I admit it. I come to Panera on occasion to write. In fact I am at a Panera right now. I also go to Starbucks, the non-franchise coffee bar and the wood-oven pizza place.  As a former news reporter – a really really long time ago – I have always written better and faster when I have a buzz around me. I think it’s the newsroom’s fault. Since I work from an office located inside my home and I’m generally there alone, it can sometimes get too quiet.

So I come to Panera – usually just before lunch – and buy my lunch, eat and write. It always works. It was working today before I got distracted.  Let me count the ways.

As I sit here now, i can see three tables of people. And unfortunately I can’t help but HEAR one table.  The two tables that I don’t hear have a guy who was here when I got here and looks like he is here forever.  He has a small cup of coffee in front of him. I’m okay with that. He made a purchase. The other quiet table has two guys clearly “meeting” about something.  Did they buy anything?  Nope.  Just taking up a table of four with their laptops. Maybe they are waiting til they are good and hungry. I still have hope. One guy looks like he really likes cookies.

The third table – the one I have to stare at from my seat.  And the one that I can’t help but overhear EVERY word because they are talking so loudly.  This is the one that I want the Panera police to come after. A woman – clearly angry at the world – marched in, sat down and crossed her arms.  Fifteen minutes later a guy in a suit comes in and sits down and unloads his briefcase. I don’t know if he is her lawyer, accountant, business coach, psychologist or boyfriend. Because they have talked about subjects that could apply to any of those situations. And even though I tried to stare them down so they’d quiet down, it didn’t phase them.

They have bought nothing. And clearly they have no intention of doing so. I know Panera isn’t sweating it but it just annoys me that people set meetings here and don’t make a purchase.  Everyone is in business to make money.  You buying that $2 cup of coffee isn’t going to pay to keep the lights on – or even for the free wireless you are using or electricity to keep your laptop charged. But it’s just common courtesy.

I really wish some of these places would enforce a “you gotta buy something” policy for people who use their facility as their offices.  Now it’s time to change seats so I can get some more work done.  Maybe I’ll buy another cup of coffee to make up for these freeloaders.