August 17

Best cafe to work in Singapore

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Hi, would you like to get anything?

I look up into the eyes of the waitress. Her face is a mix of irritation, rather than genteel, kind face you would expect in a waitress.

I shake my head.

Well, if you’re not going to get anything, this place is only for customers.

I get it.

I’ve been sat at this cafe for long enough, and they are trying to chase me away. I look around me. There’s hardly anybody in the cafe. They aren’t tight for seats. But they’re trying to run a business.

I leave.

Finding a great cafe to work at, really isn't easy
Finding a great cafe to work at, really isn’t easy

Finding the best cafe to work in Singapore, can be difficult. And this is not just another run of the mill article about the best cafes to eat, but the best cafes to work. That’s a completely different matter altogether. Because the best cafes to eat are those that have good food, and are constantly trying to turn over their tables so that they can get more customers and orders.

But the best cafes to work are a different breed. This article hopes to share with you what I look out for in finding the best cafes, and to recommend my favourite ones. But beyond that, I also know that I cannot possibly go to every single cafe, and I thus want to leave you with a set of qualities and characteristics you can look out for in choosing better cafes for yourself to work in.

My context

But you may wonder why you should even listen to me. After all, who am I?

I currently run a company that focuses on creating written content for different sites and mainstream newspapers. We don’t have a physical office.

As a result, we have been moving about different places in Singapore, trying to find a place that wouldn’t kick us out. We are very thick-skinned.

We’ve found libraries, random corners in office buildings, universities, and anyone kind enough to let us sit, without chasing us away.

Thus, we have a pretty good sense of what are certain inherently good characteristics of working spaces, that we hope will help you in your own journey too.

This is not…

If you’re looking for a list of recommendations that include coffee chains, you won’t find them here. I deliberately avoid:

  1. McDonalds
  2. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
  3. Toast Box
  4. Starbucks

I’ve nothing against these chains, but I’ve found that they are not the most conducive for working due to the crowds they attract.

Baseline needs

Before we look at what are the best qualities of the best cafes, let’s look at some baseline needs that need to be fulfilled.

WIFI

Ah, “What’s the WIFI password?” has probably been the most common question asked since the onset of COVID-19 resulted in offices being moved from primetime districts to cafes and homes.

But it’s not just the WIFI that matters. When you’re working, you’ll realise that the small things matter too.

Like whether the WIFI automatically logs you out after a few hours, and requires you to pay again. That friction can come in the way of a productive, flow you’re getting into.

Whilst I do occasionally find places that don’t have WIFI so that I won’t get distracted, WIFI is an undisputed must.

Cheap food

The average price of a coffee at a cafe in Singapore is about $4. It really depends whether you want to be spending that type of money every day, just so that you can find a place to work.

Coffee, just isn't that cheap.
Coffee, just isn’t that cheap.

As someone who is rather frugal, I’ve seen these cafe trips as a weekly indulgence, rather than something I go to daily.

Quiet ambience

Probably my best ever experience of a cafe, in a brown cafe in De Rijp, Holland
Probably my best ever experience of a cafe, in a brown cafe in De Rijp, Holland

There are some cafes that play bad music. Horrible.

It just doesn’t suit your case. What I’ve found the best cafes for working do is that they play some gentle house music, often instrumental, without lyrics, so that people can focus on the work.

Allows you to sit, uninterrupted

The COVID-19 measures have given cafes a reason to chase you away. If you go to the likes of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, or Starbucks, you would have seen a sign saying that you can only sit there for an hour.

In my experience, it’s not usually enforced, but the sign alone makes you feel unwelcomed.

And if you’re working hard, you really want to feel affirmed for what you’re doing.

Best cafe to work in Singapore
No one likes to feel chased away by the cafe staff

Uncrowded at your most productive times

Finding a place that’s uncrowded in Singapore is difficult. If a cafe has reasonable food, you can be sure that you will find many, many people there. Even a place like McDonald’s is bound to have many people.

Finding a crowded place would rule out most shopping malls, which are the absolute conglomeration of crowds. Shopping malls are built to bring everyone to a single place.

Thus, finding an uncrowded place that is still easily accessible is sometimes difficult, especially when you don’t want to be walking 15 minutes in the hot, humid Singapore weather and turn up at the cafe wet and sweaty.

I’ve found that a reasonable compromise are two types of places:

  1. Cafes at suburban office towers
    1. Those that are not based in downtown locations like Shenton Way, Downtown, etc
    2. Rather, those that are in the likes of River Valley, Hougang etc.
  2. Cafes in hotels
    1. Often these hotels have their lodgers leaving in the morning to sightsee, meaning that the hotel’s cafe is mostly quiet
    2. The drinks at these hotels though can be somewhat pricey though

But the second important thing to note is that it should also be uncrowded during your most productive times.

I’ve found that the Shenton Way cafes don’t work as well because the crowds are there from 9 all the way till lunch. I’m not sure if they are running away from their bosses, but you would often see office workers there having deep conversations about politics, and how bad their colleagues are.

Because I’m an early riser, and often find myself working best from 9am, finding cafes that are open at these early times can be difficult.

Power plugs

Recently, I saw a cafe who taped up their power plugs, and said that customers weren’t allowed to use it. I’m not sure why they did that, but some of it may be due to the rising costs of inflation, which they hope to save on.

Seeing power plugs in cafes is not usual, and even if they are, they are usually taken very quickly.

Great service staff

Finding great service staff is an anomaly in Singapore. In fast-paced Singapore, service staff can brush past you to get quickly to your order, and to usher you quickly out so that there can be a new customer.

Yet great service staff, especially those that you see on a daily basis in cafes, can be a real encouragement to you. Simple things like remembering your order, giving you a special cake for visiting them frequently, can really make your day.

Before I moved to the U.K., I remember going to The Loft Cafe in Chinatown (unfortunately no longer open). The waiter there would remember my order, and would also be a friendly chat whenever I felt bored.

My favourite cafes in Singapore

I would now share with you my favourite cafes in Singapore. These cafes tend to be located in the northeast of Singapore, because I stay in Hougang. Feel free to suggest others that you love!

Crane at Bugis

  • Power plug
  • WIFI
  • Great service staff who bother to greet you when you come in

Crane is a co-working space, but at this outlet, they have a cafe at the bottom. Crane regularly hosts events to encourage its members to share something with the community of co-workers.

This means that you can be regularly inspired by art, sculpture, and photos in their exhibition galleries that pop up around the studio.

I love Crane because their staff are friendly, and they take a deliberate effort to remember your name, whether or not you’re a member of their coworking space.

Kings’ Cart at Bishan Library

  • Power plug
  • WIFI
  • The staff will insist you buy something, after you sit there for 10 minutes

The staff at Kings Cart are very insistent that you buy something when you sit there. I guess you could say that the staff are doing their job.

Because it’s in the library, it can get somewhat noisy in the later afternoons, when more students come in after their school.

But I love it because the furniture is clean, and nicely wooden. There’s a good space between the tables, making sure that you have the space you need, and also that you wouldn’t be disturbed by the conversations of others.

Two Cranes Cafe at Kovan

  • WIFI
  • NO Power plug
  • Waiters will chase you away on weekends to turn over the table

I used to love Two Cranes Cafe, especially when there was a period when my neighbours were having renovations and I needed somewhere quiet to work.

But the cafe has changed a lot in the past few months, in a way that I don’t exactly like.

For one, they have removed your ability to charge your devices. This means that unless you have some super-powered battery, you probably can work for a maximum of 4 to 5 hours there. They also have the stickers that say that you can only stay there for 1 hour.

These changes are great for their business, but not necessarily great for people who are long-time seaters in their cafe.

I would recommend this still because they do have good coffee, and they have good food.

Where do you go from here?

Seeing these three recommendations, you may not have heard of any of these cafes. But what’s more important is the principles that we set out at the beginning of this article, which we hope can help you to choose your own cafes.

But what’s most important is ultimately to find a place where you can do the work, without being distracted. It’s the place where you feel like you’re high up in your ivory tower, undisturbed, and able to do the long periods of deep thinking that end up generating the most value in the business.

That’s more important than what cafe you go to.


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