Do You Have to Buy Coffee to Sit in a Coffee Shop? (Really?)

I’ve always bought a coffee when I want to sit for a while in a coffee shop, it seems like the polite thing to do. However, is it absolutely necessary?

With the exception of Starbucks which has an open house ‘Third Place Policy’, you need to make a purchase if you want to sit in a coffee shop. Independent coffee shops need your business, so it would be rude to stay longer than about an hour with each cup of coffee you buy.

Let’s linger for a moment in the comfy chairs in the window of your favorite coffee shop, and discover how long is too long to stay lounging around with your coffee – and find out if you can study or work in a coffee shop too…

Do You Have to Buy Coffee to Sit in a Coffee Shop?

Do You Have to Buy Something to Sit in a Coffee Shop? (Is It Rude Not to?)

With the exception of Starbucks (and we’ll look at them later on), you need to make a purchase if you want to sit in a coffee shop.

Now this purchase doesn’t have to be a full meal or anything too costly. A simple cup of coffee will do – and when you think you’re getting warmth, comfort, and WiFi for the price of a latte, it’s a real bargain.

A cup of coffee that takes an hour to drink (and we’ll come on to timeframes) isn’t going to make the coffee shop’s fortune. 

They know that, and you know that. Still, it means you are a genuine customer, you’re being polite, and everybody is happy.

Allowing folks to linger over a coffee can make business sense. If you feel welcome, you’re going to go back, perhaps with friends, and maybe order food, too. 

On a quiet day, you help to make the cafe look busy and inviting, and that always helps (you may find you can linger longer during less popular periods).

How Long is It Acceptable to Sit in a Coffee Shop?

There are some unwritten rules about this. If you’re having just one cup of coffee, it seems to be acceptable to make this last for an hour to an hour and a half.

After that, it’s either time to pack up your laptop or book and head off, or, order another cup. We reckon if you plan to stay for a while, order something fresh to eat or drink at least every hour.

When you’ve finished your food and drink, most places will allow around half an hour before the staff make tutting noises. 

This also gives you time to pay the bill, visit the bathroom, and gather up your possessions. 

What’s the absolute maximum? Four hours is the absolute limit, and thus is only if you’ve kept refreshing your order at least hourly. 

There’s also common sense. If the place is filling up and you’ve been there a while, the polite thing to do is leave.

And our top tip? Leave a tip.

Can You Sit in a Coffee Shop and Work or Study?

Yes, you can, and coffee shops all over the US double as meeting rooms and comfortable remote working hangouts. Some coffee shops even have dedicated work areas.

Most have good WiFi, and even places where you can plug things in to charge. 

Working or studying in a coffee shop is a sociable alternative to staying at home, and many folks really enjoy the vibe.

It’s quite common to see colleagues getting together for a meeting in a coffee shop. 

They’re good places for an informal chat, or perhaps to thrash out some ideas without the interruptions. They can also be the meeting place of choice for freelancers and clients.

There are informal rules you need to follow. Don’t take over, and spread papers and tech all over the desks. Don’t talk loudly or take phone calls. 

Never expect the staff to look after your kit if you pop to the restroom. And of course, keep on ordering that lovely fresh coffee.

Can You Sit in a Coffee Shop and Work or Study?
Can You Sit in a Coffee Shop and Work or Study?

Do I Have to Buy Coffee to Sit in Starbucks?

When it comes to lingering in a coffee shop, Starbucks is in a league of its own. It’s true: you can sit in a Starbucks, any branch, and enjoy the warmth and Wifi without paying a single cent.

Starbucks announced a radical new policy in 2018. The company’s “Third Place Policy” has the mission to make  a “warm and welcoming environment where customers can gather and connect”. 

Of course, there’s a code of conduct, and disruptive people will be asked to leave; however if you follow the rules, you can stay on their comfy seats without purchasing even one small cup of coffee.

The new policy was introduced shortly after the controversy over the treatment of two Black men who wished to use the bathroom in a Starbucks

The company apologized and introduced its new Third Place Policy.

Can You Study at Starbucks Without Buying Anything?

Starbucks’ new policy states: “Any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase”. So yes, that includes students.

It’s a great deal for students. You get to sit in a warm, comfortable place, and make the most of the facilities, including the WiFi.

Fascinating fact: the ambience of a coffee shop is thought to be so conducive to studying, that you can actually download a choice of “coffee shop background sounds” from YouTube! 

We reckon that given the comfortable chairs and internet, you’re better off just heading straight to Starbucks rather than just pretending that you’re there.

Remember, if you’re not near a Starbucks (unlikely), your local coffee shop may be happy for you to study at one of their tables, for simply the price of one cup of coffee. 

How Long Can I Stay at Starbucks to Study?

Theoretically, you can stay as long as you want. Their policy aims to encourage people to use their restaurants as public spaces, and there’s no time limit.

However, please use your common sense. If you’re simply using Starbucks as a location to catch up with some work and a family is waiting for a table for lunch, it would be kinder to both Starbucks and the hungry family if you vacated your table. 

You could always come back when it’s quieter…

Do You Have to Buy Something From Starbucks to Use Wifi?

No, you don’t have to buy anything from Starbucks to use their free WiFi.

People are welcome to make use of the WiFi while sitting in a warm, comfortable spot, without having to purchase as much as an espresso.

Starbucks wants its restaurants to be seen as public spaces, where people feel comfortable simply to hang out. 

Provided folks are respectful and polite, they’re welcome to stay as long as they like, and log into their WiFi while they’re there.

I like to have a coffee to sip from at all times, so I always buy something in Starbucks anyway.

This ‘Third Place Policy’ means they’re banking on us coffee lovers and it seems to be paying off. 🙂