Practice Some Common Courtesy, You Jerks!

Whatever happened to basic common courtesy and etiquette, especially at coffee shops?

I'm a well-known frequenter of coffee shops around my city, a veritable barfly of the boiled beans. And I'm found working from various java joints, sometimes more than I actually work at home. I hold meetings in coffee shops, write for my clients in coffee shops, and even wrote a third of my novel in one of my favorite coffee shops in east Orlando.

And I've come to one inescapable conclusion about my coffee shop colleagues.

People are inconsiderate jerks.

Now, I'm no Mister Rogers. I don't have a saint's patience and I'm sure there are a few things I do that some people might consider to be ill-mannered, although I can't think of any right now.

So when I'm faced with the self-entitled rudeness on my fellow coffee shop patrons, I just want to shake them until I rattle some sense into their tiny brains.

Case in point: I visited a new coffee shop a couple weeks ago, when three people who had been sitting together got up and left. They left behind their coffee cups and a layer of pastry crumbs that needed a team of archaeologists to uncover the table underneath.

Here's an etiquette tip for you coffee clods: Coffee shops are not fancy restaurants. They don't have servers and bussers to clear the table for you.

Coffee shops are essentially fast food joints. Many of them have a garbage can and plastic tub so you can throw away your trash and stow your dirty dishes. The baristas don't have time to do it, because they're behind the counter pumping out your espressos. So they hope and pray that each customer will have enough simple human courtesy to return their empty cup to the tub or the counter and sweep their crumbs off the table.

But the self-entitled jack wagons typically leave their cups behind and wander blithely away, undoubtedly looking for homeless people to mock and movies to talk through.

So, courtesy rule #1: Clean up after yourself unless you're at the kind of restaurant where they pay people to do that.

Another common problem: You and your friend are not the only ones in the place, so keep your blaring phone conversations and braying laughter to a minimum. You don't have to whisper, but when a 20-seat coffeehouse sounds like a high school cafeteria, with each table shouting to be heard over everyone else, I'd rather sit someplace quieter, like an artillery testing site.

Courtesy rule #2: Use your indoor voice.

Third, seating is often limited at these places, yet people will sometimes camp at their table for hours, thinking a small regular coffee somehow entitles them to an 8-hour bivouac, which deters actual paying customers from sticking around.

If your coffee shop is crowded, don't be afraid to share your table with other people. In most shops, there are both 2-top and 4-top tables. Ideally, you could get someone in every seat, but if not, common courtesy says lone patrons shouldn't take up a table that makes the most money for the owner. That is, if you're sitting by yourself, don't take a 4-top unless there's nothing else. And if you do, be willing to share with other solo patrons. Invite people to sit with you.

Otherwise, if three or four people come in and see there's no table, because each 4-top has one inconsiderate clod sprawled all over it like the couch in his mom's basement, the owner is out the profit from that party. Your $2 cup of coffee isn't doing them any good — they were hoping for the $20 they were going to make from that table in one hour.

Courtesy rules #3 and 4: Spend $2 – $5 per 90 minutes and share your table with strangers.

The grossest violation of coffee shop etiquette is when people who, once they've claimed their table, will leave their stuff and head out for lunch.

I recently saw someone leave their laptop and books on a table and head a few doors down to lunch. After about an hour, they came back in carrying the remnants of their Panda Express lunch, and proceeded to pick at it for another hour.

It was a double-whammy of discourtesy. Not only did they waste a table for an hour, but this coffee shop actually serves lunch. So the owner not only didn't get the sale for that empty hour, the insensitive clod rubbed his nose in it by bringing in someone else's food.

Sometime later, the store implemented a "No outside food or drink" rule, as well as asking guests to buy something every couple hours.

Courtesy rule #5 Don't claim a table if you don't spend anything, and don't bring outside food or drink in to do it.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life be not so short but that there is always time for courtesy." So just remember to follow a few basic coffee shop etiquette rules — clean up after yourself, don't camp for several hours on one cup of coffee, and use your indoor voice.

Because otherwise I'm going to say something rude and ruin the spirit of this entire column.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (that's me!)

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.