A Guide to the Masterful Art of Working from Coffee Shops

Words: Robyn Paterson

Unpopular opinion, I hate working from home. It’s boring, lonely and largely unproductive for those who thrive amidst distraction (read, those with a very particular brand of ADHD). I live in a tiny flat, as many in large cities do, so my ‘desk’ is my dining room table/kitchen counter, which doesn’t help establish a good work/life balance as work is life and life, well…is work. I miss seeing people (different people) and I long for a spontaneous, yet stimulating workplace conversation. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes.

Many people say it’s the best thing to have happened to them, but… is it really? Do you like staying at home all day, sitting behind a computer with no reason to take a break? Do you truly love living in sweat pants and never leaving your chair? Do you love the endless interruptions, ums and ahs of an awkward Zoom call? If you do, then great! This life is for you. However, I’ve had to find other ways of finding structure and meaning to my 9 to 5.

Pretending like I have somewhere to be really helps, so I’ve taken to coffee shops — many, many coffee shops. I walk in with gusto and determination, every morning at 8h15, the same way I’d walk into the office. I sit at my desk (otherwise known as a table in the restaurant), plug my laptop in and get to work.  I’ve learnt a lot along the way, you’d be surprised at how many people feel uncomfortable sitting in coffee shops alone, for more than a few hours. However, I’ve become a connoisseur at the lone-coffee-shop-sit and share my expertise by way of this article — a guide into the masterful art of working from coffee shops.

Confidence is Key

Coffee shops, and all restaurants for that matter, are there to serve the general public. Never forget this. Walk in with confidence, and maintain that throughout your visit. If the waiters eye you out after your second hour and third cup of coffee, eye them right back. If you’re a paying customer, your bum deserves to be in that seat.

Plan Your Schedule

I find it useful to section my day into blocks, just like you would at the office — morning and afternoon with three breaks throughout the day. Working from a coffee shop is no different, so choose a time of day for your coffee shop visit, morning or afternoon (I find it helpful to switch between the two) and designate five hours to work. Just getting out of the house for half the day can help with feeling a bit more motivated and it will also encourage you to take a lunch break (something people who work from home rarely do!) Even if that lunch break consists of you taking a walk or driving back home, it’s still time away from the screen.

Make Sure There’s Unlimited Wifi

Arguably the most important part of this guide, unlimited wifi is key to a happy work-from-coffee-shop experience. Many places (many) have a time limit cap on their wifi usage. It’s usually capped at about 90 minutes, which just won’t do.

One way to spot a wifi inhibiting establishment is if they use a public WiFi hotspot, instead of their own wifi router. If you have to sign in with your email address or phone number, you’ll most likely be capped at one hour. Rather message ahead and ask if they have unlimited wifi available, that way you’ll be able to plan a day’s work.

Establish a regular order  (and don’t deviate)

It’s no secret that coffee shops and cafes can be huge budget slashers and that’s not entirely untrue. One way to make sure you don’t over spend, is to have a regular order that you work into your budget. You can also make sure you eat breakfast at home, so that you don’t get ravenously hungry and order the entire lunch menu. Many people think this counts as ‘moochy’ behaviour, but I am of the opinion that if you’re a regular patron, you are not mooching as you’re consistently supporting a business.

Make Friends with the Baristas and Waiters

In order to feel truly at home, you have to establish a relationship with the baristas, waiters and even the owner. Get on a first name basis with them, find out what their hobbies are, where they holiday and whether they have a good relationship with their mom. It’s important to know the people you work with!

Don’t Be Difficult

If you’re one person in a restaurant, don’t take the biggest and best situated table. Try and find a one or two seater in the corner and if the waiters ask you to move to a different table don’t be difficult. Move. You’re using their wifi and drinking their coffee, moving a few seats is the least you can and you’ll be helping them out by allowing them to accommodate bigger tables.

Share your Local with Friends

In the current climate, the best way to show your support is by bringing potential customers. Share your finds with friends and bring them with forwith you for a work stint. You’ll have some company and you’ll be making more sales for the coffee shop, so it’s win-win.


When I say tip big, I mean tip BIG. If you’re only ordering one or two coffees, make sure you’re tipping at least 20%. If the waiters see that you value their service, they won’t pester you to order more, or give you the evil eye. Plus, you should always be tipping big, so this is a formality.

Looking for inspiration for your next work stint? Have a look at our favourite coffee shops in Cape Town Central. 

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