What Is Proper Coffee Shop Etiquette?

This week I’ve been excited to brainstorm a new game (and give Megan the house to herself for a few hours), so I’ve gone to a local coffee shop for some hot cocoa and computer-free time. Both visits have been pleasant and productive so far.

I’m not a coffee drinker, and I work best without people around, so hanging out in a coffee shop isn’t something I often do. So I’m learning about coffee shop etiquette, and I have some questions for those of you who know it much better than I do.

  • It seems that people sit in coffee shops for a variety of reasons: to relax and unwind, to catch up with a friend or a date, or to study or work. The biggest surprise to me, however, is the people who have lengthy conversations on their cell phones at the coffee shop. They’ve all had much less volume awareness than people having face-to-face conversations there. Is that within the bounds of coffee shop etiquette?
  • I’m assuming it’s not cool to hang out in a coffee shop without ordering anything (hence the hot chocolate for this non-coffee drinker). However, is there a time limit? What happens after I’ve finished drinking my hot cocoa?
  • If you buy something from the coffee shop, is it also okay to eat something of your own? Today I wouldn’t have minded bringing a few pieces of candy to accompany my hot chocolate, but it felt weird, so I just bought one of the coffee shop treats. It was good but expensive–I could see the cost adding up quickly.

What else? Are there other rules of coffee shop etiquette I should know about?

8 Responses to “What Is Proper Coffee Shop Etiquette?”

  1. Katie K says:

    Sounds like you might be better suited to work at a local library, free wi-fi, expectation of quite, no expectation to purchase food/can bring own food.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Possibly! Though I don’t need wi-fi, and I like hot chocolate. 🙂

    • T-Mac says:

      Heads up though that many libraries are working to change the perception that you have to be silent to visit. They are shifting to adding quiet areas and making the general space more fun/open/conversational.

  2. People who talk on their phones are 🤨 but it is perfectly acceptable to order something and sit and work for as long as you like. If it’s getting busy be mindful but I always try and get some refills. It’s great when you are a regular and the baristas know your order. Tip! Tipping smooths the way for a lot of stuff. Anyways I’m sure you’re fine and nobody will mind if you have some candy or chocolate. Could share some with the servers and baristas and then they will love it when you come in!

  3. Brent Keath says:

    1. I believe phone etiquette is that you can remain in the coffee shop if the call is shorter than 2 minutes. If longer than that, then you either need to tone down the volume, or step outside to take the call (I usually step out because I have trouble controlling my phone volume).
    2. No time limit. The longer you are there, the more hungry/thirsty you are going to get. The exception to this is if the coffee house gets full and people need tables the person who has been in the shop the longest should leave (this rarely happens, but on occasion it does and if the coffee shop starts to get full it’s important to be prepared for that possibility.
    3. You are allowed to bring snacks, but only if you buy a drink as well (if you are going to bring snacks and a drink you should go to your local library instead, as mentioned by other commenters). Also, the snacks you bring should not match what is already sold in the coffee house (if they sell brownies, don’t bring in brownies from elsewhere).
    Experience: Spending a lot of time in coffee shops playing board games with friends and spending a lot of time studying/working in coffee shops. This is based on both the vibes and actual conversations I have had with the owners.

  4. T-Mac says:

    Here’s my take on your three questions:

    1. Most coffee shops I visit get rather busy, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a phone conversation in those places–it just seems to blend in with everything else. However, I’d treat a coffee shop like any other place. If everyone else in the place can hear your conversation, regardless of whether it’s a phone conversation or in person, you’re probably being too loud.
    2. No time limit. I keep the empty cup @ my table to show that I did buy something though.
    3. I think it’s acceptable to bring a piece of candy or two into a coffee shop. Again, I’d use my discretion on other things though. I wouldn’t bring a scone in if they sell scones, for example. I also wouldn’t bring an entire outside meal.

  5. Jamey Stegmaier says:

    I appreciate all of this excellent advice! Thank you all for sharing. 🙂

  6. Kirk W says:

    Hmmm, I agree the cell phone issue could be quite annoying. Personally I always step out side to take cell phone calls in coffee shops, whether I am alone or with friends. Having been fortunate enough to live in a city with a long and rich coffee shop culture (New Orleans) I once made a list of what defines a good coffee shop to me, as opposed to a “coffee store” (one in which you are encouraged to purchase your product and move along).

    1 Good selection of tea as well as coffee (I also don’t like coffee)
    2 A couch, or two – it’s about community, should feel more like a living room
    3 Board games available (this is where I learned to play Go)
    4 Small library
    5 Local art on the walls
    6. Schedule of in-shop events
    7 No uniforms – employees should have their own personalities
    8 Barristas select the music – great way to find new music

    All the coffee shops I frequented in New Orleans had all of these.

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