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Freelancing in Cafes: Is the Honeymoon Over?

by Michelle Schusterman Aug 20, 2009
Cafes are the favorite mobile office for location independent professionals. That may soon be past tense, though.

Freelance writers and cafes have always gone hand in hand, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the relationship may soon suffer a permanent break.

The romantic image of the freelance writer sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a steaming latte and tapping away at their next National Geographic article or bestselling novel, is a common one.

For many writers, the allure of the coffee shop is more than just caffeine addiction. It’s an escape from the distractions at home, where laundry needs folding and the dishes in the sink are begging to be washed. It’s also a solution for lonely writer syndrome, when the need to be with other living, breathing humans becomes unbearable.

While cafe owners used to encourage the regular business, recent economic woes have caused some to change their tune.

At some time or another, most of us have been guilty of nursing a cup of the house blend for hours, plugged in and surfing the web. With the current unemployment rate, it’s no surprise that more and more workers are trying to become location independent.

True penny-pinchers are bringing everything from food to teabags and setting up for the work day in their local cafe, draining electricity and eliminating the need to pay for internet service at home. Meanwhile, potential customers are driven away when they can’t find a table to enjoy their mocha and muffin.

“True penny-pinchers are bringing everything from food to teabags and setting up for the work day in their local cafe….”

Reaction from management is mixed. Unsurprisingly, some have put time restrictions on laptop use, or locks and signs on outlets politely informing customers that laptop plugs are not welcome. A few actually have a ban on laptops altogether. Other cafe owners have expanded their businesses, adding more outlets to encourage regular visits.

That may seem like the ideal option- if, of course, owners can afford it. Cafes are a popular place for business meetings and interviews, and a no-laptop policy or limited WiFi could be a deal breaker in those situations. But if smaller shops are struggling just to keep their doors open, it’s hard to blame them for shooing squatters away.

Where does this leave the travel writer? It’s usually easy enough for someone backpacking in a foreign country to stop at a cafe for a quick drink and a blog update. Perhaps it’s time to pick up the notebook and pen again- saving electricity, sure, but still taking up hours of valuable table time.

What’s the solution? Some claim angry owners are making a mistake by discouraging freelancers, that any business is good business. Can WiFi addicted customers help support their favorite cafe by splurging on a venti macchiato now and then, or is this long romance finally at an end?

Community Connection:

If you’re a location independent professional in one of the Techiest Cities in the World, is this all a moot point?

And what is a location independent professional anyway? Learn more about this special kind of freelancing in 10 Tips for Becoming a Location Independent Professional.

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