the end of free laptop use in cafes?

The changing culture of cafes in NYC: a sign of things to come? No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users.

I was chatting to someone about this on a coffee morning recently: when I review a cafe, I don’t include details like whether it would be possible to work there for hours, whether there’s free WiFi, as I don’t think it helps the owners of the cafe to have someone there for hours, taking up a table and not spending enough money.

What do you think about working in a cafe: is there an upper-limit for how long you can spend there?

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  1. i think as long as you are purchasing things (drinks, eats) from the store – that you be allowed to be there.
    But it comes down to common sense but sadly (some) nerds lack that.
    i know freelancers who do it as a change of scenery or to get the much needed caffeine hit, for travellers its helpful to have somewhere to chill and plan the next step or steps of their itinerary, and for business people it makes meetings seem less conventional if done with good coffee and a different location.
    Most people spending their time in decent cafes with decent coffee are likely to be there for the quality beverage and atmosphere and not the free wifi – im sure if polled – people would pay for that… i know i would.

  2. I know my rule is that I have to have a hot coffee in front of me to be in the cafe. I can draw out a beer for an hour and longer for a piece of sticky date pudding but even while I was in the States and there were free refills available (which I was offered) I still chose to buy a new coffee if mine had gone cold and I wanted to stick around. Most of the cafes in Portland were Wi-Fi friendly and definitely touted as such, to attract the hipster (technorati not low-slung jeans-wearing) crowd. On reflection, my second coffee was usually better than my first, when I’d explained why I was foregoing the free refills and going for a brand new coffee…

  3. The original article was a lazy journo beatup – find 2 or 3 disgruntled cafe operators and generalise a mass movement from it. Very Channel 9.

    But to the real issue: most cafe operators want more customers, not fewer. Adding desirable features like WIFI makes them more attractive. Once the customer’s in the door, a smart operator will keep them spending if they want to use the seat, or politely ask them to leave. Simple. The ‘turn it off’ argument is not unlike the old chestnut that providing comfortable chairs will encourage customers to stay too long – make them stand!

  4. @chan, I think having 3G access on my iPhone has made me reluctant to pay for wireless when I’m out and about – I’m glad someone is prepared to, though.

    @adam Nice to see the baristas looking after you!

    @Ken, good points as usual. I guess I was trusting the Wall Street Journal to present a better standard of reporting! It was something I’d seen in a couple of places on that particular day.

    I think the kind of cafe owner profiled in that article is one who has trouble asking their customers something politely: generally, these are the ones who don’t last all that long in the business.

    I’d say that WiFi is unlike comfortable chairs in that it provides an ongoing cost to the business: the chairs are a one-off capital expenditure. I can see what you’re getting at, though!

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