Here's An Idea Coffee (and Tea) Shop Patrons: Let's Share

Like many entrepreneurs and knowledge workers, I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops and cafes. I have an office, but I like getting out to change my perspective and be in the energy of other people working. Sometimes I'm between meetings and have enough time to get some things done, but not enough to go home and accomplish much. Coffee shops and cafes are great. In exchange for my buying drinks (tea for me, please) and food, the coffee shops and cafes provide me with free wireless and a place to plug in my laptop as well as a place to hold casual meetings. It's a nice relationship.

It seems that as more people have been laid off or have chosen to freelance, the coffee shops and cafes have become increasingly inhabited by more and more people. When I say inhabited, I mean inhabited. The issue is that some people just camp out all day without regard to the other humans moving in and out of the space. Add to that our American need to "own" a table and protect our space and you get a shop filled with lots of empty seats, but no where to sit.

Take right now, for instance. I'm sitting at a 4 top table in Henry's on East in Indianapolis. (Check it out. Great place with great people.) And I have to say I feel a little guilty. Here are three empty chairs and plenty of table space someone else could be using. (If it gets busy, I'll offer the seats to others. Or I'll move on.)

I have a proposal. How about we share? I hear that in Europe, it's standard to practice to take an empty chair regardless if someone is sitting at the table. Can we adopt that practice? It won't hurt you or me or anyone. Really. And it might actually help more people get some wireless and a place to sit – and help the shop earn more income so they can keep the doors open and the wireless free.

I'm thinking that the shops and cafes could offer some sort of table tag or tent or something that signals willingness to share. Maybe even just a card on the table. In a Twitter conversation about this topic this morning @y0mbo (John Uhri) said, "They could use those flip menu stands that show green and red based on willingness to share the table." It could even be as simple as a card that is red on one side and green on the other. Just lay it on the table.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you noticed the issue? Have you seen anyone moving to solve the issue? Do you even think it's an issue? Any ideas?

P.S. Mobility is important and these places offer a significant service. So, while we're at it, let's help the shops as much as we can.
  • Be an evangelist. No, I don't mean for you to prosetylize your religion to other patrons. I'm talking about telling other people about the shop and what you love about it. Help them market.
  • Buy a little more if you can. They're in business. That free wireless costs them something. You don't always have to buy more than the $1.75 bottomless cup of Joe, but maybe you can add a bagel from time to time.
  • Tip. It's easy. Toss the change in the jar. Give 'em a buck.