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Next time you’re at a coffee shop, take note of how many people are sitting alone. Plenty. The digital age has taken the “lonely geezer” label off those sitting in solitude. Chances are, they’re actually socialising up a storm in a chat-room, flirting with someone on Facebook … or running a very successful business from their virtual office.
This is indeed the ‘brave new world’, where public space is gobbled up by private individuals partaking in public activities and working at the same time.
But just like a ‘real’ office, using a virtual office requires a great dose of etiquette.
Here are some serious and some light-hearted tips for doing it right:
1. Become extremely territorial about your favourite table. That should be the one right by the plug point, the heater and where the wi-fi reception is best. If necessary, print your own ‘reserved’ sign and always leave it on the table.
On a serious note: Many restaurants have plug points that customers are entitled to use, and it’s best to seek out the closest tables (that way you can save your battery for a rainy hour later in the day). Make sure, however, that you have enough battery life to keep working if your favourite table is already occupied.
2. Make eye contact with the owner every time you enter the restaurant. This is a type of virtual loyalty card situation: random free coffees will abound.
On a serious note: It is healthy to build a relationship with the owner or manager so you can give them feedback on what does and doesn’t work for customers who are going online.
3. Accept that the staff will start to treat you like family after a while. That’s a good thing, right? They know you by name. They know how you like your coffee. But at rush hour, they feel that they have every right to just downright ignore you.
On a serious note: Although you’re a paying customer, it stands to reason that when the waitrons are under major pressure, you might have to get up to place your order or ask for your bill. The exercise will do you good! Alternatively, avoid breakfast and lunch hour.
4. Don’t waste another second wondering if you should fork out money for a real office. For the price of one filter coffee, you have at least eight hours of space-hogging potential. And where else will you find such an accommodating office canteen?
On a serious note : A useful standard measurement is the value of one cup of coffee to one hour of space hogging. If your latte is R20 and your meal is R60, four hours is the maximum you should spend at the table. Three hours would be more polite. After that, you might as well have your next meal there as well!
5. Make sure all meetings with potential or existing clients happen at your virtual office. Show colleagues around as if you own and have decorated the place. Speak to the staff in an offhanded way to show how important you are.
On a serious note: It is good form to bring new customers to the restaurant to offset the cost of having you spending longer at a table than a regular customer who is not using it as an office.