Last week, alarms were set off by a story that ran in MSN Money about some coffee shops giving the boot to professionals who use their premises to conduct their business.
True, there are coffee shop customers who feel it's in their right to take advantage of a business' value added services; Just because they've spent $2.50 on one cup of coffee they feel they can "camp out for hours" and use a table, the wifi and a power outlet.
Regardless of what you may have read about these seemingly drastic coffee shop measures -- whether it was about aesthetics, safety concerns or store culture -- these measures were business decisions. They were instituted for the good of the bottom line.
And that's okay -- sort of.
Before any more coffee shops take drastic measures in the name of business decisions, let's all get back to our respective corners, grab a fresh cuppa joe, take a breath and look at this with cooler, calmer heads.
For anyone reading this and scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss is about, you'll know if you've ever bought coffee from any number of local coffee shops that the people you see behind their laptops are the ones at the centre of this issue.
They are a rapidly growing segment of professionals who prefer to work from locations other than an office cubicle. They are called teleworkers, telecommuters, mobile workers, "cofficers".
Love it, or hate it, the coffee-shop-as-office phenomenon -- the "coffice" -- isn't going away. In fact, in all likelihood, unless there's a worldwide, permanent power outage, it's only going to grow.
Here are some facts and stats to consider:
- More people are discovering and utilizing telecommuting for their work. And 75 per cent are from the for-profit sector, with other sectors realizing the benefits.
- Mobile traffic is rising 1.5 times per year. Smartphone subscription growth globally is 31 per cent with a 21 per cent penetration rate. This means the work many of us do is becoming increasingly mobile.
- Employers can save more than $10,000 per year for each two-day-a-week telecommuter. These dollars add up and present a compelling reason for companies to encourage telework practices in order to cut costs. For many it can mean the difference of being able to stay in business and keep employees on when times are tough.
- Over the past four decades, global coffee consumption has nearly doubled. It's expected to reach 9.09 million tons by 2019.
If you put these facts together, it's fairly simple to conclude that the number of people choosing to get their work done in nearby coffee shops is only going to rise.
In reality, coffices are only a sliver of the mobile workstyle pie. The other slices are home offices, co-working spaces, short-term office rentals, park benches, city street corners and companies with flexible work arrangements. (No, Yahoo! didn't ruin that one for everyone else.)
While the argument gets made that cofficers are taking up space other customers could use, the fact is there are many loyal, laptop-free customers who spend the better part of a day in coffee shops talking to their friends, holding long meetings, feeding their babies, reading books and newspapers, doing crosswords and Sudoku, knitting and crocheting, drawing, writing in their notebooks, or simply exercising their corporate-granted liberty to watch the ice melt in their cups. So how do you limit their stay? Take away chairs? Charge for empty cups? Lock the bathrooms?
If pulling the plug is where it starts, where does it end? When it comes down to it, if a coffee shop chooses to hang a "seating time limited" sign, they'll lose customers to other coffee establishments who will see this as an opportunity to attract a new customer base.
So with the growth of cofficers, it makes good business sense to figure out how to service the need AND ensure that the bottom line is addressed. But it's a two-way street.
Spending extended periods of time in a coffee shop is not an inalienable right -- no matter how unlimited the supplies and services. As someone who uses a coffee shop as a regular coffice, I believe there's a better solution than cutting off valued services because of those abusing them.
There's a specialized brand of etiquette cofficers need to maintain, and coffee shops may want to adopt that etiquette as policy moving into the age of the growing mobile workforce. Having this "code of ethics" will not only serve to build positive relationships between business and customer; but to build it among all customers as well.
- Share your space with other customers. Or go away at peak times when traffic is highest.
- Use wifi and power responsibly. Don't hog bandwidth and share power outlets.
- Buy something once an hour at a minimum.
- Treat coffee shops, owners and staff with the same respect you would hope to receive in return. Clean up after yourself, tip well and be nice.
- Repeat tomorrow.
The coffee shop is a business first and foremost. Owners have bills to pay, mouths to feed, revenue goals to meet and bosses to please. They have every right to adjust their business accordingly -- even if it means alienating a segment of their customer base.
Cofficers who want to continue utilizing these spaces and moreover, to see them thrive and grow must understand that the wifi and the power, not to mention the napkins, table space, bathrooms and water, are not free. Only by practicing business -- supportive behaviours will cofficers be part of the solution -- ensuring coffee shop owners never have to make up rules to change negative customer behavior.
There's a fine line between helping a business and hurting it; between customer and loiterer. And by being a good customer first and foremost, the ability to be a welcome cofficer will follow.
Rooster Coffee House On warm evenings you can see Toronto’s gleaming skyline and the Don Valley before you. Strike up a conversation with some of the friendly locals, or head for a more substantial meal on the Danforth or Chinatown East. Also try: White Squirrel Coffee Shop
Aroma Espresso Bar Finding a cafe that does good, affordable food can be hard. How many times have you had a horrible quiche or a limp, tasteless salad at an otherwise decent cafe? Fortunately for Torontonians, Israeli chain Aroma has opened their shops all over the city. Their filling sandwiches feature bread baked daily and a great range of salads (think sweet potato, lentils and goat cheese) for the health conscious. Also try: Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters
Ella’s Uncle A comforting fixture on Dundas Street West, you’ll almost always see a hard-at-work baker in the window at Ella’s Uncle. What this means is that you’re getting handmade, freshly baked pastries. Take your pastry and coffee to nearby Trinity-Bellwoods park right after. Also try: Phipps Bakery Cafe, Nadege Patisserie, Capital Espresso
Dark Horse Espresso Bar The Spadina branch of mini coffee empire Dark Horse features two huge tables perfect for pounding out novels, blogs, computer code or grant proposals. The well-made espressos help too. It doesn’t hurt the inspiration that the cafe sits on the main floor of the Centre for Social Innovation, so that laptop jockey sitting next to you might be working on a brilliant idea, too. Also try: Cafe Pamenar, Manic Espresso
Tequila Bookworm There’s plenty of space in this Queen Street West cafe and bar. Find yourself a nook and make yourself comfortable. This grungy and friendly staple doesn’t have the greatest coffee but you can always switch to beer.
Sam James Coffee Bar Blink and you’ll miss Sam James’s tiny shop on Harbord Street. But you probably won’t miss the gangsta rap blaring on the speakers. The puckish Sam James is one of the best baristas in the city and has trained others in cafes across town. There’s probably six seats in the whole joint so you’re better off getting your Americano (black, naturally) to go. HIs brew is not exclusive to the hipster crowd though, with a new location in the PATH for Bay Street types. Also try: Lit Espresso Bar, The Common, The Mascot, Ezra’s Pound.
Bull Dog Coffee The baristas at the Bull Dog cafe often make lattes so pretty you almost don’t want to drink them. Think flowers, hearts and of course — bull dog faces. Also try: Toronto Life lists a few places with lattes it loves.
Mercury Espresso Bar Coffee-snobby Torontonians might claim that the best espresso in the city is west of the Don. They’re wrong. The coffee slingers at Mercury (or Dark Horse, or Te Aro) are easily some of the best in the city. Also try: Dark Horse Espresso Bar, Te Aro, The Black Canary Espresso Bar, Lazy Daisy’s Cafe, The Bandit Espresso Bar
Snakes and Lattes Move over Monopoly. Shuffle over Scrabble. A runaway success since it opened in mid-2010, Snakes and Lattes is a mecca if you’re a board game lover. The cafe has hundreds (if not thousands) of games in its library. Be warned it gets BUSY. Call ahead for a reservation. Also try: Go Lounge
Jet Fuel Coffee Shop It’s like Cheers, but in an espresso bar. The baristas at Jet Fuel have been serving Cabbagetown locals for 18 years(!) so you can forgive the crusty exterior a bit. The place is also a favourite pit stop for bike couriers. Also try: I Deal Coffee, Belljar Cafe, Cherry Bomb Coffee
Tired of trying to cram your baby stroller into your tiny local cafe only to get glaring looks from childless hipsters? Smock Cafe's open and contemporary space in Roncesvalles is pretty enough for parents and full of fun activities and classes for kids and grownups alike. They also serve up beautiful and healthy snacks for all ages. Also try: Playful Grounds, Lil' Bean N' Green
For Picking Up White Squirrel Coffee Shop Dog lovers? Check. Queen West hipsters? Check. The White Squirrel’s proximity to the park means it’s always been a great people-watching spot. If you play your cards right you can grab your second coffee, pastry or ice cream in the park with your new crush. Also try: Rooster Coffee House, Saving Gigi
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters With a name like Balzac’s this Distillery District cafe is full of old-time charm. Note the interior, all wood and brick and antique-looking posters. There’s also the giant eye-catching chandelier. If you think hard enough you can almost imagine you and your sweetie finishing your coffee and taking a walk somewhere more exotic than downtown Toronto. Also try: Rooster Coffee House
Merchants Of Green Coffee Some people want to know the story behind the coffee they drink. If that’s you, then head over to this hidden gem. The knowledgeable staff can tell you where that cuppa came from. They also hold workshops, classes and other educational events. Also try: I Deal Coffee, Green Beanery
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