Blog Post

Using Starbucks As Your Office? Here Are Some Tips

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 Responses to “Using Starbucks As Your Office? Here Are Some Tips”

  1. I did started on a Starbucks but now we have a CoWorking space in Monterrey, MX so we don’t need to go there anymore.
    Working on Starbucks is nice, but is nicer to have your own office. If you are interested, please check our site http://www.colectivolabs.com the first mexican CoWorking space :-)

    I preffer CoWorking spaces rather than Starbucks. Are so much more affortable and is nice to have people around you that also Telecomute.

    Regards!

  2. Rob Richardson

    @ Tommy Welty:
    “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.”

    Dude, are you just playing word games or do you actually not understand that espresso is a WAY of making coffee and not a KIND of coffee? Here’s the definition provided by the SCAA (the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world’s largest coffee trade association which sets standards for coffee in this country):

    “Espresso is a 45ml (1.5 ounce) beverage that is prepared from 7-9 grams of coffee through which clean water of 192° – 198° F (88° – 92° C) has been forced at 9-10 atmospheres of pressure, where the grind of the coffee has made the brewing “flow”* time approximately 22-28 seconds. While brewing, the flow of espresso will appear to have the viscosity of warm honey and the resulting beverage will exhibit a thick dark gold cream foam (“crema”) topping. Espresso is usually prepared specifically for, and immediately served to its intended consumer.”

    Notice it doesn’t say anything about whether it’s wet-processed or dry-processed, City roast or French roast, or the country of origin of the bean. That is all irrelevant — espresso can be made from any coffee, although some are obviously more suited for the task than others. But to say that you don’t make espresso is like a bartender saying he doesn’t make drinks. Yeah, he doesn’t grow the barley and distill the mash and bottle the bourbon, but the end product reflects his ability. On second thought, if all you do is push a button, maybe you DON”T make espresso, just something Starbucks calls espresso.

  3. There are so many great topics and points that spin from this article; The points from the Coffee shop Managers are all excellent! Thank you Ron Pemberton.

    This from James is best “James Kendrick”
    Sunday, July 4 2010
    I have been working remotely for years and have outlined my tips for building a virtual cubicle years ago. I agree with all of Om’s good advice here and second those who mention bringing a power strip to not only share the precious outlets but even increase the number of them. Everyone loves the guy who brings more outlets. :)

    I would add one thing to Om’s list: talk to the manager of the coffee shop up front and make them a part of your effort. It is an effective way to forge a relationship and to determine if your long term presence will adversely affect the shop’s operation.

    http://jkontherun.com/2008/08/14/build-a-virtual/

    Bringing a power bar Thats so cool! Three thumbs up

    But hey This is someones business! We need to respect that.

    Thank you to Raymond Padilla for starting a great topic exchange.

    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto

  4. Not against any form of getting business but….

    There are so many Facility Renters that can provide you with an identity without the Voice mail press 3 response; I can only meet at your offices, There is something to be said for privacy when I meet with clients and discuss their business and personal financial details.

    I know its an extra expense but I really prefer the solitude and privacy that being alone provides. There would be too many distractions for me

    David Pylyp
    at Square One Starbucks
    Maybe Chapters on Rathburn
    Google Me and see

  5. NickPeak

    I never seem to have trouble finding a place to sit and use my laptop at coffee shops, but that’s because if someone is camping on the outlets I will boot into a portable version of backtrack and bomb their connection off of the router repeatedly until they get tired and go away.

  6. I have been working remotely for years and have outlined my tips for building a virtual cubicle years ago. I agree with all of Om’s good advice here and second those who mention bringing a power strip to not only share the precious outlets but even increase the number of them. Everyone loves the guy who brings more outlets. :)

    I would add one thing to Om’s list: talk to the manager of the coffee shop up front and make them a part of your effort. It is an effective way to forge a relationship and to determine if your long term presence will adversely affect the shop’s operation.

    http://jkontherun.com/2008/08/14/build-a-virtual/

  7. Coffee Drinker

    Why do we all care so much what this vain jerk Padilla thinks? He thinks he’s some hot shit video game critic… But look at his website, he’s not even a good critic, not even a developer, just some aging fanboy with a superiority complex. Padilla, go waste some more time tending to your “2010 backlog” pretending to blow shit up with your internet “friends”, and try not to get in the way of the rest of us living real lives in the real world.

    The rest of us: stop feeding the troll. He’s getting off on all this attention.

    Also, dug the article, though it’s kinda disheartening that all this stuff isn’t common sense.

    • How am I being a vain jerk? Ignoring people that provide poor service makes one vain? That’s an interesting definition.

      And no, I’m not getting off on the attention. I’m highly amused that ignoring bad baristas causes some people to hurl personal insults. Also, thanks for visiting my site!

      @Om I apologize for all of this, but the reactions have been so entertaining.

  8. Carry a PowerSquid – power outlets are scarce in coffee bars and other public work spaces. A power squid lets you share one outlet with four other nomadic workers. Builds camaraderie instead of ill-will.

  9. Rob Richardson

    @bluespapa:
    “It makes as much sense for workers who pick a poplar public restaurant to resent families with kids as families with kids to resent the presence of people working who got there ahead of them.”

    Actually, from a business standpoint, it makes NO sense to allow those who come in and camp out to do so. There’s a limited amount of seating, no matter how large a place is, and to maximize profit, a business owner needs to maximize the turnover at each table, booth, or chair. Someone who comes in and commandeers seating for half a day and spends $10 or $15 during that time isn’t as valuable as MULTIPLE customers who use the same space, where each new customer or group of customers might spend as much or more as a single occupant. And BTW, barristas, if you work at a place, it behooves you to try to maximize your company’s profits, at least if you value your job security (see: Radio Shack). As for anyone who gets upset with or resents paying customers who are too noisy or disruptive for them to get any work done, I suggest working from home.

    • thenikjones

      Totally agree – it seems a lot of people think $10-$15 a day is a fair price for being allowed to run a business from a coffee-shop – in reality, that is taking advantage of the coffee shop. Find out how much they pay daily in rent and utilities and offer to pay 10% – then you’ll probably decide to work from home.

    • bluespapa

      Yes, yes, certainly, and although I have, I rarely camp out myself, certainly not more than if I were not reading/working with whatever I’m having. That’s probably more a function of my back than my sensitivity to restaurant economics.

      Some screaming children family places chase away another type of customer, and I’ve been both. But feeding hungry kids who exhibit the need for food doesn’t mean that the people who got to a popular lunch spot before me are wicked. But someone down on parents for having hungry kids because that person wants a library should go to the library. They also have meeting rooms at libraries.

      Turnover is obviously desirable, but so is good will, and someone who feels comfortable recommends and brings in friends. For that matter “free wifi” is another business cost, and I’m aware of that, as well.

      Some places that actually set up library type work stations with outlets seem to be inviting people to use a spot. A billiard room I worked in charged per person per hour, but ten or fifteen bucks a day, if nobody else is waiting, or avoiding a place because of rude people who spread out and sit for hours.

  10. @Padilla

    I am currently working for Starbucks going on 7 years now and i understand about bad baristas. While i blame the training nowadays, one week vs. a month of training, the automatic espresso machines do make bad shots. I would much prefer to use the manual machines. I’m sorry that you have had your drink made in such a poor fashion that you had to switch coffee shops.

    @Everyone
    I’ve dealt with tons of rude people and the way Padilla is describing that he just ignores the barista is totally fine. I’ve had people throw hot coffee/frappuccino/water/pastries in my face, been cussed out, and even almost got punched just because their drink was wrong. So being ignored, like Padilla says, is perfectly fine and baristas don’t even think twice about it. I think that if he cannot get a good cup of coffee then he shouldn’t tip, which he says he does. Even I have had bad drinks make by people that i work with, am i’m sure that you too have had bad drinks made for you. If your drink was made bad on a consistant basis you would go to another coffee shop as well.

    • Thanks for a reasonable and understanding response. I still go to Starbucks if it’s the most convenient choice in my business travels. In LA and SF I rarely do, since I know places with better beans and baristas.

  11. hannah

    I had a band manager who worked out of my Starbucks for two years. Every year at Christmas he gave us each a $10 gift card to Borders, and he always tipped 20%. For a yearly expenditure of under $1000 we always made sure he had his favorite table clean and empty, and he was the first person we hit up when we were sampling products.

  12. @Padilla

    Mr. Padilla,

    I happen to be a Cafe Manager with my company. I wanted to share with you a more authoritative insight.

    My staff is composed of all college students. Each with a highly respectable major and GPA. One in particular is a dual major in Biology and chemistry. They all display intelligence; maturity; good character; impeccable manners; and charismatic personality.

    They all take pride in their work; and are very consistent with how they produce and serve the products. None is a hack.

    I have no doubt in my mind that you simply don’t like the Starbucks brand of products. I not simply saying this; nor did I in any way take offense to anyones comments.

    I too, prefer another brand. I tried and loved ‘Seattle’s Best’; as served at a Borders bookstore. I thought it was great. I think that Starbucks blends are a little too strongly flavored for me.

    Now, as for are customer spread since free WiFi –

    1) Most of our guest are young professionals. they stop in and have coffee and snacks; meet with friends and go on with their life in a reasonable amount of time.
    2) The second most dominant group is college students. And it is perfectly understandable their need for free WiFi and access to caffeine. They have all been incredibly polite and conscientious. and they never fail to clean up after themselves. We love almost all these kids and get to know them well.
    3) But, then there are those who impose. They can’t afford an office. And with gall; set up shop by moving the furniture; taking extra chairs for make-shift desk expansion; speak loudly on cellphones; and think offensively that the purchase of a small coffee entitles them to do this for hours on end.
    This isn’t meant as a blanket statement – those who aren’t this way know who they are – and we give them recognition openly for being the better of the lot.

    In close, I would like to share a few cafe office pointers from the cafe perspective.

    1) Be polite. Your dealing with someone who may be potentially more educated and successful than you and respecting everyone’s dignity is the only thing rational.
    2) Clean up after yourself. Its conscientious and in good character. You represent who and where you come from.
    3) Don’t rob additional furniture from the other guests. And if you are that way; at least be decent enough to move things back when your finished.
    4) Buy something. Occasionally throughout your stay. Not just once. But every two hours at least. If collectively people don’t – companies will change policies and start charging again. Having no room/seats for paying customers isn’t profitable or sustainable.
    5) The power strip idea by one commenter is an excellent and thoughtful idea. Kudos for that.
    6) Don’t personalize your product preferences onto the staff. That would be projecting Mr. Padilla. They do not grow; dry; or roast the beans. They also have no control over the choice of grinder or espresso machine provided. But will try to help you find that combination of tweaks you need to make drinks your happy with. Which brings me to #7.
    7) Communicate. We can make things with some altering of variables. Different temperatures; milks, etc.. So lets find what you personally like.

    To all the supportive commenters – THANK YOU!
    And Mr. Padilla – your still a welcome guest.

  13. bluespapa

    How talented does the barista have to be? The barista can’t make good coffee from inferior ingredients, and I’ve never had a really good cup of coffee from a Starbucks. I get consistently better coffee from independent houses wherever I’ve been, and all that I’ve been to have had free wifi for years.

    I notice the cubie atmosphere at coffee houses these days that seems stranger tome now that I’m not the only person with a computer or handheld device. These days, everybody’s laptop is open, and people reading a book or writing on paper just look quaint, let alone just conversing.

    It makes as much sense for workers who pick a poplar public restaurant to resent families with kids as families with kids to resent the presence of people working who got there ahead of them.

    Batteries and earplugs.

  14. Dalcyanne

    [I posted this @ Lifehacker, but I’m not an approved commenter so I thought I’d share here!]
    The only tips I would add are:
    1. avoid crowded/busy times times
    2. don’t take a table that’s too big for you.
    3. When the baristas comp you anything you should tip them at least the cost of the comped item.
    4. Bus your own table, if that’s an option.

    I am dissertating and find the ambience of my local coffee shop / bakery to be more conducive to writing than any office, the library, or my home–it also lets me see people! Because the staff know me (and that I tip well and buy bread every week and at least one meal and a coffee every day I’m there) I can come in, park my shit, and not order anything for a few hours (until I’m hungry or in need of a break). If it’s crowded, I’ll go someplace else, even if my table is free, just in case anyone else who might spend more wants to sit there. It’s not cheap, but the price is right for a pleasant day’s work, and more than makes up for the ramen at home.

  15. More reasons why I don’t work at Starbucks:

    Once, a reunion of some kind consisting of middle aged women came up to the second floor. Several people including me were quietly walking away. This group, of over a dozen, put four tables together and suddenly sounded like a big party with hollering and hooting and cackles and loud laughing. Those who were working including me, shot dirty looks and eventually, some got the message.

    Another group of religious evangelicals had a 4+ group meeting and loud conversation about morals and fire and brimstone completely turned me off.

    Language tutor sessions.

    Stinky guy that came to expressly sleep.

    Those damn machines with the hissing. They are loud.

  16. It’s great to hear abotu your experiecne at Starbucks, I did not knwo that is where you started off from, great story indeed.
    I used to frequent my local Starbucks at Westin Bayshore in Coal Harbour Vancouver when I was in the planning phase of Virtual LockBox http://www.vlockbox.com
    Two things that worked for me which you have highlighted were to know the entire staff at the store and keep on buying coffe and snacks throughout the day and thank them when you left the store for the day.In fact the staff got to know me so good that as soon as I entered they started to fix my drink right away as they knew what I ordered each day, and yes I tipped them well

  17. Mr Padilla, it’s not your opinion that those who work at Starbucks are not good baristas, which leaves readers believing you are condescending. It’s the fact that you are a pole smoking a## clown, and, well, just a d#ck. Yeah, yeah, I’m projecting, you’re not really an a##hole, you’re just a d#ckhead who thinks it’s OK for you to mistreat Starbucks employees, because they don’t live up to your expectations of what constitutes a great barista.

    I do have to give you credit for one thing: it’s been awhile since I read comments from someone who is as big a sh#thead as you.

    Thank you.

    Raymond Padilla Friday, July 2 2010
    “@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.”

  18. Rob Richardson

    Besides the overroasted and overpriced coffee, this is the second reason I avoid $tarbucks. And it’s almost as bad at Borders — you can’t find a place to sit down and peruse a book or two because the squatters have taken all the seating. Now that McDonald’s is offering free Wi-Fi, it should be interesting to see what happens when hordes of freeloading hipsters descend upon them.

    • George

      Fully agreed. The acceptance the freeloader mentality amazes me. Even my local Dunkin Donuts has become overrun by squatters who monopolize table space and prevent valuable customers from finding a brief place to enjoy their purchase. Just because CAN sit at the same table all day long doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. At a certain point this is just manipulation and taking advantage by setting up an el cheapo version of a virtual office.

  19. I’ve spent a fair bit of time at free wi-fi locations grading papers, doing research, reading, and doing online grading. When my home internet was out for a few weeks this Spring I became a pro at finding and using free wi-fi. I’ve learned to use my phone and aircard to give some business to non-wi-fi locations, too, because I get bored easily.

    Vary the shops you visit so you aren’t hogging the space, electricity, and bandwidth at any one storefront. You won’t get to know the staff quite as well but I think they’ll appreciate that you don’t take up paying tables and use them all day for your meager 3 coffees. Of course you should buy a food item or meal if you are going to be there a while. Sometimes at Panera I’ll buy a loaf of bread to take home and leave it on my table so the manager knows I’m not a freeloader. (Guess that’s my guilt talking, because one of my best friends always buys the tiniest item even though she’ll stay for hours. Crass!)

    Try the many restaurants now offering wi-fi, like Village Inn in the US. Not the most amazing food, I know, but they do have nice people working there and free pie on Wednesdays. ;) I always reassure the waitstaff when I bring out my laptop by saying I’ll leave if it gets busy (and then I keep my word and tip generously).

    Switch between restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. It keeps things interesting. You’ll soon find who has the best speed, hours, etc.

    I agree with the folks who say bring a power strip to share. I bring an extension cord and a 3-Prong adapter, too.

    Above all, consider that although they offer free wi-fi to bring you in, these are all places of business trying to make a profit, so don’t build your business by sponging and freeloading. It’s just good karma.

  20. From the point of view of a worker, this article is great advice for anyone wanting to take advantage of Starbuck’s space.

    I worked at Starbucks for years. At the store, there was a group of five men who “worked” there. Evey time a new employee started, they took the time to learn names, and a little bit about their lives. They always tipped, and even even defended us against extremely rude costumers. In turn they got free products and guaranteed table space at the extremely busy store. Being polite goes a long way with kids who have to deal with ice being thrown at them when there is a chunk in their frapaccino.

    And by the way, most people who work at Starbucks are their for the friendly work environment and awesome benefits, not to become some superstar barista. And if you want a perfectly pulled shot of espresso by a great barista, don’t go somewhere that has automatic machines like Starbucks does. No one has the right to be rude to an employee because they “don’t know what they’re doing” according to your standards. Starbucks baristas are trained to Starbucks standards, nothing less, nothing more.

  21. My only addendum to this article? Don’t (over/ab)use Starbucks if you don’t need to. Save the space for freelancers who can’t afford the facilities elsewhere.

    And have a great day y’all :)

  22. Mr Padilla, i agree with you 100 percent sir. These people’s altruism is laughable. If i pay extra for coffee, just because i want to enjoy the “starbucks” experience, they better god damn well be paying their employees a little extra as well. I, like you, have no sympathy for apathetic 24 year olds who are bad at their job. If i wanted inferior service id go get a damn mcCafe. If that makes me an eliteist, go ahead and label me as such, but at least i dont take pleasure in regurgiating politically correct prevarications.I actually have the capacity for abstract thought and reasoning, My feelings arent governed by third party perspective

  23. A very inspiring story.I think the price of star bucks would not make it an idea place for me to launch a startup :) Those who have access to internet at work can make maximum use of it and probably outsource small gigs

  24. Great post.

    I think most of the rules and tips are applicable to just about anywhere you might decide to get work done that is a place of business. I like to do occasional work from the local tobacconist (that also has free Wifi) it is nice to sit and enjoy a good old stogie while I work.

    I think the same goes there. I’d love to see some of these guidelines applied to airport work. One thing that I would point out as an additional tip.

    If you are in the medical field and need to work on a PowerPoint presentation that lets say includes graphic images that might be disturbing to others… do not do it in a public place! (Yeah talk about ruining my coffee.)

  25. Wow this has to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever read. You end up spending more money on tipping and coffee than just getting a cheap level net connection at home, you waste gas getting there (or time if you walk or bike ride), you take up a space that the business could turn over many times and make much more $$, you waste money on headphones to make it quiet in a place you don’t even have to be in, you give money to a huge corporation responsible for running decent mom and pop shops out of town. You lose productivity having to deal with the outside world instead of just working. All for what/ So you can be the dooshbag at Starbucks with the fancy laptop? Wow… ponderous man…

  26. Danielle M.

    I’m a barista at a Barnes and Noble cafe, where the wifi has been free for a few years now. I go there myself to study when I’m not working. Usually we have plenty of tables (I think more than the average Starbucks) so that’s not an issue, but outlet hogging certainly is. This has only been distracting to my job when would-be outlet users complain about people camped out at the (one!) outlet. I feel the onus should be on the person who comes in the afternoon, during our busy time, and complains loudly to management about the spots near the outlet already being occupied, to bring their own power strip. Please don’t expect me to manage your internet access, as that is not my job.

      • thenikjones

        Really? Maybe these coffee shops want you to treat it as a cafe, not free business premises? If you want to take the advantage of free heat, light, furniture then buy an iPad with 10hour battery life, or buy a second battery. Paying $10-$15 a day for coffee etc is NOT a fair trade – can you rent business premises for that price?

    • Get an iPad. You will no longer have to worry about outlets unless your work requires demanding applications like Adobe. The iPad has phenomenal battery life and I have found I can perform most tasks with it other than photoshop and those types of tasks.