What do you do when you are by yourself in a coffee shop, you have to use the bathroom and there is nobody immediately around to ask to watch your stuff? On one hand, I trust that there is a culture of respect within the coffee shop community and that nobody would take anything (and I feel guilty taking my stuff because it looks like I don't trust people). However, it hardly seems smart to leave wallet and computer unattended. And what if someone else who is not part of the culture comes in? Thoughts Experiences?
Coffee Shop Culture
One time, a guy in a café asked me to watch his stuff. Of course I said yes, and when he came back, he offered to buy me a coffee. Shocked, I turned down the offer, wondering if he’d just arrived from a planet with no Starbucks.
If, like him, you don’t spend a lot of time in coffee shops, allow me to fill you in: You need to go to the bathroom, you ask the person next to you to keep an eye on your stuff, s/he says yes, you come back from the bathroom and say thank you, then an hour later s/he asks you to reciprocate the favor. For people who camp out in coffee shops with laptops, this really is the culture.
If there’s only one other person in the whole place but she’s all the way across the room, I would still ask her to keep an eye out. Since the shop is nearly empty, she’ll probably notice if someone new comes in and tries to steal your stuff.
If there are literally no other customers, you could ask the staff since, with no other customers, it’s not a huge imposition. Do leave something in the tip jar, though.
The other option, as you mention, is to pack up your bag. That’s a huge pain, and one that I try to avoid. Sometimes I’ll just bring my wallet and phone with me to the bathroom, in part because my laptop is old and not that attractive, so I don’t really expect someone to want to take it. Also, if my laptop is plugged in, I feel like that’s one more deterrent to someone being able to just pick it up and walk out.
If your concern about packing up is potentially offending people, you don’t need to worry since you’d only really need to do this when there’s no one else around, hence, no one around to be offended. The bigger issue to me is potentially forfeiting a choice table, maybe near an outlet or window. Your stuff holds your table, and in a busy café, a good table is your ticket to being able to get anything done.
The more time you spend camped out in coffee shops with your computer, the better you’ll get at navigating this culture, and, probably the more cavalier you’ll get, for better or worse, about leaving your belongings unattended.