Working out of a “third place”

Fun article in USA Today that captures pretty well what goes on in cafes used as third places. Something, as you know, that I do a lot of and that I see more and more people doing in an ever larger selection of cafes.

He says waiters here don’t hover. Instead, “there’s an understanding that for every hour or so you’re here, you’ll buy something.” … That arrangement works just fine for Keir Beadling, 38, who, when he isn’t snacking, keeps the iced teas and coffees coming. As head of a company that markets Mavericks, an area big-wave surfing competition, Beadling has an office nearby. It’s just that he finds he can’t get any work done there.

The unspoken teleworker/waiter code is that you give up your table if the place starts hopping… But it’s 3 p.m., and the lunch crowd has long since left The Grove. Now it’s caffeine-fueled crunch time. Nearly 20 laptops are whirring away in various parts of the cafe, both indoors and out. For all this energy, you can hear an espresso spoon drop. Silent focus radiates off the faces of the cultural rainbow assembled here.

Emphasis mine on the last quote and that’s something I wish more people would do. For example at Laïka even though I’ve never felt pressure to do so, if I’m there between noon and 13h30-14h I eat there or if I’m going knowing I wont eat, I wait until that time to get there because during those hours the place is usually completely packed and I want to let them “make their money” and hogging a table for the price of a cup of tea doesn’t let them do that in my opinion.


Alexandre October 12, 2006

There has been a fair bit of talk among café owners and patrons about table-hogging by laptop-toters, especially in cafés with free WiFi. (For instance, on the podcast and on CoffeeGeek)

Some of the ideas which have been thrown about:
* Teleworkers monopolize tables (they hog tables).
* Table-hoggers don’t spend enough money at the cafés where they spend a lot of time.
* Table-hoggers are rude and anti-social.
* Table-hogging defeats the community mission of cafés.
* Table-hoggers should be forced to leave after a certain number of minutes.
* Laptops have no place on a café table when people are eating.

But we can also say:
* Laptop-friendly cafés attract a specific clientèle.
* Cafés which are not laptop-friendly will have a different clientèle.
* Café patrons are likely to become regulars if they feel welcome.
* Those who abuse the system will only do so for a little while.
* Table-hogging is often a self-regulated mechanism similar to the old “coin on the pinball machine reservation system.”
* Those who use computers in cafés are likely to get decent wages at some point or another.
* Teleworkers might spend important chunks of their money in places where they have accomplished some of their most useful work.
* Teleworkers are likely to be heavy social-networkers.
* Social networks may be useful for both café patrons and owners.
* There is a significant overlap between sophisticated coffee drinkers and the “geek crowd.”
* Sophisticated coffee drinkers will go to extremes for high quality coffee.
* Laptop users are often technology-savvy.
* Coffee-related technology can be sold in cafés.
* Smaller, cosier cafés are easier to regulate than larger, more impersonal cafés.
* Even some McDonald’s restaurants are switching to a model in which patrons can spend large amounts of time at the same table.

Patrick October 13, 2006

Excellent list. A few precisions/opinions:

I’m glad you used “table hoggers” and not laptop users because some of the worst hoggers are students spread out on 4 persons worth of space and some of the worst “this is mine-ers” are local regulars who don’t seem to do anything and hog tables for hours and hours reading the cafe provided papers with their one cheapest possible cup of coffee. With “laptop people” I think it’s more the sudden”ish” numbers than the actual behavior, there isn’t much new in what we do, we’re just more visible and numerous (which of course can be a problem).

I think it’s true that larger cafés are harder to manage for that and it has to do, at least in part, with the employees. At smaller places you see the same faces more often and it’s friendlier so people tend to respect the place more which means it’s not even that they do less “discipline” in larger places, just that clients don’t care as much.

Isabel October 14, 2006

I used to hold meetings in a café near my office. I liked that it was more “personal” than the office because it was someplace I chose versus an office used by all kinds of people. It also gave the meeting privacy and focus. Plus, the café I used to go to had the plushiest purple couch… loved it!

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