Do waiters and waitresses mind people writing for a long time in cafes?
September 23, 2008 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Don't servers hate it when people camp in coffee houses and cafes for hours to write?

There's this constant idea that the place to go to write is some sort of public food/drink spot. But having been a waiter who lived and died by how many times I could turn a table in a given night, all I can think about is the server turning purple with rage as the second hour rolls around of someone clanking away at bad poetry and sipping at the $2 drink they bought and didn't tip on.
posted by TheManChild2000 to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been to a lot of cafes, and I've never ever been to a coffeehouse/cafe with a server/waiter who takes your order at the table, unless it's either a) an outdoor section of a cafe, or b) primarily a food joint. Typically, the sort of coffeehouse/cafe that one goes to write at doesn't have servers/waiters, it has baristas and cashiers, and so therefore the amount of time that people spend doesn't really correlate with the amount of tips that the baristas/cashiers receive.
posted by suedehead at 6:32 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Generally I think people mean that you should go to the kind of place where you wait in line, grab your beverage, and find somewhere to sit. In other words, you have no server.

When I was a server I thought it was (unintentionally) rude for people to sit there long after their check was run. I only had three tables that were mine (it was a busy, but small restaurant) and one woman and her friend stayed there THREE HOURS after paying for her food. I ended up making $25 for the entire night, instead of the $65-$70 I'd normally make. (She was taking up the only booth, so all my tables were two to four people and I had no six person tables.) That was very much not cool.

When in doubt, please don't sit around any place where you have a server. I write too, and though I tend to do it in libraries instead, I always go somewhere without servers when I go to a food/drink serving establishment.
posted by Nattie at 6:38 PM on September 23, 2008

FWIW, the coffeehouses in my neighborhood ask you to purchase one drink per hour. (No enforcement, just signs suggesting it.) These aren't places with table service, though.
posted by availablelight at 6:38 PM on September 23, 2008

I used to camp out all night at a coffee shop in school. There weren't servers, but I ordered a drink and/or food every hour (this is between midnight and 5 am, so it's not like I was taking up a table that would otherwise be used by someone else). They were always very friendly, but it might have been because some of them worked that slow shift so they could do their own schoolwork.
posted by fructose at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2008

*The coffee shop was not IN school, I was in school. I should have written that sentence better.
posted by fructose at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2008

Not a problem. Usually I get to know my regulars and their projects. I don't care about "turning tables" as you say it, but suedehead has it right that the baristas don't have much interaction past the counter.
I do hate it when people don't clean up after themselves, particularly if they use "for here" ware. Being a coffee shop, where we DON'T serve you at the table, we also don't BUS the tables. Bring up your damn plate!
Also, no one likes a non tipper, but you get used to it.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:40 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was a server, I hated it.
When I was a barista, I loved it. These were usually the most interesting customers and the ones I had the most time to get to know.
posted by mannequito at 6:42 PM on September 23, 2008

I think the origin of this idea is probably European. Sartre in Paris or Nietzsche in Turin sitting at a cafe, writing for hours, even entertaining other friends who drop by.

These types of cafes do indeed have waiters but they are also large enough that they don't need to "turn tables" for the staff to make money. If anything, the server is overwhelmed with the few tables that are turning.
posted by vacapinta at 6:44 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would never do that at a restaurant, but I have done that at a cafe/coffeehouse. (I bought a lot of coffee and muffins, and I gave the folks a copy of my first book when it was published. They were actually pretty psyched to see what it was that I'd been doing there for months and months.) But I agree, as a former waitress, it's not cool for someone to take up real estate in a booth or table all day/night...
posted by mothershock at 6:51 PM on September 23, 2008

Seconding vacapinta on European origins--or at least parallels. In France or Germany, cafés are essentially renting space to people who want to sit there for a while. In France, beverages cost more in the dining room or the terrace than at the bar, precisely because at the bar you consume your drink and leave, while in the dining room or on the terrace, you consume it and then linger. (It's the mark of a tourist café if your waiter hovers expecting you to order something else or leave.)

And the staffing is based on that expectation. When friends of mine from Germany visited Atlanta back in the 90s, they commented that eating at an American restaurant was like going to one in the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany): there were way too many servers for the number of customers. It's not unusual, even at dinner, to have to flag down your server for the bill--not because he or she has vanished but because he or she is busy with other tables.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:05 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was a barista, and I disagree with the other baristas here--I hated it. People always camped out in the evenings, close to closing time, and it prevented us from getting some of our closing tasks done until the very last minute. And we'd always have to shoo out the campers, and they'd give us dirty looks when we pointed out it was ten minutes past closing and yes, yes we had to lock up because we'd like to go home and sleep.
posted by schroedinger at 7:23 PM on September 23, 2008

When I worked at a barista, it was only mildly annoying. It got elevated to super annoying when such people would act as though the cafe was their personal office and would talk loudly on their cell phones or spread out over two tables (it was a very small cafe with only 4 tables and enough seating for 8). Or leave a huge mess for me to clean up.
posted by sutel at 7:25 PM on September 23, 2008

Yeah, sutel brings up another point--the cafe where I worked was very small, and the campers took up a lot of space. The ones that camped earlier in the day were still annoying as they took seats that could have been used for the valuable lunchtime rush. Especially if it was raining--man, people would come in, see there were no seats, and walk right out while the camper sipped their tiny coffee.
posted by schroedinger at 7:29 PM on September 23, 2008

Yeah, I've always kind of assumed it was rude to stay through the mealtime rushes. But as long as there are tables free, I'm not costing the cafe anything, and odds are I'll keep buying the occasional drink or bagel.

(The rise of wifi and laptops in coffeeshops has altered the dynamic a little, though. A few years ago, after coffeeshop wifi had become more or less an established thing, a local coffeeshop started turning it off on weekends in order to encourage more turnover or more social interaction.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:05 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can I piggyback here? I live in the college-y part of my town, and frequent a coffee shop (no waiters, minimal food) here where I often go to do homework. I'll often sit for 2-3 hours at a time. It's my understanding that this is normal behaviour, and indeed one of the reasons coffee shops like this exist. I realize this may be a special case, because the clientele is largely college students, but are baristas here telling me this behavior is annoying?

I was a barista, and I disagree with the other baristas here--I hated it. People always camped out in the evenings, close to closing time, and it prevented us from getting some of our closing tasks done until the very last minute. And we'd always have to shoo out the campers, and they'd give us dirty looks when we pointed out it was ten minutes past closing and yes, yes we had to lock up because we'd like to go home and sleep.
This seems weird to me. I have once or twice stayed till closing at my local shop, and the relationship was nowhere near this adversarial. They do a last call on espresso drinks about 15-30 minutes before close, and then when the chairs start stacking up around you, you know it's time to pick your shit up. Do people really not get this?
posted by !Jim at 8:17 PM on September 23, 2008

"Delicious Monster is headquartered literally inside a cafe, the Zoka coffeehouse near University Village in Seattle. Under a special arrangement with the manager, programmer Wil Shipley and his small crew work there each day... Zoka, for its part, gets several very regular customers. The coffeehouse gives the company a weekly bill for coffee, meals and a sizable tip that Shipley established for each order. Zoka's baristas say it works well on both personal and business levels."
posted by milkrate at 8:19 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I honestly think that part of it has to do with where you are in the country, as well. In cities where I used to live I had a lot of options of all night or late night places to go and sit and read or do work or grade papers. Coffee shops, diners where it was normal for people to go and get coffee and sit for hours with friends without getting much more than that coffee and pie, so it wasn't an issue.

Now, I live somewhere where the only late night or all night places are Denny's or Sheri's. Granted, I go at times when there are no rushes, but I will get coffee and a meal and sit there for awhile and grade papers or do work. I always try to tip better in those situations than I normally would, even if it's unlikely that there would be someone else occupying my table. I would love to go somewhere less food-oriented or without table service to do my work, but if the only places I can go aren't like that, I'm left in a bit of a bind when I can't do work at home for whatever reason.
posted by plaingurl at 8:28 PM on September 23, 2008

!Jim, to me, if the staff are stacking chairs, it's a sign that you've probably already overstayed your welcome, unless they've explicitly told you otherwise.

I've never worked as a barrista, but I've waited tables in a tea cafe/restaurant for years. I don't mind if people wish to sit and write/read as long as they observe several common-sense rules (off the top of my head):

1) be aware of whether the seating is starting to fill-up
2) if you think you're going to sit a while, don't take a prime table
3) know when closing time is and prepare to be out by then
4) if you are tipping a particular server, take notice of a shift change and pay/tip them before they go
5) let them know it's ok to ask you to move on if they need the table
6) tip big

basically, I think it comes down to awareness and consideration.
posted by bagelche at 9:15 PM on September 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

Re: Europe - people don't generally live on tips there.
posted by Artw at 9:24 PM on September 23, 2008

!Jim, Please come visit me at my cafe...we love our regulars working in the store for several hour stretches. We've gotten close to several regulars and look forward to them filling up the tables as opposed to random toolbags that act as if they indeed are the reason there are stars and sun in the sky. (sorry, just had a rough closing shift with lots of said toolbags). If we are trying new drink recipes, we'll let you sample 'em. You can stay until we have to count our tills, just as long as you let us listen to our music at the volume we want.
posted by ms.jones at 10:07 PM on September 23, 2008

"Delicious Monster is headquartered literally inside a cafe, the Zoka coffeehouse near University Village in Seattle. Under a special arrangement with the manager, programmer Wil Shipley and his small crew work there each day... Zoka, for its part, gets several very regular customers. The coffeehouse gives the company a weekly bill for coffee, meals and a sizable tip that Shipley established for each order. Zoka's baristas say it works well on both personal and business levels."

An aside: although that news article is 2 years old, according to Delicious Monster's website they still work there. When I first heard of this, I was sceptical – Does the cafe really want a team of people hunched over their computers taking up space all day, every day? And who would chose a cafe as a permanent work environment? – but the website shows that the company is actually 3 people. Given that one is the bookkeeper, one is support and one is the actual programmer, it may be that the Delicious Monster "team" is a single person.
posted by outlier at 11:35 PM on September 23, 2008

When I worked for a coffee chain our regulars were a pretty cool bunch - we had a couple of freelance journos and photographers who worked out of our shop, and they were always very friendly and pleasant. I think that's the distinction - no regular is a bad regular if they're nice to have around.

I did worry about the amount of coffee they drank though. One guy had five or six large (20oz) lattes a day. That's a lot of milk and caffeine.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:49 PM on September 23, 2008

I'm not really sure how this is a question and not chatfilter, but I'll bite.

I've been a server both at a restaurant that required table turn-over and at a coffeehouse.

The difference, the main difference, and why I didn't at all "hate" the poets and writers who would, indeed, camp out for hours, is that waitressing I got paid by tips and at the coffeehouse, I got paid per hour and tips were a "bonus." No one expects you to be able to live on the tips that you make off of $2 coffees. A lot of people, as you say, don't tip in coffeehouses - not necessarily out of rudeness, but because they don't feel that it's expected.

So, in the end, it didn't matter to my bottom line - that is, how much I got paid - how long that guy with the $2 coffee sat there. We had some writers would bring their own tea and just ask for hot water, free of charge. They could stay there from open to close and take up a whole table and it was just fine and dandy with me, I still got paid whether or not that table EVER turned over.

What DID bug me was the homeless people who would do the same thing - buy one coffee and stay all day - that is, the ones who would then use this as an excuse to keep trying to engage me and/or their fellow customers in conversation. Oi. That just got exhausting. Anyone who bought a coffee and/or kept to themselves was welcome to just sit in the café and make themselves at home, as far as I was concerned.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:36 AM on September 24, 2008

As an aside, the weirdest thing I first noticed when moving to Scandinavia is that there are a gazillion coffeeshops, but people actually use them for coffeebreaks (fika) and don't usually make them a work camp like where I previously lived (Chicago and Central IL). Back in the Midwest, I always did my work in coffee shops and it seemed like that's what most people did at the college ones at least, but here most don't even have electric plugs or wireless. You go to them with friends and have coffee/tea and a pastry/snack and talk...quite nice really.
posted by melissam at 4:15 AM on September 24, 2008

We have no service in our bar and don't live on tips but pay by the hour, so we don't mind people sitting there just refilling their teecup with hot water now and then.
When it gets crowded people just ask and sit on the free chairs of an occupied table, which is what I would do too, so I don't see the problem.

As to overstaying your welcome: If there's a last call you should take that as a first, stacking the chairs more like the last hint. But if I really want to close and go to sleep I usually say something like "we'd like to close soon and call it a day, thank you". Usually this works wonders.

But I really get annoyed when our esteemed alcoholised guests start to argue, point out our lack of work ethics or how much money we are loosing on them now.
posted by kolophon at 7:50 AM on September 24, 2008

Do people really not get this?

The cafe I work at is located near a university that is populated almost entirely by entitled brats. The grad students who come in are fairly chill; the undergrads are whiny, demanding, selfish, and never, ever tip even though they're obviously using their parents' credit cards. If it was located in a different area I would probably have less of an issue of it, but from where I stood there clearing out those campers could be a war.
posted by schroedinger at 9:07 AM on September 24, 2008

I seem to remember that in Writing Down the Bones, the author suggests that if you go to a cafe to write, that you should plan on buying a little something extra and tipping well. :) (Actually IIRC she suggests buying a pastry, but not eating it until you've WRITTEN SOMETHING, as a bribe sort of thing.)
posted by epersonae at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2008

I work out of my house, and spend at least a couple of afternoons per week working at a coffeeshop, since I need to be around people occasionally. When I plan on staying at a place more than an hour, I almost always buy something in addition to my coffee or tea, or at least leave a decent tip.

I wouldn't linger around like that at a regular restaurant. I have seen a couple of places here put signs on some of the tables indicating that those tables are solely for people there to eat a meal, not stick around and do work.
posted by medeine at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2008

The situation is definitely different in Europe. Waiters don't expect tips like they seem to in the US. Not that they get paid more (I'm pretty sure they don't), but in Europe the idea of paying for service is just different (even if it is changing). Here in Portugal I see loads of people who go to cafes to study - I've never been able to do this, I need peace and quiet in order to work - and all they order is a cup of espresso coffee, which here has risen to 55 cents of a Euro, and a glass of water, which comes for free. Never having been to the US I'm not really sure how this factor weights in, but there are loads of cafes here. Really. LOADS. I live in a perfectly normal, mostly residential neighbourhood of Lisbon, and I have probably 10 to 15 cafes within a very walkable distace.
posted by neblina_matinal at 2:20 PM on September 24, 2008

Neblina, unless waiters in Europe are only paid $2-3/hour, they are paid more than waiters in the US. Waiters in the US are paid about half minimum wage because it is expected they will make up the difference in tips. So if they don't, they're screwed. :(
posted by schroedinger at 4:43 PM on September 24, 2008

IIRC are US waiters not also taxed on the tips they are considered likely to have received?
posted by Artw at 4:46 PM on September 24, 2008

Yes, they are also required to report the amount of tips they've received so they can be taxed on 'em.
posted by schroedinger at 5:28 PM on September 24, 2008

Response by poster: All;

Thanks for the replies and stories. There is no best answer, really, as it sounds like camped out writers are fine as long as they don't affect the staff's ability to make a buck or go home, and that's dependent on how much the writer thinks about the staff's needs. Which is probably an issue very frequently.

The easy answer, as always here in Amurca, is to consume nonstop and everyone will love you!
posted by TheManChild2000 at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

i've always found that if you tip large--like even 50% if you stay a really long time--the servers don't mind. the longer i stay, the bigger the tip, even if i don't eat or drink that much.
posted by RedEmma at 8:21 PM on September 24, 2008

I worked at a coffee shop that had no servers. We also had a lot of tables. We were oblivious to people who stayed for hours and only noticed if they did something to be noticeable (leave a mess, talk loud, stay near closing time).

The closing part thing is mostly annoying because you can't do certain tasks when people are still in the shop (mopping, vacuuming, bringing in outside furniture).

So while place technically closes at a certain hour, always think of how you feel at a 9-5pm job when its 4:45pm. You know you have to be there until 5, but you really hope nothing comes up that will force you stay after a little longer.

Not all people are like this though. Some people genuinely love their jobs and feel customers should have the opportunity to stay a later.
posted by abdulf at 9:25 PM on October 15, 2008

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