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The Art of Working on a Laptop in a Cafe

By Nicole Heymer | Jun 5 2014

The Art of Working on a Laptop in a CafeSometimes I work on my laptop in cafes. It’s a productive option for me, despite everything I’m about to tell you. I’ve spent silly amounts of time in Starbucks, Panera Bread, and a variety of independent coffee shops and bakeries. If they have wifi, they’re on my list of options.

That being said, I choose my actual location around the following factors. These are absolutely in order of importance:

1. Number of easily accessible electrical plugs

This is, hands down, the biggest factor. If my laptop dies, I’m just a person in a coffee shop eating cake in the middle of the day. (I always get dessert. Without exception.) Starbucks is amazing for this. The one I go to is relatively new and has a plug at EVERY SEAT, which I find delightful.

2. Vegetarian options for lunch

If I’m going to have to eat something with eggplant, I will be upset. (Unless it’s breaded, which makes eggplant acceptable.) I used to bring my laptop to a place that had a grilled tofu sandwich that would slay you. Grilled tofu, you say? Sounds bland. Nope, its amazing because it has Sriracha mayo. They got rid of their wifi for some crazy reason and I still think about that sandwich. This category is where Starbucks takes a nosedive. I need real sustenance — so not a “Bistro Box” with a piece of cheese, five almonds and an apple slice.

3. Noise level

I always work with Pandora running through headphones, so I can screen out a moderate amount of noise. (If you’re interested, I’m currently alternating between the French Cafe and Surf Rock stations.) But there is only so much these little ear-buds can handle. I hear a lot of conversations.

I’ve heard rich kids from a nearby boarding school complaining about being called trust fund babies. “You guys, seriously. Blaine Weathersby* called me a trust fund kid.” Said with much fake anger.

I’ve heard people being “interviewed” for “jobs” that sounded suspiciously like pyramid schemes. (I’m looking at you, Panera…where the craziest eavesdropping occurs.)

I’ve heard Mom’s Clubs TEAR APART the one Mom that wasn’t there.

And there’s a teen somewhere that was maybe going to get asked to the prom by her best guy friend, but she wasn’t sure and sent him a text…and I truly wish I knew what happened with that.

Of course, noise level is also about general ruckus and that’s a consideration.

The Others…

I know there are others out there because I see you doing things like billing for a therapy practice, working on a mysterious spreadsheet, typing up a blog post…

I’d say that we’re all pretty lucky to get to choose our office for the day based on things like the quality of the snacks. Anyone else? What are the factors that you consider when choosing a place to work on your laptop?

*This is clearly a fake name.

(21) Comments
  • maria
    | 5 June 2014

    This is timely!
    I just went to my first working café a couple of weeks ago.
    A key thing for me is whether they serve tea in big glasses 🙂

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      I can relate to having preferences in the beverage container department. For my coffee, I MUCH prefer a ceramic mug to something disposable. Feels more homey.

  • Suzi
    | 5 June 2014

    I love a good cafe for work! I like good lighting- not too bright so it feels cozy, but not so dim I can’t be productive. Great post 🙂

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      Good lighting. Yes. And no crazy sun glare. That’s where seating choice comes in:)

  • Andrew Kirschner
    | 5 June 2014

    I love, love, LOVE jumping around DC to try and find new places to work. I’ve done it all: libraries, cafés, restaurants, co-working spaces, and beyond. The most important factor to me is that it is relatively lively. One of the greatest perks of working remotely/for myself is that I can attract the working atmosphere that is right for me. That means a little background noise, some hustle and bustle. Places that are quiet remind me of the cube life… no way José.

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      I’ve thought about trying out co-working spaces, but the lack of snacks makes me nervous.

  • Lina
    | 5 June 2014

    I adore working in coffee shops! And yes (!) the access to electrical plugs is THE number one priority for me, more so than wifi (because there’s always some writing work I’m procrastinating on that’s actually awesome to get done in a place where I can’t get distracted by the interwebs)

    I’ve found it much harder to find good places to work since moving back to Sweden, when I lived in Budapest there was plenty to choose from. Even though a lot of them, that are really “made” for working at, are starbuck style chain coffee places.

    Hearing other people’s conversations is such a treat! And yes, I always get dessert too 😉

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      How nice that you can work offline! It would save me from checking my email every time it pings. Bad habit. But ever since I switched from building HTML sites to WordPress…now I silently have a temper tantrum if the internet connection is down for even thirty seconds:)

  • Erin E Flynn
    | 5 June 2014

    I apparently need to get out more to do my work! I used to live in a town where I could walk down to few local cafes, but now I have to drive everywhere which means I never leave my apartment. BORING. Thanks for reminding me to get out!

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      Do it! But remember to bring headphones.

  • Elizabeth
    | 5 June 2014

    I love the snippets of conversations going on here 🙂 I want to work in cafés more – but I just know I’ll end up eating way too much cake…

    • curioelectro
      | 5 June 2014

      You are correct. You WILL eat way too much cake:) Its too tempting.

  • Mickie
    | 5 June 2014

    I love this article, it made me giggle. And it is so true! I have a little coffee house near my house that I adore because the seating is spread far enough apart and there are booths far enough away from the counter, that you can work in relative peace. Also they serve the BEST. coffee. ever. seriously. And coffee is definitely on my list of things to consider when choosing where to work!

    thanks for sharing! If your interested, I share my thoughts regularly on small business over on my blog, zucchiniontheceiling.com.

    Mickie 🙂

  • Beth
    | 6 June 2014

    This is my dream! Testing out various coffee shops and critiquing them based on all of the above! I’m still in cubicle land (and I wear headphones there because it is NOT quiet and I overhear way too many conversations as it is), but one day I will be eating cake at 9am at Starbucks just because I can.

  • Sara Moss
    | 6 June 2014

    Let’s hear it for cake! This has been an excellent reminder for me to get out more too. I need the silence of home to do intense work but I’ve got a little exploration of great places to work when I’m not in my pyjamas, in the pipeline! I do have a penchant for libraries and waterfront cafes with afternoon sun streaming in… 🙂

  • Naomi Liddell
    | 7 June 2014

    All. So. True.
    I also have a bit of a paranoia that I’m going to get kicked out sometimes. Like the Barista will approach me “Excuse me Miss, but one hot chocolate and two cookies doesn’t mean you can work here for 3 days”.

    • curioelectro
      | 7 June 2014

      Hahaha! Seriously! I definitely have a fear that they’re behind the counter talking about me — the hunched up weirdo that’s been there ALL DAY.

  • Colleen Gore
    | 23 June 2014

    Haha. This is awesome. I’ve actually been getting cabin fever from working at home and feel the need to branch out. Is there a time limit at the coffee joints? Or can I drink/snack really, really slowly?

    • curioelectro
      | 25 June 2014

      I like to space out my drinks and snacks. Eating slowly is a skill that eludes me.

  • Kat Bern
    | 26 August 2014

    Plugs are *super* important, but if I can, I also like to choose a view. What will I be looking at when I decide to look up and over the laptop can be inspiring or so plain boring I will want to change the seat 😉

    Great article!

    • curioelectro
      | 26 August 2014

      Thanks for reading, Kat:) I would looooove a beautiful view. Now THAT would make for the ultimate cafe.

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