I love sitting in cafes. True story: I wrote the majority of my graduate thesis sitting in cafes abroad. I used to wake up, go on a run, take a shower, and then head straight to a café where I would sit and work until 6 or 7 at night. In the time it took me to get my work done I learned some pretty important lessons on how to hang out in a café all day, everyday, and still be welcomed back.
Hint: the name of the game in successful café loitering is to stay on the good side of your servers. Here is my guide to the ultimate café camp out:
Go alone, or with only one other person. Going alone is best but, if you’re really craving company, go with one other person who will keep you on task. This is as much for you as it is for your server. One or two people working can sit at a normal table and maintain a normal speaking volume. If you want to do a group study session, find someplace else to go. I’ve been part of epic study parties at the corner café and they never end up working out. Not only do you end up wasting a lot of valuable study time; but servers hate the café study party because, inevitably, the largest table in their tiny café is occupied for hours by a group of broke, underdressed students who won’t order much food or tip very well. If you want to stay on the good side of your server (also known as the keeper of the wifi password) go alone.
Bring water. If you’re really in it for the long haul you’re going to need something to drink. It’s best to just bring some goodies of your own so you can avoid pestering your server.
Dress in layers. You have no control over the way it feels in the café (and you have no real right to ask for any control). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled up to a café ready to work and had to leave because I was too cold in my t-shirt or too warm in my giant sweater. Alright, maybe I was looking for excuses to avoid writing papers but still, your work needs to get done, don’t give yourself the opportunity to flake.
Be quiet. Seriously, just stop talking. If you must have a conversation, use a quiet voice. Oh, and never talk on your phone. Switch it to vibrate and when someone calls explain to them where you are and that you’ll call them in a bit.
Plan on ordering something. If you’re planning on spending more than 5 hours in a café you’re going to have to budget for more than just that latte, no matter how polite you are. If the café serves food, get some; if not, get another drink. A great trick for this is to have a friend join you towards the end of your study time. When they get there put away your computer and pick up the menu. This not only keeps the cafe happy with you, but it also gives you incentive to stay on task.
Always bring pen and paper. It’s always good to have something to write with and write on. Sometimes the wifi dies or you can’t find a seat near a power source. You shouldn’t see these things as excuses not to do work. Put your computer away and go old school by getting as much done as you can with plain old pen and paper. On the plus side: you’ll look super cool and international sitting alone in a café writing furiously and staring pensively off into the distance.
Don’t throw fits. It’s really easy to get frustrated when you’re planning on working but can’t find a seat near a power source. If this happens don’t stress. Take a seat somewhere else and pull out that handy paper and pen. Order something from your server and politely let them know that you would like to move to a seat near a power source when one opens up.
Be aware of the profile of your café. I was about halfway through one of my trips abroad (and well into finals) before I learned that the café just down the street from my apartment was a chic place to spend time. All of the students in my building loved this place because of the awesome décor, big menu and, most importantly, free wifi. We all spent hours there weekly, skyping family in our pajamas, hosting giant study parties, and ordering tray after tray of fries. As a group we were loud and rude, and totally oblivious to the fact that the servers were only being snotty to us because of our actions. One day we saw pictures of our beloved café in the newspaper, apparently it was a local celebrity hang out and a place to go if you want to be seen. The moral of the story is, know where you’re going before you go there and respect the place where you’re spending time. Just because it’s down the street from your apartment or university doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. Never go out in your jammies and never skype from a public place
Be a regular. It’s a really special feeling when you become a regular someplace in your host country. Head to the café both to work and just for a quick coffee with friends; the more people recognize you, the more accommodating they’ll be in general.
Be polite and tip. Servers are there to serve normal customers and, frankly, people who camp out all day are kind of a pain. Be nice to everyone and make sure to tip. If you’re at a café for long enough you’ll probably cycle through more than one server’s shift. If this happens make sure to tip everyone. If you can’t catch your original server before they leave then give their tip to your next server with instructions. If you’re studying abroad some place where tipping isn’t really a thing then dial up the politeness.