The ethical coffee shop freelancer

Like many of the world’s self-employed and/or Brooklyn writers, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, writing articles and this and that.

I spend hours, quite literally, hunched over my laptop at a table plunking away at my keyboard. All with just a single café drink to my name.

But is one drink enough?

What exactly has one drink bought you in terms of time at a coffee shop? Does a small latte equal one hour? Does a venti soy half-calf caramel macchiato with extra whip cost enough to warrant a full afternoon’s work? Should we stop treating cafés like they’re coffee-scented home offices away from home?

Your home away from home

I mean the comforts of home are all there: air-conditioning, drinks and snacks, florally scented bath soaps and women who look like your mom reading The New York Times.

We sometimes forget that this is a business because the "folksy" ambience is designed to ensure that patrons stay and keep buying. But many of us don’t. We buy one drink, maybe a bagel, use the WiFi connection, but how long before the drink meter, so to speak, runs out?

How much time does a latte buy you?

One afternoon, as I approached hour six, while listening to a muzak version of Eric Clapton's "If I Could Change the World" for the hundredth time, I looked down at my “regular sized” empty tea cup and wondered if my actions were fair.

I’m sure there are people who spend time like me and spend money more generously. Buying peppermint mochas or pumpkin spice lattes plus a pastry sounds delicious and seems like it buys you as much time as you'd like. Is the time spent at the coffee shop balanced out by what you've purchased at the coffee shop?

Ask the barista, I’m sure I’d hear, “Don’t worry about it, take your time,” while simultaneously giving me the glare of death.

Regardless, I realized there’s no hard and fast rule for how much I should spend for every hour spent at a table.

But maybe there should be a general guideline:

  • One drink is good for a two hour power session. My drink of choice is tea.
  • Four hours requires a re-up: another drink or a tasty pastry. My pick would be a gluten-free brownie and tea.
  • Anything five hours or more, necessitates a meal or something close to one. I prefer tea and sandwich on gluten-free bread.

Originally published on the Meta Q.

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