Mr. Manners: Is This Table Taken? (The Coffee Shop Culture)
When I retired from the network, I spent a bit of time in Calatagan—about three months to be exact, to help myself cool down and detach. I would wake up early, head out to town to go to church, then hit the golf course to play a round or two, before heading home for lunch and a swim.
I was reading a book every two days, and with spotty connections, be quite incommunicado. I looked forward to Margie coming for the weekend to restock supplies and just to catch up. That time, she was working on weekdays, and kept the weekend free to come and visit.
After a while, I guess, the life of the idle gentleman didn’t suit me. I felt more like Jack Nicholson’s character in About Schmidt, Warren. Warren Schmidt had devoted his life to his job, and after retiring, he was out of place. He offered his predecessor help but was politely declined. Warren felt useless, and his entire career thown away—metaphorically as his files and documents: the sum of all that was him—in a dumpster! The stay in Calatagan was more of a deterrent to the obvious. I had to face the reality that a life of devotion would need to be channeled elsewhere.
In doing so, I decided it was time to beat to a new tempo, and find some regularity to my days back in Manila. I began to work out again, albeit not as intense, and tried to find things to do. The family fan business was a great way to channel my pent-up creativity and marketing ideas. I did not have to look over my shoulder if I was doing the right thing. It felt weird being your own boss. This time, the part I like is that the client is now my boss.
I now opted to start meeting suppliers and creatives to see how best I can improve our product. I realized that I lived very much in a cocoon, since most of my meetings in my work journey were really at ABS-CBN. Ha! I needed to step out in the real world. And I found a new office, the local coffee shop, like Starbucks.
When Starbucks, or similar coffee chains, opened in the metro, it was novelty. It was an easy, accessible stop to catch-up. The idea of blended coffees and savories to go isn’t new but with limited options, it meant a meet up for a cup, and was just that.
Well, things have changed. The coffee shop is now the new library. Or the new office for the entrepreneur. With excellent (free) WiFi, freshly brewed java wafting in the air, cold a/c, and extremely comfortable seating, here comes the new office! Navigating your way to these new pods of dissertation can be quite daunting—especially, if you are just having coffee.
Observing this new pattern in these caffeine study halls/business centers, I think we can be more mindful of others. I live in a community with a graduate and law school, so the coffee shops are filled with barristers in-the-making lugging their books, and huddled for study group. During weekends, I see a lot of Koreans learning English over matcha lattes. There are lots of grad students doing their case meetings. The key takeaway is to share space. This isn’t exclusive to coffee shops. More and more groceries, with deli options, have comfortable seating and lighting. And since they are in malls, free Internet may be available, although timed.
As I always remind readers, whatever you do, be mindful. We need to share the space, which as it is, is limited. Here are a few ideas on how best to behave in a coffee shop. It is really common sense, but no harm in a few thoughtful reminders.
Think of what you want ahead. I am sure you hate it when someone just stops at the barista and figures out what they want with a queue that is already going to purgatory. Go through your order in your head and be ready to place it. Lines can be long, and time-consuming so when your turn comes around sound off the coffee mix you have in mind. If you are a group, don’t dawdle, just write it down. It can be really frustrating if you are in line and the group in front does not have their orders ready. Don’t be impatient with the baristas, especially if you are one of those ultra complicated customers who want half this and half that with non-fat this and no sugar that. The barista is an artist, so respect him or her, and yes, don’t forget to be kind with the tip.
Nothing is free. Be considerate, don’t walk into a coffee shop, set your self up and take a tumbler from your bag or a sandwich. It’s like moving into a place and not paying rent. So make sure you always buy something, remember a coffee buys you about an hour of sipping and chatting time. The tables are set up for paying customers, so be that, or just stay home.
Occupy as small a footprint as possible, and be neat. I have seen people taking over loungers with their bags, books, and presentation materials, and not giving room to others. It’s the norm now for people to work in these places and it is encouraged, but remember to keep your use of space to a minimum. Share your table with others. If you are alone and if people are looking for another chair or bench by your table, make the offer to share. Who knows, that may be your next business partner. Oh, since you’ve made that spot home for the next few hours, throw your “basura” right away, it is just so slothful to let things get out of hand.
Be kind. You don’ t need to place in a congeniality contest, but smiling and acknowledging the people around you is a sign of good manners. Everyone may be having a bad day, but a small dash of sunshine is always welcome.
Keep your voice down. Granted that people are in the shop to study, cut deals or catch up, it isn’t a theater. You don’t need to shout or be loud. Like in the office or at a dinner party, you don’t need to “cell-yell.” That is really the most irritating action a person can take. It’s more than attracting attention, it can be very annoying and disturbing. It begins with taking a phone call or making one. Manage the volume, and like your footprint, keep your decibels in check.
I still make it a point to pass by my local coffee house to people watch. I bring the doggies for a walk and pick up an ice tea and sip it. The crowds haven’t changed. In fact, they have become larger. The coffee house was always seen as a social gathering point in history. It was where scholars, artist, philosophers and much of learned society met to discuss matters of the day. Coffee will always be seen as the social lubricant for discourse. Today, armed with the sleek laptop, ear buds, and a latte, social discourse continues, and will do so without hurt, if people respect each other in a common space, and in mindful times.
Photographs by Nathan Dumlao