Passing the Starbuck

Starbucks is my new mobile office. Not by choice, really, but it meets all the criteria for working remotely: a lot of locations, full broadband WIFI, lots of electric outlets, bathrooms, long hours, reasonable prices (more on that later) and no hassle.

For two weeks I tried every place I could think of and all had fatal flaws except Starbucks. Cosi has free WIFI, but you can receive files only (not good for web work). Their WIFI speed varies greatly, and not all Cosi’s have electric outlets.

The nice new McDonald’s near me on 104th Street and Broadway uses the same AT&T WIFI as Starbucks, but they have trick electric outlets which eject anything plugged into them. Besides, extended eating of Mickey D food can have serious side effects, and the Mickey D crowd can be pretty rowdy.

Panera Bread, which has no outlets in Manhattan, is a little pricey and their free WIFI isn’t that fast (under 1mb/sec). There’s a Juan Valdez in Times Square that meets all the necessary criteria, and the WIFI is free, but they’re a little hard to get to. Same for the Housing Works bookstore in SOHO, which is usually pretty crowded with laptop users and thus the tables near electric outlets are hard to get. The business library on 34th Street and Madison Avenue is also quite nice, with individual workstations for laptop users, but their WIFI speed is so eratic as to be almost unusable (it ranged from 8mb/sec when I first tested it down to only 72K!).

So, back to Starbucks. I broke down and subscribed to their AT&T WIFI, which is $20/month since it also available in McDonalds and Barnes & Noble (no outlets). The signal is consistently strong in every outlet I’ve worked in, and speeds of 2mb/sec are the norm. Outlets are everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to see people stay all day. My record is 12 hours.

I always considered Starbucks to be overpriced, but it turns out you can get by pretty reasonably if you watch what you buy. A toasted bagel with a container of cream cheese or butter is only 95¢, which is less than just a plain, untoasted bagel almost anywhere else. A large coffee is over $2.50, but refills are only 50¢. And if you get an egg sandwich with the coffee, the combo is only about $4.

There’s a great Starbucks on 88th Street and Broadway which has an upstairs where you can sit forever without being noticed. I’ve worked a couple of times in the Penn Station Starbucks near 7th Avenue, and it’s pretty lively; I left close to midnight and it was still going strong. The Starbucks on 103rd Street and Broadway is small but quite cozy if you can get one of the AC tables by the wall. The 98th Street and Broadway Starbucks is dark and oppressive, though.

Then there is Starbuckspeak. I refuse to use their made up words for small, medium and large, but they never fail to interpret my English requests into their jargon. I don’t see why they go to so much trouble trying to educate their customers (oops, I mean “guests”) in using it, but if I’m going to learn a fake language I’d rather learn Klingon.