matt

Karen

I read many comments and tips. I am really wondering what a store owner thinks of this? I can’t imagine that the regular wi-fi user spending 6-8 hours there spends enough to make up for taking up table space for that long. I have gone in and not found a table and seen many workers sitting at a table doing their work. It seems a good rule would be to limit time in general and limit it to non busy times of the day. I lost power once and needed to go for a couple of days but I kept it short and picked a time when they were not crowded. I left when it got to be lunch time.

Wendy Manganaro

I love working out of Starbuck’s. My clients are spread throughout the state, so I do have to visit several. My local one in Atlantic County, NJ rocks though.

The best is on occasion, when I need to have my 5 year old come with me, he loves it too. He calls it the Chocolate place. He loves their hot chocolate. He also gets a cheese and fruit plate, which is sometimes healthier than I can get him to eat at home.

It’s great, he eats, I work, and then he puts on a small dance show by the table. He loves the music there:)

Recently, my business partner bought him a Fisher Price laptop, so he wants to go and work like Mommy at the Chocolate place. Too funny!

Hooray to Starbuck’s for doing free internet for all! I’ll drink a Light Mocha Frappuccino to that:)

jkr284

I use our esquires (pretty big chain in the UK). It has free wifi also, they certainly attract a lot of Mac Pro Users that hog the plug points. Any way all the wifi users there spend at least £10-£15 a day. Mc Donalds has had free wifi for years over here but thats not really the best business meeting place. Anyway my favourite place now as an “office” is now my local pub! It has free wifi and there is alot more room especially for me as i work with building plans and architects etc. Its a lot quieter too and its nice to sneak in the odd half pint!

john

I totally agree that the music is too loud. Sbucks is a last resort for me as a digital worker, I am loathe to use it as a working environment. Even some independent cafes are too loud. Cafes with quiet and space are few and far between.

I much prefer co-working spaces, but they’re just getting started. Hopefully in the future, they will be more widespread.

Also, with the free wifi, I am guessing there will be alot more outages.

Clarence Chiang

Mindful about WiFi/network security when you are using public WiFi for business. For example use https whenever possible, turn off file-sharing if you can, and run a firewall on your laptop (which all the major OSes now do).

Doug

I agree about security. I use HotspotVPN for working in places like Starbucks or any open shared wifi access point.

Levi

Don’t want your stuff when the place is run over by an army of (usually) to go customers. Wait until the line dies down.

Don’t agree with the no pets rule. My dog most people don’t even notice she is there. It really depends on the animal.

NickPeak

@Levi – In most places in the US, the no pets rule is actually the law. Unless they are service animals, pets are not permitted in any location that serves food. YMMV where you are of course.

Nick

Josh W

Time for some input by an actual Starbucks barista (Southern CA, USA).

I’ve worked in well over 20 locations (though admittedly only “permanently” at 4) all across the southland and have dealt with every caliber of businessman possible.

They tend to come in packs and cycles; the rude ones come in when the doors open, the socially responsible just before the rush, then the rude ones come again till just after the morning rush.

I’d like to make some amendments to your rules: that whole tipping generous thing? It’s a great thought, but don’t stress. Honestly, if we enjoy your company and you don’t get uppity because we can’t maintain a full conversation with you every time you come in, you’ll be welcome with open arms. Tips and money are nice but we understand: it’s a recession. Be a great conversationalist when possible but otherwise don’t add more to our otherwise overburdened workload.

Oh, and the most important amendment: let’s combine the first (favor a single location) and last (meeting group < 4) and just provide the golden rule: favor a location that will allow you have larger workspaces. Many of the stores have been retrofitted with meeting tables, etc. You’ll be sorely disappointed to learn just how much you’ve been inconveniencing yourself with small, cramped tables when four miles up the street is a veritable golden palace of GTD just waiting for you.

Robert

Here’s my rules:

1) If you are having a meeting, make sure everyone buys a drink. I have actually seen five people come into a local, independent coffee shop, take over a couch and table for an hour, and leave without buying a single thing. (They were also loud so I overheard that they had just come from lunch and this was a more comfortable place to work.)

2) Don’t bring pets or children. Don’t spread your junk out across multiple tables or chairs.

3) Never carry on loud phone conversations inside. Never use the speakerphone feature of your phone, or use your computer to Skype without a headset.

4) Don’t bother other people that are obviously head-down and working – I really don’t care that much about your kid’s soccer game, and if I look busy it probably means I don’t want to talk.

5) If you know the place has a busy morning, lunch or afternoon rush, don’t hog a table during that time. Find someplace else to work during the coffee shop’s busy time.

Om Malik

Robert

Great tips — the #5 is overlooked by most. We don’t stop and think too much about that aspect of the coffee place’s business.

First doug

I am the first doug to comment in this thread. I did not write the comment above by another doug. Thanks.

Thomas Schaaf

I am the founder of a start up in Germany and am currently visiting the to meet people. (Will be in the bay area as of th 12th) I heard of startups being run from Starbucks. I am currently sitting in one and trying to work and can truely agree that noise canceling headphones would be nice right now.

For programming I find it very hard because of the constant movement in the room. Having experienced this I will probably enjoy my startups office a lot more.

Thomas
-I would love to meet and talk about our startup with you. Just send me a quick mail :)

Doug

Thanks to all you hipster doofuses working at Starbucks, many times I can’t get a table for my family.

Artruro Jayson

Keep logs of everything if you feel you have to do this in multiple cities. Some good advice here.

If you’re nice to them you might make a suggestion for them to carry a drink you or your associates like to make for them the next time you’re around.

Julius F

The critical points are covered perfectly. Nice article. I’ve been very productive working 3 hour(s) my day in Starbucks as well.

steve eptein

great piece.
more items for your list:

-bring a 4 slot surge protector and share it
– be courteous to other laptop workers
no skype voice–just text chat
use video streaming sparingly
throw out your own trash in the bins, and others as you find it at table area
– put your phone on vibrate is a must if you get a lot of calls
– don’t hog the comfy chairs all day
– listen to your own music….hearing the Starbucks network loop 4x in a morning is numbing …..

Bradendouglass

Spot on Om about the tipping and buying items at least three times a day. I have never worked in a coffee shop, but anyone with half a soul can see that their jobs can be quite rough at times. If you go above and beyond you can be assured the baristas will as well when it matters most.

With this weekend being the 4th, I am going to keep my eye out and see if more people are hanging around Starbucks than usual. I have a slight feeling that most locations will not see a serious uptick in the amount of freeloaders just because the wifi went free.

Doug

I work from home and there is a starbucks nearby, two in fact, and I think the suggestions are good common sense courtesy. I had a major broadband outage last year that forced me to work there for a day or so and the biggest problem I found was the noise. I just found the noise and the chicks floating through (south Florida) too distracting to get any work done.

As for Raymond above, I don’t know what to say about him. Show some class dude.

dstrauss

It has nothing to do with how you tip…it’s all about respect, and blanket condemnations of these young folks who are often doing a good and under-appreciated jobs is your lack of class. The mere fact that you don’t even recognize how condescending and demeaning your comments were shows you don’t understand the problem.

Raymond Padilla

How am I showing a lack of respect. I’m not being rude to them. I’m just not making an effort to be nice. Your assertion that I’m being demeaning is laughable. I think most Baristas that work at Starbucks are poor. So what? It’s true. I also don’t expect most chefs at McDonald’s to be great cooks.

Ken

Because that barista is somebody’s son, daughter, mother or father, just like you. Granted, they may not be the best barista, but may be a decent human being, and even they are not, they deserve to be treated with some empathy, kindness and a minimal amount of respect. I think the expression is, “There but for the grace of God go I”.

You may want to read Josh’s post below to see what is important to him. If you cannot say something nice about somebody, you might consider not saying anything at all. IMHO, words often say more about their author than their subject.

Raymond Padilla

@Ken I’m choosing not to be especially nice. That has nothing to do with being disrespectful. Why is everything so black and white with you people?!?

And yes, the proper response is, “Huh?!? What do you mean YOU people?”

Manpreet Singh

@Mr Padilla Be nice to the people there regardless of how they make coffee. And that means not ignoring them and getting to know them well even if you think they are bad baristas. Heck, if you are on a good footing with them, you can even politely make suggestions on how they can be better at what they do. That helps everybody. The general conversation with them also relaxes you in between your work.

I had a barista at a local Starbucks who I used to have casual conversations with. Most of the time I would complement them for good coffee. Once or twice when the coffee was not to the mark, they would –without asking– give me a second cup and made an effort to make it better the second time.

You don’t get that kind of service by ignoring them completely.

Raymond Padilla

@Manpreet Singh You are more patient than I am and I admire that. Personally, I rather just go to a place with good baristas and free WiFi. Depending on where I am, that’s not always possible. As average as Starbucks is, they’re never hard to find.

Tommy Welty

As a Starbucks barista I honestly resent how you talk about us in broad strokes. Starbucks is not the first coffee shop I’ve worked at, either. I’ve worked at independent coffee shops with delicious coffee.

I would agree with you that our drip coffee leaves something to be desired. One friend of mine (also a lover of coffee) says it like this: “Starbucks brewed coffee is like a bad break up, but their espresso is like a great first date that ends with a kiss.”

You asserted in some other comment that we make bad espresso. Which is kind of silly since we do not make the espresso. The farmers and the roasters make the espresso. We just push a button and pour it into a cup. We use automatic machines so it’s hard to mess up espresso drinks.

You’re just being snobby. And, in the process have insulted thousands of people who are working a difficult and menial job just to make an honest dollar and get health insurance.

It has nothing to do with if you tip or not. Most of my favorite customers never tip. Never. But, they treat me with respect and kindness. I speak for all my coworkers when I say kindness speaks louder than your lousy change.

Kovac

@Tommy Welty
You prove mr. Padilla’s point when you say “… we do not make the espresso. The farmers and the roasters make the espresso”.

Espresso isn’t the coffee bean, nor the roast. It is the method of preparing the beverage out of it. If you want to make yourself noted as a good barista, you should know that.

You also, despite your claims otherwise, demonstrate why Starbucks coffee isn’t good. “We just push a button and pour it into a cup. We use automatic machines so it’s hard to mess up espresso drinks.”

Automatic machines aren’t the best way to prepare an espresso, but I have to concede that they are the most common nowadays, even in Italy. Still, a good barista should be able to tell a ‘ristretto’ from a ‘lungo’, and know how to prepare each, not only a ‘press the button and voilà‘ kind of coffee most coffeehouses serve nowadays.

So that’s probably what mr. Padilla means when he says Starbucks baristas ‘don’t know what they’re doing’. Dare you say he’s wrong?

(FYI, I’m not a barista, I’m just passionate about my espresso. And I order ristretti doppii.)

@mr. Padilla
Sir, you seem to, unlike most American people, know your espresso. Yet, there are two thing condemnable about your attitude.

First, same way as you don’t go to McDonald’s for a prime steak, you don’t go to Starbucks for an espresso. Both are big chain stores, they sell what the customer wants to buy – a cheap burguer or an espresso-like drink that fits the American taste.

If you know real espresso, you know it can’t possibly come in a tall cup. Not because it’s too much caffeine, because it would be cold before you’re finished. You don’t need to boil your tongue in it, but espresso must be hot.

Second, if your barista isn’t good, you are completely right not to compliment him. I wouldn’t – as someone suggested – give him tips about how to do a better job, either, unless he asked. I know I hate when people try to tell me how to do my job, even when it could be better. Whenever I want to know, I ask someone (and, for me, that’s frequent).

But that’s no excuse not to be nice to him or her. Being polite means returning the treatment they give you, which is the least any decent person should do. It’s not about tipping either, which is why some are throwing criticism at you.

Being nice could be simply asking “How do you do?” with a smile and actually waiting for an answer. Or make a joke. You don’t have to engage long conversations or help people with their problems if you don’t want to. If they say they’re ‘not so well, actually’, you can just ‘hope everything works out alright’ and smile.

No matter how lousy anyone is as a barista, being nice isn’t a way of complimenting their skills (you can just say the coffee is great if that’s the purpose), it’s not the right thing to do, it’s not your single purpose in the world. But it might make their day better, and certainly won’t hurt yours, will it?

Personally, I agree with you in that baristas at Starbucks – and most chain stores – are poor. But whenever I go there, I just ask for something else. And say my name is “Superman” with a broad smile.

Pam T.

I’m of the “please, please don’t have business meetings in my coffee shop!” mentality. The last four times I tried to work at a coffee shop, the business meetings were disruptive to my ability to work. (Sorry, Om, can’t do the headset thing for various reasons.) Several times I was tempted to walk over and participate in the meeting, because I wasn’t getting any of my own work done. (Medical supply folks – take note!)

I also think you should add two rules:
– If you need to use a power source, be polite and bring a small strip, so you can offer to share the outlets with other people.

  • If the shop gets crowded at specific times, consider packing off to somewhere else and letting the office dwellers and soccer moms have a moment to relax and eat their lunch. Nothing’s more annoying than hoping you can get out of the office for awhile and finding your shop swamped with squatters on computers.
Carolyn

The power strip is a great idea. Maybe Starbucks should take note.

Charles Lau

i don’t regularly go to coffeeshops to work.. Because i find it quite cramp and noisy working there..

Sometimes, i really wonder if Starbucks kind of stores are really making money from a lot of us who go there for a cup or two of coffee while working there for several hours. Not to forget, i also used their electricity as well.. Hence, i also buy a piece of cheese cake to cover my guilt. :)

Nevertheless, i will try to keep myself within a small table so as to give more space to other customers.

j tass

in reference to your rules for being a respectful guest while using starbucks as a work location, I applaud you and your guidelines and beg others to take careful note. If someone came into your workplace, made a mess, was loud, demanding and ungrateful for 30 hours a week, I think you’d be less than pleased as well. In reference to Mr. Padilla, he is a barits’s nightmare who could neither perform nor succeed at the plethora of tasks that baristas are bombarded with every moment of every day. Good day, sir, they can have you.

Raymond Padilla

Thank you for the petty insults. I tip well at any coffeehouse I work out of, but I’m not going out of my way to be nice to a crappy barista. Why should I be nice to someone that makes bad espresso? Certainly I’m not going to be rude, but I find it silly to be especially nice to bad baristas. Are you friendly to bad waiters?

Ryan Lackey

If you’re abusing their restaurant/cafe as an office, then definitely, you should be especially nice to bad waiters or baristas.

If you think they make crappy coffee, buy bottled water, but still be civil and tip them well for the space you’re using.

jack

“P.S. I would love to hear your tips of working at/from Starbucks.”

How about not? I can hardly find a starbucks seat as is. 3 cups of coffee in exchange for a work place doesn’t mean you’re not a freeloader.

Ramon B. Nuez Jr.

I am not writing to you from a Starbucks but I plan to in the very near future.

I do agree with you — services that companies like Starbucks provides are invaluable to start-ups. I just hope that the companies that benefit from these free services don’t forget the little people.

Kath

Let me get this straight – you write a blog from Starbucks. But you object to the spectre of “freeloaders.” Wow. Hypocrite much? I am sick to death of walking into a Starbucks on a sub-zero-degree day, wanting to sit down and enjoy a cup of hot whatever, and there is not a seat to be had because the “freeloaders” — you included — have decided that your home or apartment is just not hip enough (or your own coffee isn’t good enough) to warrant setting up shop THERE. Newsflash: Starbucks isn’t your office. Staying more than an hour or so is selfish, hoggish, inconsiderate, rude, and vile. Can I go to another coffee shop? Maybe 5 years ago I could have, but Starbucks took over the industry and drove the little guys out of business.

Icy Sedgwick

I used to be a barista in a UK coffee shop and we regularly had local office workers using the store as an informal venue for business meetings, worker performance reviews, or even interviews. They kept their mess to a minimum, always bought lots of drinks and food, and they took the time to get to know our names, so they were certainly welcome repeat customers. Always be nice to the baristas and they’ll be nice to you!

Raymond Padilla

I am nice to baristas if they know what they’re doing. In my experience, the ones at Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, etc. are hacks. I really appreciate the baristas at Intelligentsia in Los Angeles. It’s like comparing Michael Jordan to…Jeffrey Jordan.

dstrauss

Mr. Padilla – your condescending attitude is what will ruin places like Starbuck’s and non-chain stores for the rest of us. Keep your snobbery to yourself. Those kids are neither hacks nor incompetents.

rick

But they’re still PEOPLE and you can still be nice instead of a pretentious twit.

Raymond Padilla

@dstrauss I’m being condescending because I understand that most people that work at Starbucks aren’t good baristas? You’re doing an awful lot of projecting.

@rick Thanks for that classy comment. Are you nice to bad waiters? Also note that I didn’t say I was being rude to them. If the barista is a hack then I pretty much ignore them and go about my business. How is that being pretentious?

dstrauss

My apologies Mr. Padilla; since you are a part of the Intelligensia your opinion of lesser citizens should be given great deference. My “projecting” reminds me of that famous movie line – “I’m laughing at the “superior intellect.”

Raymond Padilla

@dstrauss Ah, more projecting. I’m not part of “the Intelligentsia”, as you put it. I’m a customer of Intelligentsia Coffee. It’s a coffeehouse that actually employs skilled baristas.

stuff

@raymond: you’re being a troll and your annoying comment has nothing to do with the focus of om’s post.

Comments are closed.