Writing in Cafes: Table Rent

Inside the Mercury Cafe

Inside the Mercury Cafe

It amazes me the people who don’t understand the economics of running a café. If you’re lucky enough to find a place that allows you to come in and sit for a spell, you have to pay to rent the table. If you’re only staying for a little while, then a coffee drink is okay. If you’re planning to while away an hour, you’d better order a pastry. If you’ve camped for the afternoon, then you’d better buy lunch. And tip big.

People don’t seem to understand that tables in cafes aren’t free. If a paying customer comes in and sees that all the tables are full of people crouching over their laptops, that customer won’t buy lunch. She’ll go down the street to somewhere she can sit down. If enough paying customers walk away, the café can’t keep its doors open for all the freeloaders to come in.

It kills me that the café where I have breakfast three times a week had to have a bake sale to raise money for rent. It’s a great café and their pastries are amazing, but I don’t know if it will survive. I wonder if they’ll turn off their wifi — even though they believe strongly that wifi should be free — and chase the laptop jockeys out.

One of my friends opened a café a couple of years ago. He consciously chose not to offer wifi, to weed out the people who would come and sit all afternoon. Then again, he chose not to play music either, so eating in his café is like sitting in a library. A library without wifi. I find it uncomfortable to talk there, with my voice echoing around the room. I avoid the place unless I’m alone. If I’m alone, I put my headphones on.

Cafes are central to my writing life. There’s something about the anticipation of sitting down amongst strangers, getting that first jolt of caffeine, and opening my notebook.

A couple of years ago the SFEtiquette column atSFWeekly broke down the price scale down even finer than I do: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2011/10/when_youre_working_in_a_cafe_d.php

I’m amused by the cafe that blocked its outlets, so people can work only as long as they have battery power.