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9 Coffee Shop Etiquette Rules You Need to Follow

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

When you sit at a table to organize your bills or get a jump-start on work, is it OK to spread out? Even if you mind your manners at work, online, and when speaking on the telephone, proper protocol is increasingly important during casual encounters, too. Here's how to polish up your coffee shop graces.


Yes, you can answer the phone

If you’re alone at the coffee shop and your phone rings, it’s OK to have the conversation without going outside. Of course, you’ll want to keep your voice at a reasonable level. “Also, keep the call as brief as possible and watch the body language of those around you to make sure you’re not bothering anyone,” says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert in San Diego. “But it’s perfectly fine to take the call. Modern society has created an environment—free Wi-Fi, charging stations—to do this.” Aside from being mindful of your fellow java addicts, here are the 11 ways you can make your coffee habit healthier.

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Take long, loud conversations outside

Although most calls are acceptable to take inside a coffee shop, let common courtesy prevail. If circumstances necessitate you raise your voice—such as when speaking through a bad connection —the call is personal, or you plan an extended conversation, it’s proper to move outside. “Respect, honesty, and consideration are the guidelines you should always follow,” she says. A coffee shop isn’t the only place you need to mind your manners—restaurants have etiquette rules too.

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Don’t hog extra space

Yes, coffee shops are designed for those who want to work and read, but it’s always a good idea to minimize the amount of space you use. “Don’t get there, spread everything out, and make others feel they can’t join you,” Swann says. “It’s absolutely important to make an effort to compartmentalize your space.” These are the most annoying coffee shop habits you have, according to Starbucks baristas.


Ask before you plug in

Sometimes plugs are not convenient to your seat. Ask before you plug your computer, cellphone, or other device into an outlet near someone else. Sure, the outlets are for everyone, but it’s polite to ask before reaching across someone else’s table.


Buy something

Yes, coffee shops are business-friendly but respect the owners enough to understand they are businesspeople too. Support it. “Don’t ask for water and sit there all day,” Swann says. “Buy something. And if you’re there for a long period, buy a second cup of coffee or a muffin.” Wi-Fi, electricity, and the space cost money. So support the business, especially at a mom-and-pop coffee shop. And here’s what happens to your body when you drink coffee every day.

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Don’t let children run wild

It’s fine to have your child accompany you to the shop, but don’t expect employees to babysit. “The coffee shop is a public establishment with the same guidelines as a restaurant,” Swann says. Reasonably quiet voices in a confined location are in order.


Step out of line

If you haven’t decided on your order when you get to the counter, allow the person behind you to order. “Say ‘I honestly haven’t decided’ or ‘I can’t find my list’ and allow the other people to go ahead of you,” Swann suggests. “Don’t hold up the line.” Beware of the 8 coffee myths that can affect your health.

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Don’t try to change the coffee shop to suit you

If the music is too loud for your taste or the tables are too close together, don’t ask staff to change it to suit your preferences. “Instead, look for a coffee shop that better fits personality,” she says.

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Treat employees with kindness and courtesy

As your mother no doubt taught you, you should always say please and thank you. And if you’re a regular, go the extra mile and get to know the staff. “Learn your barrista’s name and ask her about herself,” Swann says. “Try to remember to ask if someone had a nice vacation or if a baby nephew was born. Treat people with respect.”