Coffee house rules: Shut up or get out (I’m trying to write)

Rules, they’re not just for curfew-breaking teenagers or grueling sports matches. Sometimes rules can be overbearing, but sometimes they are absolutely necessary for everyone’s mutual enjoyment of a place, an event, or just life.

Enter a fast food restaurant; you’re sure to see a sign that reads “No shirt. No shoes. No service.” Go to the library, and you’ll be met with “Quiet please” signage.

How is it that an entity that combines elements of both of these places, can go without explicit rules?

Like many a struggling writer, I spend hours upon hours at my favorite coffee house. Some are spent languorously perusing a novel, others frantically clacking away on my laptop, trying my damndest to meet a word count goal for the day.

I do my part. I keep quiet. I purchase a large latte to justify my presence. If I stick around for more than three hours, I’ll buy a second drink or perhaps a scone. I clean up after myself, and I try to be polite. Since I do my part to maintain the scholarly ambiance, I think it’s only fair that I make a few demands of others.

Don’t think me a firm-fisted martinet. I’m not. I do, however, demand common courtesy and respect—a concept that seems to elude my generation (I know very well, since I helped to teach classes in grad school, but I digress…).

How hard is it to have a good time without inhibiting others from doing the same? Who told you that you are more special, more deserving of an enjoyable afternoon spent in the coffeehouse than are others?

It is not my goal for barista stands to post my rules explicitly on their walls or websites. Instead I would like to disseminate my message of peace and good will to all with the hope that my fellow patrons will internalize the message.

Here goes:

Have a general idea of what you want to order before it’s your turn. If you don’t know what an espresso, cappuccino, or macchiato is, please order a regular black coffee. I don’t want to wait in line behind you for 10 minutes as you learn the ins and outs of contemporary coffee, only to have you order it straight-up old-school-style anyway.

Be nice to the barista. If the barista is slow or made the wrong order, this doesn’t give you the right to yell at him and tell him a schmuck could do his job. I’ve never been a barista, but I’ve worked in other service jobs. When the customer gets angry, the worker has to dutifully listen to his rant—even though most of the time it’s not even the barista’s fault! What’s more, you’re high-volume bickering is sure to disturb the other customers. Even if the coffee man is doing a shitty job, you’re going to look like an ogre to everyone else in the vicinity. Just keep quiet. If you really have a problem, talk calmly to management later.

Club chairs are prime real estate. If you’re going to get up and then sit back down, walk around the shop for 15 minutes seeking out a book, don’t leave your stuff on a club chair. People want to have their turn at the comfiness. If you’re not even sitting there, you have no right to claim it as your own. If I was a more confrontational person, I might take your stupid laptop and coat and place them somewhere else for you. I’m not like that, but I do promise to give you a dirty look when you return from your saunter around the shop.

If you’re sitting in a club chair, you are entitled to 50% of the side table. The person in the chair next to you needs a place to set her coffee, glasses, cell phone too. Don’t be a space hog. Even if you ask and the person says it’s okay, you need to ask again if someone new comes to sit down.

Don’t bring small, rambunctious children to hang out. It’s one thing if you’re just coming in and out to get even more sugary fuel for your out-of-hand children. It’s also okay to sit with well-behaved children in the shop. It is not okay to allow your children to run up and down the aisles, screaming, singing, chanting, whatever. You would think this is common sense, but sadly it happens almost every time I’m in the shop. Take your high-strung kids for a walk, don’t bring them here.

Don’t have leisurely cell phone chats in the shop. Really? Go outside. Nobody wants to hear you bitch and moan about how the wrong castaway won Survivor.

If you’re studying, okay. If you’re avoiding studying, not okay. The only patrons who rival the noise produced by Ritalin-lacking children are procrastinating students. They tell their parents they’re going to the coffeehouse to study with Sue, but really they just want the dish on Sue’s latest fling. This leads to gossip, giggling, and way too much invasive noise. Go somewhere else to get your talk on, come back when you really want to study.

There you have it. The pressing points being shut up and play nice.

While researching this piece (i.e. hanging out in the coffee shop and waiting for someone to annoy me), I asked the barista on duty if they had any rules of their own. She said that customers that are extremely noisy will be asked by management to leave (although I’ve never seen this happen, and I’ve been subjected to some pretty irksome customers).

She also emphasized the health code and the need to maintain cleanliness. From my experience so far, they do a pretty good job with the latter. Although if I ever went to a funky coffee shop, I’d push that memory so far out of my mind that I’d forget the place even existed.

*This article was originally published on when yours truly served the role as “Culture Vulture” columnist.

Mrs. Storm

Writing everything from Sweet Romance to Children's Books to Nonfiction, Melissa loves books, birds, and bonbons--in that order. She has an advanced degree that she never uses.

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