Coffee shops take arms against Internet freeloaders
Customers who gobble up free Wi-Fi found to take up space for paying customers
Free Wi-Fi or wireless Internet connectivity has been a boon to many cafes and restaurants - as well as a bust. While the notion of bringing a laptop to a coffee shop or restaurant to check email or surf the net attracts customers, it's not always the ones that these businesses want. Some bring in their device and nurse a single cup of coffee for several hours, while others simply plop down and don't buy anything at all. This hurts business, and some business owners are taking arms against these "Internet freeloaders" or "bandwidth thieves."
Some café owners want to avoid the blue-faced, zombie syndrome where there is table after table of vacant faces staring into laptops - and don't offer Wi-Fi at all.
Some extreme measures have been taken. The owner of San Francisco's Coffee Bar, for example has set 30-minute time limits during peak times and has created "laptop-free" seating so customers will get available tables. Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn now covers some of its electric outlets in order to discourage laptop users.
"It's difficult to generate profit from coffee sales alone," a former café owner says. "Ultimately it's more about your average check in general. You really need people coming in to eat."
Lime many owners, she wanted a relaxed coffeehouse vibe, and offered free Wi-Fi. "What we found was that there were lots of people that would come in - if you were lucky they would maybe order a large coffee but sometimes they would just demand water - and would sit there for hours."
Adding insult to injury was the fact that these customers tended to be the most demanding. Some would even use her café to solicit business from her other customers. Eventually she sold the business.
As the saying goes, "It is the responsibility of the owner to make their customer feel at home - and it is the responsibility of the customer to remember that they are not at home." One of the biggest challenges for owners is to provide an inviting environment, while making sure customers don't get too comfortable.
Abraco in New York is standing-room-only - meaning there's no seating. The café is arranged in a way that encourages customers to drink, eat and then leave.
Also, in small cafés that have limited seating, squatters feel more self-conscious about taking up one of only a handful of seats.
Verve in Santa Cruz has a limited menu of pastries and doesn't offer table service, has password-protected Wi-Fi service, but the password is given out freely and there is no time limit for usage. The manager says that Wi-Fi squatting isn't really a problem and that people cycle out pretty well.
Still other café owners want to avoid the blue-faced, zombie syndrome where there is table after table of vacant faces staring into laptops - and don't offer Wi-Fi at all.
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