“Excuse me, can you keep it down?”

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and in the last month I have officially sworn off three different ones. I’ll preface this little rant with a small question: Am I the only way who is driven insane by loud coffee shops? Is it just me or is there a market out there for a place that keeps the noise to a minimum for people who want to study, read or relax?

The ones I go to at least, all cater to college students and young professionals–yet they are obscenely loud. I can normally trace the noise back to one person. It’s called a “positive feedback system” or, your conversation is loud so I raise my voice, and you in turn raise yours again to speak over me. And because companies are petrified at offending anyone, they let that person drive the rest of their customers out the door. No one should have to bring an iPod in just to drown out the third grade teacher who is reading essays aloud to her colleagues or the sorority girl talking on her cell-phone.

I would assert that the old saying “the customer is always right” deserves an update. Some customers are better than others, and it’s those customers who are always right. They can’t all be because they don’t all want the same thing. With an alarming regularity the needs of one group collides with another–the choice then is whose side to take? I say you take the ones who will make you the most money. You don’t keep it quiet because it’s the “right thing to do,” you do it because that’s what the customer is demanding.

Messageboards face this problem all the time, they have to prevent trolls from scaring the real users away. They have to come down heavy on the fringe users to protect their core audience–or risk losing both. Why should brick and mortar stores be any different? Are the immune from customer frustration? They aren’t from mine, and I won’t be coming back. I know it doesn’t feel good, but with all things you have to decide who is objectively more valuable and then cater to them at all costs. I come in everyday while your average loudtalker, considering they don’t understand coffee shop etiquette, has considerably less loyalty. Starbucks: The reason your stores are so loud is because you blare that god-awful music you’re peddling. What is more valuable, losing the study crowd or the few impulse CD sales you’re hoping for?

The concept of a “third place” is going to be the cornerstone of the next few decades of the American economy. For now, places like Starbucks and other coffee shops are poised to fill that niche. However, if I saw a place that truly valued the business, intellectual and professional crowd, I’d dump my savings into their stock. Right now, we have few alternatives so these places feel entitled to our business, and are becoming alarmingly oblivious to customer comfort. What cannot be forgotten is that you have a captive audience so long as you keep that crowd comfortable. So as more people start to work away from the office, they are going to need an environment that respect the sanctity of their thoughts and serenity.

If anyone knows of a place, let me know. Until then, you can find me complaining like an old person.

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