Friday, 3 February 2012

How To Work in Cafes

It's not all glamour being a stand-up comedian. Granted our evenings are spent performing in exotic locations like Crewe or Sittingbourne, often to double figure crowds, but by day we have to come up with the comedy gold. Some of us can write a whole joke in a productive week, but our capricious muse demands the right environment. For me, working from what I laughingly call my study (study what? Twitter?) – is a non-starter. Too many pointless DIY jobs to ponder, too much food in the fridge, too many channels on Sky (S4C is terrific, by the way – wall to wall Welsh!).
So I, like an increasing number of self-employed people, have taken to working in cafes. The benefits are obvious. It gets me out of the house - sometimes before midday; I cycle there, like a middle-aged Cavendish (ish); and it makes me feel like I’m doing something. More to the point, it’s cheap. Commercial rents in the West End, where I spend most of my time, are £20-40psq, so I’m occupying some prime space for the price of a coffee. That’s good business in my book.
But it’s not without its downsides. That’s why you won’t see Shell moving its entire UK operation into Starbucks any time soon. It’s only for the committed pisser-abouter. Want to give it a try? These are my top tips:
1. Always nab your table first: Position is everything. I can't stress this enough. Coffee can wait; it’s not why you’re there.
2. Suss out the sockets: Ok, most laptops and phones have decent battery lives, but sockets mean you don’t have to worry about recharging when you get home which can be a terrible, terrible burden. Grab the table closest to the sockets, plug in and you’re king of the castle. If anyone whinges, ‘they're not there just for your benefit’, call the police.
3. Keep out of the draught: This is tricky. You need to be near the sockets but if you’re too close to the door during winter it’s a living hell. No-one – no-one – ever closes it and you’re much too busy to keep getting up. Oh, and the aircon can be a nightmare whatever the weather. It blows ice in every direction. Ice. But – top tip alert - it has a limited range. See what I’m saying? Think before you sit.
4. Order your coffee in a takeaway cup: This is where experience counts. Takeaway cup =  lid =  your coffee stays warmish all day. You can’t go splashing out on two or three cups every day, never mind that every 148th beverage bought using a Starbucks card earns you a free shot of vanilla. And – potential bonus – sleepy staff might charge you the takeaway price. Result.
5. Befriend the staff: They sometimes let you off if you’ve forgotten your wallet. And you’ll learn to understand 'how are you today' in 13 Eastern European accents. Don’t get too close, though – they’re usually just passing through and forming attachments can ultimately lead to emotional pain. Apparently.
6. Defend your space: You don't want someone sharing your table. Ugh. Absolute no-no. You need it for your laptop, coffee and…you know, other stuff. You certainly don’t want anyone wobbling your table with their busy, typing fingers. Or having telephone conversations that close to your precious, hard-won bubble. Put your bag on the other chair. If anyone asks, it’s just fallen in the urinal and you’re drying it out.
7. Avoid sitting near groups of young American girls: Xenophobic? Maybe, but trust me on this one. If this odd human strain enters your coffee shop, leave. This is the one known socket exception. Tough, I know, but it’s about retaining your sanity. You see, young American girls’ voices spouting their remorseless shit cut through the atmosphere and pierce the soul. And I'm over 70% deaf. Once you’ve heard the seven thousandth ‘like’ you’ll be Googling ‘Local Assassins’.
8. Develop your ‘tut’: People on mobile phones shout. Don’t know why. They just can’t help it. Nothing more infuriating than someone having a loud, one-way conversation and, worse, apparently enjoying it. Understand this: they’re doing it to annoy you. Learn to tut loudly. This takes time and patience. Practise.  
9. Make sure you can see the toilet door at all times: Positioning is key again. You don’t want to be craning or turning. Never queue. It’s demeaning and time consuming when you’ve got so much else to do. Oh, and never go in after that rancid tramp.
10. Look out for celebs: Recent spots include Hugh Grant, Peter Stringfellow and that bloke in that film. Always good for half an hour of doing nothing (or trying to sneak a photo on your phone for FB – make sure the silly shutter sound and flash are off otherwise you’ll look like a git and/or stalker or, worse, Paparazzi).
11. Wifi: Essential if you need – for professional purposes – to keep abreast of email and social media. Starbucks wins hands down here. PrĂȘt and Nero offer the patchy, infuriating Cloud; you’ll top yourself long before you attempt your nineteenth reconnection. Key tip: Never – and I mean never – pay for it. It’s an offence.

12. If you see me anywhere, leave me alone. I'll be busy defending my space.

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