You can get an espresso at Bread Furst, or a baguette, or a perfect piece of pie. But if you want to get some work done, be prepared: Owner Mark Furstenberg just might ask you to move along.
The baker sees his cafe as a neighbourhood gathering place - not a second office for ever-more-prevalent teleworkers. So during peak hours, when he spots laptop lurkers nursing now-cold cups of coffee and occupying precious table space, he asks them to leave. Politely, of course.
A typical exchange, as he describes it:
Furstenberg: "I'm sorry, this is not your workspace."
Customer: "What do you mean? I just bought a cup of coffee."
Furstenberg: "I know, and I'm glad you bought a cup of coffee, and I hope you like the coffee, but other people are waiting for tables."
Customer: "It's a public place, isn't it?"
Furstenberg: "Well, no, actually, it's not that kind of public place. It's a place where people come to eat and talk, but it's not your workspace."
Customer: "You're going to decide how I use the space?"
Furstenberg: "Well, yes, actually, I am."
Furstenberg doesn't mind if people work in his shop when it isn't busy, or if they conduct face-to-face business meetings there. It's the ones he and other cafe owners call "campers" that get to him - you know, the types who buy one cup of coffee, plug in their laptop and earphones and proceed to act as if they own the place, hogging the tables for hours on end. To deter them, he doesn't offer Wi-Fi. But still they come, with their portable hotspots and their FaceTime and their tablets, undeterred.
"We have this notion that any space can belong to me, and I can do what I want," says Furstenberg, resignedly. "Technology has made it possible."
But technology can be a double-edged sword. It allows more of us to telework than ever before, but then we're, you know, stuck at home - feeling isolated, or distracted, or guilty for not loading the dishwasher or playing with the dog. So we escape to a different location full of different distractions, which fade into the white noise of productivity: steamed milk churning, strangers' murmurs, ambient music. If the chairs are comfy enough, some of us might stay all day. It feels like home.
Public spaces meant for gathering and socialising, even talking business, have been around for centuries. England's stock exchange and insurance industry can be traced to the coffee shops of 18th-century London.
But in 1989, sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, gave them a name: the third place. If your home is your first place and your office is your second place, the third place is where you go to escape the obligations of the first two. But what happens when the third place becomes more and more like the second?
In Arlington, Boccato Gelato owner Cristian Velasco has grown frustrated over the past three years with customers who "buy a Coke, open their laptop, and take up a large area of my couch for a Coca-Cola for US$1.50 [$2.20] for five hours". So he put up signs in his restroom advocating proper coffee-shop etiquette: Customers should order something every 60 to 80 minutes, share their tables and not bring in outside food.
Tip No5 is: "Think about leaving the coffee shop."
But frequent teleworker David James saw potential in Boccato's comfy couches. He and his business partner, Ramzy Azar, approached Velasco with an idea: Cowork Cafe, a members-only club that rents half of Boccato's seats on weekdays for workers who want to get out of the house. For US$150 a month, members have access to special seating, a small conference room, printers and shredders, unlimited high-speed Wi-Fi and a monthly account with the cafe, so they don't have to pull out their wallets every time they go up to the counter. The company launched in February and now has more than 30 members.
"We're trying to develop a business model where the interests" of the coffee-shop owner and the teleworker "are aligned", James said.
It's similar to co-working spots WeWork and Cove, but in the same comfortable environment that coffee-shop frequenters have grown accustomed to. And because Cowork Cafe pays rent for the space, guests don't have to play by Velasco's posted rules.
"We tell our customers, 'It's okay to be here all day, it's okay to not buy anything if you don't want to, it's okay to bring in your own food'," James said. "Nobody has to feel guilty about being there." Still, the transition was a little rough. Customers who weren't willing to pay for Cowork Cafe were relegated to a separate seating area - and even if it happened to be full, they couldn't sit in the co-work section.
Regular customers may use Wi-Fi for only 90 minutes unless they make additional purchases.
"The first couple of months was basically me spending all of my time apologising to my regulars," Velasco said. "I got a lot of bad write-ups on Yelp, a lot of aggressive phone calls."
He understood his customers' frustrations, but he also hoped that they understood his.
"It's a two-way street. They are in a public space, and it takes money to maintain the space. It's a mutual responsibility. You have to share, and spend money, to have the place open. You can't just sit there."
A common complaint from business owners is that campers act as if they own the place. According to University of North Carolina at Greensboro marketing professor Merlyn Griffiths, they think they do.
The feeling is that "as long as I have something that indicates that I've participated in an exchange" - a cup of coffee, or a muffin - "I have a right, quote unquote, to be here", says Griffiths, who has studied customer territorial behaviours in coffee shops. It creates a sense of "temporary psychological ownership".
And the result is a power struggle: Owners limit Wi-Fi or ban laptops, as Filter, a coffee shop in Foggy Bottom, did in 2012.
Customers strike back with nastiness on social media. And now that you don't need a shop's Wi-Fi, thanks to mobile hotspots, a storm is brewing, Griffiths says.
At the Royal, a newly opened space offering coffee and Latin American food, owner Paul Carlson offers free Wi-Fi with a two-hour limit.
As long as people are buying food, he's okay with letting them linger until about 4pm, when the cafe starts to transform into a bar.
He won't kick anybody out, he says; he'll just send some subtle signals - turning up the music, dimming the lights - to say time to pack up the laptops, folks.