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. Haha. They draw you in with free Wifi and COUNT on you feeling so that you buy 3 cups of coffee and a cheesecake. Without the free WiFi which costs them about 10 pence they wouldn’t sell that cheesecake! suckers.

  2. For those of you who love working with that white Starbucks noise -now opening on September 20th is the we work lounge!! You can become a member of this innovative lounge that promotes an organic mixture of collaboration and creativity. Equipped with conference room, wifi, copier/printer, and modern decor, the we work lounge is the perfect place to be productive. In december there will be a cafe right next to lounge as well. Hurry up before all the memberships are taken!

  3. For all of you who love to work with that white noise- now opening on September 20th is the we work lounge!! You can become a member of this innovative lounge that promotes an organic mixture of collaboration and creativity. Equipped with conference room, wifi, copier/printer, and modern decor, the we work lounge is the perfect place to be productive. In december there will be a cafe right next to lounge as well. Hurry up before all the memberships are taken!

  4. As far as being rude to baristas or anybody else: Never a good idea. You never know when that person you dissed turns out to be the surgeon who’s handling your case. Yes, she’ll remember you and she’ll make the surgery scar B-I-G….
    Also, it’s never EVER a good idea to be rude or even uppity to the people who have access to what you eat or drink. Think about it; it just isn’t smart.

  5. I feel like I ought to have a bag of popcorn with me, that’s how good a show this Padilla dude is putting on. LOL WTF go get a life instead of spending all day eating up criticism from strangers on some whatever-blog, probably the high point of your day innit? I’m only posting anyways because I know you’ll love it, it’s the best thing since you found out how to smell your own butt. Now go ahead and say whatever you want back, I’m not gonna ever check back anyways LOL! I actually have something to do with my life most of the time. Thanks for the laughs.

    And to everybody else, shame on you, somebody else’s place of business is not your office! Also shame on you for encouraging this Padilla dude LOL.

  6. I think that Rule #1 should always be:

    DISABLE your file sharing applications. No bittorrent, limewire, etc and please keep the silly youtube video watching to a minimum.

    It’s rude to hog up a coffee shop’s bandwidth with your p2p activity. Sadly, I have seen this many many times. :/

  7. Bruce Colwin

    I gave up on the game of musical chairs at Starbucks to find a seat, especially one near the coveted electrical outlets.

    I got a complimentary 6-month membership at Regus BusinessWorld and can use any of their hundreds of business lounges (dozens in NYC) with free coffee and wifi and a clean, quiet and professional work environment.

    Once the freebie expires, I plan to renew for just about $2-300 a year. Save that just in coffee!

  8. Does anybody know what system is being used for the Wi-Fi in the Starbucks? In the UK it seems to be based on BT Openzone and in my experience in a handful of stores it has been pretty poor.
    I read Meraki where putting their mesh network kit in Starbucks, is that the case in the US?

  9. My tips are:

    1. Share the power: Make sure that your battery is charged, bring an extra battery, bring an iPad with long battery life, or use the outlet only when you need to, making sure to share. Having only one outlet was a great way to restrict laptop users a few years ago.
    2. Take the smallest table possible if you aren’t expecting guests.
    3. Keep your area tidy
    4. Tweet, Foursquare, Facebook, or whatever about the establishment, giving them a little free marketing, since you are using their space.
  10. I tend to spend all my time at 2 coffee shops, a Starbucks 200yards from my house or an Australian coffee shop called Toorak Coffee. I’ve actually become friends with Tooraks owner and set him up on FourSquare and Google Business. The Starbucks is also nice but they keep it freezing cold.

    My only problem with working at coffee shops used to be making work calls (going outside for them of course) because I didn’t like to use my cell phone number. How do all of you handle this issue? I’ve been using Phone.com (a client) but want to know what you all use and what you look for?

    • I have been using Google Voice for a while now. It allows me to give out one virtual phone number and have that ring on my cell, desk, home, or wherever I am. It even rings on my iPad if I want. I made the transition gradually to make sure it would be reliable, but I’m very happy with the results. Google Voice is available free to anyone now – no more invitations required.

      If you work for a company with a corporate phone system you might be able to use a softphone app on your cell. That would allow you to receive/place calls “from your office” even if you are on your cell phone, or using a computer.

      • Rob Richardson

        I don’t believe Google Voice is available in Oz. We Americans have a tendency to forget that the Internet is global, and that what works in the U.S. might not be an option elsewhere.

    • Jeb, one more thing about Google Voice. I was once working in a friendly coffee shop and expecting an urgent call from a client. Unfortunately, my cell phone battery was almost dead and I didn’t want to risk driving home with a dead phone and possibly missing the important call. With Google Voice I was able to instantly redirect my calls to the coffee shop office phone (another very good reason to get friendly with the owner and workers) and take the call there with no stress.

  11. Srini

    I don’t understand all the hue and cry about being very nice with baristas and waiters irrespective of how they work. It’s their job. They better be good at it if I have to be “especially” nice. Else I am just normal with minimal tips.

    People really get hung up about being especially nice and very careful with waiters. Infact giving undeserved niceties is actually condescending. You are essentially saying :”I am being nice to you and tipping you well because you are a pathetic and make little money.

    In the tech field, if I dont work well, will I get raises and will people be ncie with me? I will be on the streets in one day.

  12. Kate Robins

    The only thing I’d caution is for people to use discretion when talking about business and on the phone. I’m always appalled by what I overhear in Starbucks and in train cars. Finally, if you need a credit card for your business, go with the Amazon Chase card that awards points. Among them, $50 Starbucks cards. :)

  13. I have started all three of my businesses in a local coffee shop. Although that particular one wasn’t a Starbucks, I have used many of their locations for meeting with clients over the years. Each location has its own rhythm (when their rushes happen, how crowded they are at certain times of the day, etc). Once you get into their rhythm, go with it, and use it to your advantage. I have three or four locations for networking – in other words, just by observing and getting to know the regulars, I learned who is in which location when, then became became acquainted with several locally well known folks who are also regulars there (local celebrities, sports figures, business people, local politicians) – then have used those contacts to introduce prospective clients when I “happened” to be meeting with them at a time when someone I knew they wanted to meet would likely be at the same spot at the same time. This will appear to be an impromptu meeting to both parties and will not take up too much of anybody’s time.

  14. SlickyFats

    What kind of loser are you that you have to use someone’s business as your personal office. Work from home and stop being a freeloader. Oh 3 coffees per day, yeah that’s a justifiable and equivalent trade for you not having to fork out for office space, electricity, seating & WiFi.

    Baristas. There is no need to be rude to them but I am sure they would appreciate you shutting your hole so that they don’t have to hear about your boring sob story. They are there to make money and go home. You are there to bug them.

    I used to work in restaurants before I finished my education. You people are the worst people for businesses. Every time we see you coming groans fill the room and everyone flips a coin to see who has to put up with it that day. There is nothing worse than being busy a new paying customers having to be turned away or having to wait excessively long to due to people just idling around.

    Thanks for abusing the generosity of a business for your own financial gain, This is why we don’t have nice things.

  15. Great comments. As an advisor to small business on the tax and financial side, small business entrepreneurs tend to be too tight-fisted with those who help them most. Your tips on tips is great.

  16. as start ups and indie business operators, I’m always surprised at how you use the name of “Starbucks” to note coffee shops. there are plenty of indie coffee / tea / espresso bars that truly appreciate folks working from the shoppes.

    why not help the small business owner, and not just the corporate giants, while you build your business? think local, we do!

    modernleafandbean [dot] com .

  17. If anyone wants to promote their favorite coffee shops, check out this little website we’ve been working on. You can list your favorite places to get caffeinated and work like this:

    http://coffeeandwifi.com/location/Kick-Butt-Coffee-10138

    We’re trying to support independent shops, especially quirky places like the martial arts/coffee shop called Kick Butt Coffee linked above. Owners of some shops have uploaded photos. If a shop uses Twitter, or is a Foursquare venue, we list that information and give customers a place to put comments directly on our site.

  18. votemarvel

    I hate people who run a business from a coffee shop.

    It’s nigh on impossible for my friends and I to get a table at out local place because the laptop crowd are there from open to close.

    They also seem to think that they have some divine right to ‘their’ table on the occasions we do get there first.

  19. It drives me a little bit crazy to be in a coffee shop, in a space that’s open to the public, where I too have paid for service, and to be shooshed by business people on their clickty-clack laptops who wish to conduct business with their clients who are miles away, while I’m attempting to have a conversation with the person next to me.

    Coffee shops and other such public spaces owned by private enterprise have always been SOCIAL places where COMMUNITIES have space to discuss their day. So although you as commercial business somehow feel the right to these spaces, please don’t sush the other customers who do have every right to have normal level conversations right next to you and your shiny new start-up. (I too love my laptop, and smartphone, and mp3 player, and I even enjoy “social media” but believe it or not – I actually like being social with the people right in front of me too once in a while).

    If you wish to have an absolutely quiet space which is also a usable work space with free wi-fi and has space for meetings, why not also try your local LIBRARY! I love the library! Your taxes are already paying for this service and you may be surprised to learn that many local libraries have extensive support for businesses!

  20. Thanks for this cool post Om! I have been coffee shopping lately, thanks for the reminder to tip more :)

    To the folks wondering why its worth the price of admission. Working at a coffee shop isn’t an alternative to working at home, its an escape from home. The real comparison is the cost/committment of a small office or co-working space. Compared to this, $10-20 a day at the coffee shop is pretty reasonable.

    That being said, I wish more shops had longer hours/nighttime hours. I’d gladly pay higher prices for a 24 hour spot!

    Props should be given here to Panera Bread aka St. Louis Bread Company. Very friendly and ubiquitous, they have been a lifesaver for me. Plus they have great good. There’s also a new Panera knockoff chain called “Camille’s”, they are awesome and usually real quiet.

    • Call me old school but if you guys are running start-ups why aren’t you looking more closely at your outgoings? $15 a day for coffees and cake x 20 days = $300 per month, plus tips, travel, headphones etc!!! I assume none of you make a packed lunch or go home to eat a proper meal. Work from home, it’s cheaper. Just turn on the lights and heat in the room you work in. No matter how paltry, it means more cash in your pocket to enjoy leisure activities with your friends and families or, if you don’t have a life, more $$$ to invest in your business.

  21. DMarie

    I have also found service in the DC Starbucks is not geared toward “keeping the customer happy”. Caribou Coffee has a great atmosphere, wonderful barista, and no charge for using the internet, although it is a bit slow. Starbucks charges $5 for a card with the password in order to use their internet services, so not sure what “free” means.

  22. WOW – Your online magazine is really going down hill fast…
    if this is a topic of reporting, then I need to start looking for tech news elsewhere….

  23. jacob

    I see these idiots at a popular starbucks here in my town too. All they do is take up a table for the entire day while the rest of PAYING customers have to wait around for a table to open up just to sit down for a half hour. Buying 3 cups of coffee a day doesn’t give you an automatic all day pass. If your business skills are so lousy that you can’t rent a cheap office or better yet, work at home like normal people, you deserve to be brankrupt.