The Lost Art Of Coffee House Etiquette


As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee houses. Tall Café Mochas serve as my muse juice, free internet keeps me connected, and the cozy atmosphere is free of irritating distractions. Although, I’m starting to question the integrity of that last part. My usual writing spot has increasingly become more a like a zoo than a civilized place for people to read, drink coffee, or engage in conversation.

Of late, I’m starting to think there is a shortage of people who truly know how to behave in a coffee house. I’ve been an avid coffee house dweller for many years and I’ve covered a lot of ground both in the States and abroad. Either I’m getting old and less tolerant or there has been a steady degradation in acceptable behavior for what used to be a relaxing public space.

Ranting usually isn’t my style, but sometimes I hit my limit and can no longer remain silent. At the same time, I’m an organized and civilized ranter that decided to create a list of rules that I believe are essential to coffee house etiquette.

Five Simple Rules of Coffee House Etiquette

The Globe (bookshop and coffee house), Prague Czech Republic
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

1) Wait in line patiently.

A coffee house is not the place to go if you are in a hurry. Hit the Starbucks drive-thru or a fast food joint if you want your coffee in one minute flat. Standing a millimeter away from the person in front of you and guffawing about how long it’s taking for the lone barista to make a latte does not create a comfortable atmosphere, nor does it make your coffee appear any faster. Good coffee is worth the wait, anyway.

2) Keep conversations personal.

A quiet coffee shop is always nice, but the energy of socializing is acceptable as well. However, there is a difference between intimate conversations that stay within the confines of personal space and those that spread out to everyone within earshot and beyond. Obnoxious drabble and attention-seeking hollers have no place in a coffee house. It’s about showing a little respect for yourself and those around you who did not ask for a shot of your personal life with their espresso.

3) Keep electronic devices silent.

In the age of technology, we are increasingly dependent on cell phones, laptops, tablets, and music players. I fully admit that I am a gadget junkie, but I’m also aware of the fact that it’s polite to make sure they don’t disrupt others. In a coffee house, there is no reason to listen to music or watch a movie with the speakers blaring for everyone to hear. Earbuds were created so you and only you can listen to whatever you want anywhere you want without disrupting other people. Use them.

The same goes for cell phones. Take the time to put your phone on silent or vibrate. Most coffee house goers are not amused that your ringtone sounds like the latest dance club mix. Furthermore, if you have to answer the call, do so following Rule #2 or take the call outside. For some reason, people talk on the phone with a voice that is considerably louder than when speaking face to face to another person.  Nobody wants to hear half of a conversation that breaks the sound barrier while trying to enjoy a cup of coffee.

4) Don’t leave children unattended.

I tread lightly with this rule because I know kids have a right to be out in public. All I’m saying is a little on-site training in proper behavior wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps I’m a prude who is way out of line, but I personally don’t go to a coffee house to listen to children scream or teenagers test how many times they can use the F-word before their Venti Chai Tea is gone. Too many times I’ve watched a gaggle of twelve-year-olds commandeer a table with their “grown up” drinks without having the slightest idea on how to conduct themselves.  So, instead of a coffee house they decide they’re on the playground. Maybe it would help to have someone show them some etiquette instead of dumping them off at a café like it’s a sort of babysitting service.

(Sorry, I might be ranting a little too much here. Parents can’t totally be blamed for this as children are going to do things beyond Mom and Dad’s control. However, Society as a whole can help by refusing to accept inappropriate behavior.)

 5) Clean up after yourself.

Coffee houses are not the same as restaurants. They don’t have waiters assigned to certain tables to come and take your order and clean up your dirty dishes. Granted in some coffee houses, there is someone who swoops by to clear the table, but more often than not the dishes sit there until the barista has a second to step away from the coffee bar. Is it part of their job? Yes. But consider the fact that someone who has just walked in needs a place to sit. Would you ask them to sit with your dirty dishes? I hope not. It only takes a few seconds to throw away your paper cup or set a plate on the counter.

– – –

I may be perched on a soapbox at the moment, but I’m not above apologizing for having broken at least three of these rules at one time or another in my early years.  After more than a few cups of coffee, I’ve learned how important it is to respect the space of others and be mindful of the reality that I am not the center of the universe and neither is anyone else. Especially, in a coffee house.

– – –

c.b.w. 2013