Everybody knows that guy. The guy who lugs his backpack into a bustling coffee shop, orders a $1.50 mint tea, tips zero dollars, and dominates two tables with his dual-monitor gaming setup all afternoon. Chances are, you’re more polite than that guy—but posting up at a coffee shop for hours on end does come with a unique set of etiquette considerations. We asked baristas: if a coffee shop patron plans to occupy a table for more than an hour or two, how much money should they spend on food and drinks for the privilege?
It turns out that most coffee shop employees aren’t concerned about the amount customers spend during their time in the shop—provided they tip well. “I don’t care how much you’re spending, as long as you’re tipping at least 20%,” says Danielle, who works at a popular Chicago coffee shop and bakery. (I’ve omitted baristas’ last names throughout the article to protect their privacy.)
Lexi, a longtime employee at a bustling coffee shop in my hometown, agrees, noting that customers should err on the side of tipping extra if they’re planning to occupy a precious table for a long period of time. “[My shop] is super high volume most days, but people expect to sit for a little bit. If they don’t see tables open, they won’t even get a drink,” she tells me over Instagram. “This decreases the amount we can make in tips, which is slightly selfish—but [tips] make up essentially half of my income.”
Lexi adds that lingering in a shop often leaves baristas with extra work—but a large tip can ease the sting. “People will get a bottomless coffee for $4, and usually they don’t tip or will tip like $1,” she says. “But they get 7+ cups of coffee over the course of several hours and we have to keep filling up airpots for someone who is taking up a table and causing extra work. If they tipped at least $5 [upfront], I don’t think I would be as annoyed.”
Finally, as Lexi points out, running multiple credit card transactions can add up for small businesses, resulting in high fees. If you’re paying cash, you’re good—but if you’re putting drinks on your Mastercard all day, you could be costing the coffee shop more than you realize.
“I think overall, I would rather [the customer] tip well upfront,” Lexi says. “It makes staff feel appreciated, it really does get you better service, and you’ve then sort of made this agreement—‘Yes, I will be here for a long time, but I’ll make it worth it.’”
Planning to post up in a cavernous coffee shop with rows of empty seats? My friend Erin, who spent years managing a small Midwestern coffee shop, notes that baristas are pretty flexible about that sort of thing. Just think about how much space you’re taking up relative to the amount of seating in the shop.
“[If] you’re in a small shop situation—then it’s IN AND OUT, BABY,” Erin told me over Instagram, discouraging remote workers from lingering in high-volume shops in busy urban areas. (A trendy shop in my neighborhood comes to mind; it only has a few window seats and often has a line of customers down the block.) In these situations, even a big tip won’t forgive the fact that you’ve been taking up one of the cafe’s two tables for five hours.
So, is there some sort of equation to help you calculate how much you should be spending to earn the baristas’ favor? Unfortunately, no. Personally, my general rule is one purchase (cash—see my note about credit card fees above) every two to three hours. Between coffee, snacks, and tips, that typically amounts to a $15 day. It’s not too shabby as working conditions go, and it can be a nice change of pace from The Takeout’s terminally freezing office. Begone, goosebumps!