The Cost of a Coffeehouse Office

You would think that someone who lived alone wouldn’t need to get away to get things done. But when it comes to creative writing, grading class assignments, or even prepping my courses, there’s nothing worst for me than being home alone.

Several years ago when I worked from home, it was a little easier. My house was one level, but I had a bonus room. I knew the day I decided to start my own company that I would have to put mechanisms in place to help me be disciplined enough to work from home (can I get an Amen for other entrepreneurs out there?). So for me, going upstairs into the bonus room was treated like going uptown to an office building. Each day, while taking the four steps up, I pretended to be getting into my car; the top opening of the room I imagined as the door into my company; and the entire upstairs was the various areas of my office.

Now, my Saturday morning or early afternoon office for what’s now become my “side” job (having taken my career in another different direction) is at the same table in the corner at the Panera just two miles from my house. If it’s in the evenings, I usually opt for the Starbucks two blocks further. Panera is brighter during the day, with lots of windows where the sunshine streams in. Starbucks is a little darker, which is perfect for late evenings. Don’t get me wrong, those places certainly come with their own distractions. Panera is usually teeming with families with young children in the morning and youth sports teams in the afternoon. And Starbucks tends to play host to groups of college students, wanna-be authors, and awkwardly paired couples, perhaps meeting up for the first time. But those distractions seem different in one of these places than what surrounds me at home these days.

After choosing to move closer to my full-time job in a suburban town just outside the city I used to live in, I thought distractions would be the least of my worries. But with a rental house that’s just the second one off the busy main street through the neighborhood; coupled with homes that are way too close together for my comfort (something I won’t be looking for when the time comes to buy again), and dealing with what often sounds like the loud echoing sounds of everything from garage door openings to lawn mowers going, and dogs barking at anything that moves; even the sound of birds chirping outside my window can become an irritant at certain times; especially when I’m trying to concentrate.

And then there’s the television. When it’s off, it taunts me to turn it on “just for a little while.” It lies to me, and tells me I have the power to turn it back off just as easily as I turned it on. But when it’s on, it drains my energy and sucks any semblance of time from the air, with each passing 30-minute show, especially the weekend marathon of home & garden shows, and 24-hour news channels.

So that brings me back to getting out of the house and hanging out at Panera.

With all of those embedded cameras in the ceiling, that most visitors to a place like this would probably never take note of, it becomes impossible; and quite honestly, probably rude, to take up real estate for hours at a time, without contributing financially to the business…if for no other reason than the fact that I frequently take advantage of the convenience of using their wifi to update all my phone apps!

So how do I maintain a reasonable budget during my frequent visits? Well, first of all, I became a member of their Rewards program many years ago — the same day I realized I had taken several meetings at the same Panera one month when I first launched my company. I knew that was just the beginning. There’s always a reward at the end of a certain number of visits. Saving even just two dollars for a free cup of coffee or bagel is worth it! Second, fortunately my sisters are wise to me, and often give me Panera (or Starbucks) gift cards for my birthday and Christmas. One of the biggest challenges of hanging out at Panera is the fact that they are NOT the cheapest food option in town. I have to be mindful of what I order and have learned how to make the most of it.

Here are a few of the things I do.

If you’re a coffee drinker, then Panera is a better option than Starbucks because you get free refills; and can even switch to decaf when you’ve energized enough for one day. Starbucks charges, even if it’s at a discounted price. The same goes with their tea and soft drinks. There’s nothing wrong with drinking water and forgo the additional cost of adding a drink to your order. If you love their bagels, don’t ask for the cream cheese. The butter is free, and the cost of that small cream cheese container is almost as much as buying an entire tub of it at your local grocery store. With the side items, I always ask for the bag of chips. They’re perfect to throw into your purse or leave in the car for times when you’re running around doing errands, and your stomach starts growling. Keeps you from taking that trip through a drive-thru and spending more money.

When I do order a meal, I ask for the free additions; things that help to fill you up. Most people aren’t aware that you can ask for extra lettuce on your sandwich at no additional cost. The same goes for your salad. I never order a whole salad. Instead, I choose the much cheaper half salad, and then I ask for extra lettuce. They don’t mind giving you (most) extra veggies, but the protein (meat, cheese, egg) will cost you a little more. When I started using the kiosk, I discovered there are several other items you can add — kale, apple chips, cabbage, corn — that don’t cost you any more. The end result is a fuller salad that is more in line with the high price you pay. And equally important, you won’t be hungry an hour later while you’re still working on your latest novel!

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