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Cup of Courtesy

If the coffeehouse is your office, order up some manners.

In the Dilbertesque world of corporate etiquette, most people know it's rude to leave meatloaf decomposing in the office refrigerator. But for the swarms of entrepreneurs whose offices are local coffeehouses, what makes for good manners is often as murky as a mocha latte: "Coffeehouse-based" entrepreneurs with laptops hog tables near coveted outlets for hours at a time. They chide baristas to turn the shop's music down and bark into cell phones while ordering grande cappuccinos.

"It's just plain rude," complains Paige Kayner, owner of Aurafice Internet & Coffee Bar in Seattle, where freelance graphic designers and computer entrepreneurs work. Kayner was so irritated by her customers' noisy calls, she stuck a magnet on her espresso machine reading: "Your cell phone only makes you more annoying." Then someone stole it.

The basis of all good manners is the consideration of others, says etiquette expert Gloria Starr. For entrepreneurs using coffeehouses as offices, that means limiting your time at a table to an hour or two. It's also courteous to take cell phone calls outside or to cover the receiver with your hand so your conversation can't be heard. And if you're going to stay, it's polite to pay for your space by buying cups of joe. "You've got to feed the kitty," says David Story, an independent nonfiction TV producer in Los Angeles who works at his local Starbucks.

But if you really want to be courtly, Peter Post, great-grandson of manners maven Emily Post, says you should only use coffeehouses as meeting places for cordial conversations with clients. In other words, don't make a public space your office, no matter how good the coffee is.

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This article was originally published in the August 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Cup of Courtesy.

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