As someone who spends a large majority of my week in the car, traveling to meetings, I have become accustomed to using various coffee shops as my secondary office. Whether it’s a charming local establishment straight off the Hallmark Channel or a cookie-cutter international powerhouse, I am all too familiar with the do’s and don’ts of squatting at a coffee shop. Still, some people – rude people – are convinced their $4 drink entitles them to some sort of WeWork office space relationship where they can set up shop for hours. It’s one thing to pop open your laptop or a notebook but another to treat a table meant for six as your extended cubical.
So, before you plan to have some quiet “me-time” over a cup of Joe and your laptop for an extended amount of time, make sure you’re not on my list of Top 3 Rudest Coffee Shop Squatters.
Rudest squatter #1: the Executive
In a previous episode of Modern Manners Guy entitled, 3 Rules For Business Air Travel, I discussed how some people refuse to accept they are only given one tray table… and not all three in the row. The one-tray table rule also applies to doing work at a coffee shop. First of all, let’s be clear that a coffee shop is NOT an office where you get to command your team to action with one of those triple-screen laptops that makes you look like some intense gamer. It’s as if some people believe their $4 cup of coffee is an invitation to hold their own personal whiteboard sessions, planning their Shark Tank pitch while everyone else in the coffee shop has to move around them. In fact, one MMG subscriber told me that while getting coffee in a Starbucks, one Executive sat down at the long six-foot community table, laid out their some folders, stacks of paper, and then pulled out a homemade “Reserved” sign to place on the table. I can assure you he did not use OpenTable to make his “reservation.” Nope, this Executive was just rude and entitled.
Folks, when going to squat at a coffee shop you cannot take up more space than you would as on an airplane with a tray table. One person, one seat, one slice of table. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to sit with your elbows touching your ribcage and not being able to stretch out, but don’t monopolize areas clearly meant for four (or more) with portable monitors, stacks of paper, and enough wires to power Manhattan. I don’t care if your office and house are both being fumigated and you can’t go back inside for three days—nothing grants you the right to use a coffee shop as if your own. Come to think about it, even if you did own said coffee shop, it would be very tacky to do that anyway.
When you are squatting at a coffee shop, remember that your seat is a privilege, not your right. You paid for a cup of coffee, not an office space, and it’s rather classes to occupy a whole table for your own selfish needs. What makes the Executive worse is that I truly believe the main reason they are making a scene is to be seen. The Executive’s ego craves the attention and wants people to ask them what they’re doing or make a comment about how hardworking the Executive appears.
If you witness the Executive in the wild, find the farthest table from them possible because the Executive will not respect your area or privacy if they need to dominate more landscape for their own progress. Now, as a manners expert, I always advise people to speak up, but you don’t own the tables either. With that being said, I put the onus on the coffee shop manager to micromanage the Executive and ask them to maybe not hoard all the outlets like it’s a data center inside the CIA.
Rudest squatter #2: the Screamer
There are few things more annoying in life than someone who thinks they are above others… in any situation. This is everything from a spoiled brat kid or some obnoxious adult who thinks only their opinion matters. Another sign of pure and utter lack of self-awareness is someone who talks so loud around others in public spaces. Longtime listeners will know that I believe there is a special place in hell for people who use speaker phones in public. But next to them in the fiery afterlife is someone who insists on talking so loud that even the chefs in the back can hear all about how their “childish” brother-in-law got fired, yet again. I see coffee shop squatters like this all the time and it drives me nuts. I mean, the Screamer may be a self-absorbed narcissist but they must know they’re talking loudly. Right? Please, tell me I’m right on this point! The Screamer can’t be that bad… can they? Oh, gosh we’re all doomed!
Similar to the Executive, the Screamer demands an audience and to be heard while they’re on a Zoom call without headphones or on speakerphone doing their very best to talk loudly over everyone around them. The Screamer can also evolve into a pack of Screamers, turning a quiet coffee shop into a bar during Happy Hour. Now, I’m not telling someone they can’t eat, drink, and be merry—but not at the expense of annoying everyone around you. For hours, the Screamer squats at the coffee shop, ignoring all the social cues about the world around them. One time, while I was in between meetings, a rather nauseating Screamer yelled to the barista—from his table mind you—“Excuse me, Dear, can I get a refill? I’m on a call.” What the what? He even tapped the lid of his coffee cup, as if the barista needed help identifying the object which actually holds the coffee itself. Talk about being so completely absentminded and void of all respect for a server. I mean, have you ever seen a Starbucks barista come from behind the counter to refill someone’s cup? It’s because they don’t.
When dealing with a Screamer, it’s absolutely proper to speak up even if you get an eye roll. Unlike the Executive, where they are dominating others’ space, the Screamer remains in their zone—which is their right—but their voice doesn’t. Keep in mind, if you do decide to confront the Screamer, be prepared to be perceived as being a nuisance. Yes, you. Remember, you’re not, but to them you are. Why is this? See, the Screamer doesn’t think they are a problem. In fact, you are the problem for bothering them by speaking up. I know it sounds crazy… because it is. Still, don’t let this affect your decision because the entire establishment is on your side. Try something like, “Excuse me, would you mind putting headphones on?” Or, ask them to simply lower the volume. The key to success isn’t just what you say, but it’s the firm confidence behind your words. Whether they listen or not, they need to know they are being watched and only for the negative. Regardless if they appease your request or not, knowing that they know that everyone else knows they’re annoying is a win. You know? Yeah, you know.
Rudest squatter #3: the Cheapskate
Hands down the rudest squatter of all is the Cheapskate and they come in all sizes. Both the Executive and the Screamer could also be a Cheapskate—coffee shop squatters contain multitudes—, flapping their gums for hours over the SAME cup of coffee. Keep in mind, the Cheapskate has nothing to do with the wealth of said cheapo, but rather the belief that one drink is their ticket to a full day’s access to the coffee shop. Don’t get me started with the people who get a bottled water to keep them occupied for hours. Hours, I tell you! When someone does the bare minimum—such as nursing one cup of coffee while they binge-watch a new season of Vanderpump Rules—they are occupying a shop’s resources. This is where the real problem arises; the Cheapskate does not respect the business of the coffee shop.
As someone who loves to squat at coffee shops for work and with friends, the one thing I will never do is overstay my welcome. I’m not trying to say you should treat a coffee shop like a parking meter, where you must buy your time, but you do have to respect that you’re taking up a possible spot of someone who could contribute much more to the business. And before you come at me, don’t say something like, “I had no idea how long I’d be there for.” You know, we all know. You whip out that laptop, it’s not just to tweet-fight with some random lunatic—it means you’re going to be there for a while. Same thing for people having to kill time while on the road, you know it’s going to be a while so spend up. Go for the large rather than a small, maybe add a small pastry, or at the very least, add a little extra in the tip jar.
In the end, a coffee shop is not the beach where you plant your butt in one spot and stay for as long as you like. A coffee shop is a business and it needs to turn over as many customers as possible to keep the lights on. There’s a reason you want to be in the coffee shop for hours, so the least you can do is support their business.
Dealing with rude people is an art, and the Modern Manners Guy podcast is here to help you learn to make a masterpiece out of any situation. Politely, of course. Check out the whole Modern Manners Guy feed for more tips on how to have a more polite life.