A lot of people don't understand that WiFi service at coffee shops is provided as a courtesy, and as a result they tend to take it for granted. I know people who, after buying their first drink (the absolute cheapest one on the menu) sit at a table for hours at a time and use the Internet. Fundamentally, I think this behavior is unethical and I'm fully behind coffee shop owners who take measures to discourage it.
The best one I've seen is the method where your receipt includes a WiFi code that is good for two hours after activation. That is plenty of time to get work done, and afterward if you want to continue working then you go buy another drink.
Even better: have the code last longer depending on the amount you spend. Buying a high-margin drink? Have 3 hours on the house! Grabbing the cheapest option on the board? Sorry pal, it's 30 mins for you. There's a business model there, I think.
(The only problem for me is that I hate hate hate wifi portals. They all suck.)
A coffee shop I used to frequent  tried to take a "soft" approach to that, by having a sign near the electric outlets under the tables, asking patrons who were going to stay longer on their laptops to spend at least $n/hr (I don't remember what $n was). So people who didn't use the outlets didn't get bothered, and those who did got some guilt pressure to either buy things or not stay all day. I don't have any inside information on how well it worked, though. And this was a few years ago, so maybe that particular trick wouldn't work as well in these days of 10-hour MacBook Air batteries.
From chatting with a few managers in the Santa Cruz area (not sure how representative a market it is), they didn't want to actually drive away the laptop crowd, because that provided the majority of their business for much of the day. To some extent they wanted to be a coworking type of space, because there's no other way to fill up a coffee shop in Santa Cruz or Capitola at 11am on a Tuesday in November. They just wanted the laptoppers to either keep buying stuff periodically, or else keep their visits somewhat reasonable (i.e. not 8 hours on one coffee).
A different place I used to work at  actually liked me staying around all day, whether I bought something or not, on days when it was mostly empty, because it helped give the impression that the place wasn't deserted. They did most of their turnover on tourists, though, so there was sort of an informal agreement that laptopping regulars should move along when the place was full (mostly weekends or summer afternoon/evenings).
That would be OK if most high-margin drinks weren't packed with sugar and all kinds of other shit. Why punish people who want a simple Americano by forcing them to get up every 30 minutes and make a new purchase? :)
edit: Of course, the appropriate response to this is that getting up every 30 minutes to walk around and stretch is good for health. Yes, I do debate with myself in my head...
Buy four Americano's at a time, get two hours wi-fi and tell the barista to give the three extra drinks to their next three customers. You get your wi-fi, limit your caffeine intake, and help the shop generate goodwill with its customers, which in turn generates goodwill of the shop towards you.
If you're gonna be a hobo, at least try and be classy about it.
This doesn't surprise me. I recently read a thread (could have been on HN but I'm not positive) and I was surprised at the number of people that think it's fine to spend a few dollars on a cup of coffee and then take up a seat and use the free wifi for 8 hours. Most coffee shops (excluding the higher priced places like Starbucks) rely on a high turnover of customers to make a decent profit. There is quite a high markup on coffee but as it's usually so cheap ($1-3) they need to serve a lot of customers. In my experience coffee shops also tend to be quite small and finding a seat is difficult. When I see a place like this I usually go somewhere else. I can understand why they get annoyed at 'laptop hobos'. If you're going to take over a seat in the coffee shop for a day at least buy something every couple of hours.
I have been wondering for a long time why Starbucks and other coffee shops don't simply charge for wifi. 5 USD/3 hours seems like an absolutely great deal. Whenever I do work at Starbucks it's very productive and would be happy to pay for the right to be there. In fact, I wish there were a way to pay for the wifi so I didn't feel this guilt of whether to buy more items.
The people who aren't happy to pay for being there are the ones you don't want. Get this: There's a Starbucks near where I live that literally has a homeless guy in the same chair every day with a laptop. Guess how long he's been doing it? 3 years! It's insane. Have people pay, charge as much as the market will bear, problem solved. How are we even talking about this?
This seems like an interesting way to keep the incentives more aligned.
Personally, I wish there was a more socially acceptable way to just rent space at a coffee shop. I don't drink caffeine and I often need to find a place to crash for 2 hours which means either I buy a high calorie pastry/juice that I don't really need to be eating or I feel like an asshole the entire time I'm there. It'd be far easier for me if I could just drop $4 in a jar and have that cover my time.
What you need is a Bring Your Own Computer Internet café.
10 years ago, I hanged out a lot in internet cafés, and loved it. There was definitely something cool about it: hanging out with tech-savvy people, using beastly machines on powerful internet connections, exploring the exponentially exploding internet, playing games, ... It was a very social experience, and I befriended a few other regulars there.
I do miss the ambiance of these cafés, and I wish that laptops, better internet connections (the days of 56k are long gone) and ubiquitous free WiFi hadn't killed that kind of business.
There's potential for a revival of internet cafés, though. Good Wifi, preinstalled docks for common laptops, smartly arranged space (to avoid spilling coffee on your precious laptop because you accidentally pulled a cable !) and a different pricing model, you could attract easily the horde of Starbucks and McDonald's "laptop hobos"...
Yes! I totally agree! It doesn't even have to be intended as a coffee shop - just like a coworking space where I can show up, plug my laptop in to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, sit down at a comfy office chair and desk, and work for a few hours. Would gladly pay for that service.
A Russian cafe Ziferblat has been doing just that in Russia for two years already. The model was pioneered by a very passionate and modest guy called Vanya Mitin.
Actually, the article mentions it:
>Owner Daria Volkova, 24, was inspired by similar cafes in Russia, where she is originally from.
I don't want to sound mean; it's just that Vanya Mitin did really exciting things here and a lot of copycats used his model (which is of course how market works). Kudos to Daria for mentioning where the idea comes from.
> It'd be far easier for me if I could just drop $4 in a jar and have that cover my time.
There is a place like that here in Stockholm. But it's $40 for a full day (250 kr, 8 hours) and $10 for a single hour. Your $4 would be good for 30 minutes or so. Rent is incredibly high in central areas in which coffee shops need to be located to attract customers and is the primary reason why their coffee is so expensive.
Unsurprisingly, this place is mostly deserted and all the laptop hobos camp out in the nearby restaurants and cafés. You can even see them during the lunch hours with their stupid iMacs, iPads and white earphones plugged in, pretending not to notice that all the other tables are occupied and there is a line to the cash register. Often they are sitting by themselves at the four or six-seater tables instead of smaller tables which steals even more space.
AFAICT, many coworking spaces have similar models: you pay for your chair and free coffee is available. But something calling itself a coffee shop is probably set up much differently than something modeled around an office...
Is this really a serious problem? Anecdotally, 9 out of 10 visits to a coffee shop, I just get coffee and leave. 1 out of 10, I am meeting someone, usually to go over some business. In the 21st century, this typically requires Internet connectivity.
Not offering WiFi or putting time limits on it would make me feel unwelcome. Feeling unwelcome will make me not want to patronize said coffee shop the other 9 out of 10 times.
What's the secret sauce that makes Starbucks so successful? They made it a comfy place to hang out...the "3rd place" between home and work where you can go and feel welcomed. Schultz is always talking about it. Obviously, Starbucks is one data point, but I think there's something to it.
Yes, this is a real problem some places. At the closest Starbucks to me, there is practically never a free seat because of all the people camped out for hours at a time every single day. That means people with more reasonable needs, such as a place to sit for a few minutes waiting for a friend to arrive or complete an errand nearby, are out of luck. Those few are degrading the experience for many more, quite likely costing the store more than their own paltry consumption could justify (especially in a market with many alternatives).
Of course, this is exactly what anyone familiar with the tragedy of the commons would have expected. Self-regulation is not nearly as common or as effective as many would have us believe. Those squatters could yield this quasi-public space to others and work from home. They choose not to, knowing full well that they are being selfish by over-consuming that shared resource. They probably even know that the free lunch will not last forever. Nonetheless they persist. The proprietors have no choice but to take matters into their own hands, protecting their own interest by setting and enforcing limits.
With the right hardware it would be easy to tell which MAC address corresponds to which seat, and of course the proprietor would know when the occupant last purchased anything. That information should be sufficient to do the right thing when seats run out. ;)
> That means people with more reasonable needs, such as a place to sit for a few minutes waiting for a friend to arrive or complete an errand nearby, are out of luck.
I'm not sure that Starbuck's or other coffee shops view their mission as providing for the needs of people with a place to sit for a few minutes while waiting for a friend.
> Those few are degrading the experience for many more, quite likely costing the store more than their own paltry consumption could justify (especially in a market with many alternatives).
I somehow doubt this. Most of the complaints I see is that people who want to do things other than purchase goods (i.e., use the coffee shop as a place to hold meetings or wait for people) feel that they are unable to do those things as effectbecause other people are doing things other than purchasing goods (e.g., camping out with their laptops.)
I don't see much reason to believe that there is a whole lot of impact one way or another on the stores' ability to actually sell coffee, snacks, or other goods.
"I'm not sure that Starbuck's or other coffee shops view their mission as providing for the needs of people with a place to sit for a few minutes while waiting for a friend."
Actually, that has been part of the coffee-shop value proposition as long as there have been coffee shops. It's why they have seats in the first place. They're selling comfort as well as coffee. Obviously those seats are supposed to be for those who have purchased something, but within that context the social-connection role has been part of the equation for far longer than the WiFi-connection role.
"I somehow doubt this."
Doubt and rationalize all you want. It won't change the facts.
> Actually, that has been part of the coffee-shop value proposition as long as there have been coffee shops.
Selling coffee is the mission. Providing a place to hang out -- whether for a few minutes waiting for a friend or for a longer time -- is something that may, for some shops, be a means to advance that mission. But I don't think its the mission, or even a core service. If it was, they'd be selling that directly.
> Doubt and rationalize all you want. It won't change the facts.
The unsubstantiated speculation that the people that are doing not-buying-coffee things that you don't like are worth less to the coffee shop than people (including you) who you feel are being blocked by them in your desire to do not-buying-coffee things that you do like is not in any way established to be part of "the facts".
It's not unsubstantiated speculation. Read the damn story. It gives multiple examples of proprietors who are concerned about the impact the squatters are having on their bottom line. Are they all fools? Au contraire, they probably understand their business far better than either of us. There's even an example of a store that cut off WiFi and demonstrated a 30% increase in revenue. Those accounts are further reinforced from the consumer side by people right here who have said that they regularly walk out of coffee shops when they see those are full of squatters - a clear loss for those businesses. Are they all liars? Or is it just slightly more likely that the world is actually not as you'd wish it to be?
Your use of the word "squatter" is somewhat offensive. I'm sure of the coffee shop owners/employees asked them to leave, they would comply. Squatting is a legal term and typically implies hostility towards owners/rightful occupants.
For one, it saddens me that when I travel and need a place to drink coffee/eat a snack and catch up on email, I might be viewed as a "squatter" the minute I pull out a laptop...
The article uses "hobo," which is perhaps less offensive :)
I tend to camp out, or "squat," at coffee shops early in the mornings when they have very few customers anyways (true here at least, not in the states of course with more of a morning coffee shop culture). It's never really a problem because I'm gone before it gets busy, but I can see why there would be resentment.
Basically, if you are going to squat, don't go when its busy. Sometimes at night, for example, SBUX might be actually busy, but usually due to other squatters, so no guilt there.
I'm not suggesting that you're doing something wrong the minute you pull out your laptop. I don't think anybody is. It's all about how much of the finite seating resource is consumed for how much business. Somewhere down-thread is another comment about the purchase price for a cup of coffee being only partly about the coffee but mostly about the experience. Yes, and that's just as true for the person who only needs to sit down for ten minutes. They paid just as much for their coffee as the person who has been there all afternoon, they have just as much right to enjoy that experience, but all-afternoon guy is effectively crowding out dozens of such others. That's simply not fair.
I'm generally not affected by this myself, BTW. I don't go to coffee shops very often, and have only brought my laptop (sans power supply) a few times. The longest I've stayed has probably been a bit more than an hour. I've done more "squatting" at my local McDonalds, which has better WiFi and is practically empty in the mid-morning so nobody cares. However, I consider it a basic rule that if somebody else is waiting for something and you've had your turn then you should yield. If you don't feel that you've had your own fair turn yet, then by all means make the newcomer wait. No problem at all. This is only about the people who seem to feel that they're above that basic rule.
Your notion that the word "squatter" is offensive is offensive to me. Squatting is a long, proud tradition whereby property is taken from the greedy or dead and redistributed to those who are actually in a position to use it. Squatters are the rightful owners of property, both in spirit and in many places in law. It is a well established legal precedent that the needs of the living trump the wishes of the dead, and squatting laws were created to honor that.
Coffee shops are similar to book shops wrt providing a frreebie, i.e. wifi in coffee shop and reading latest instore mags in bookstore. Iusually bought one mag after spending an hour or 2 reading thru them to show my appreciation. Iresented it when bookshops started displaying their magazines wrapped in plastic only. Icouldnt even read the contents. Isuspect coffee shops will get the same reactions if they cut off wifi.
This is a real problem for bookshops and customers. Some people come in several times a week read for free and even bring in lunch. Often the magazines and newspapers are left in a state which is no longer fit for sale.
So what can we do?
In my opinion those people are making things worse for the shop and all decent customers, so just kick them!
But after years of "the customer is always right, many people have become so arogant that demanding acceptable behaviour from your customers will definitly kill your shop.
They could take the example that some record stores use, where there is a store copy that is played and customers use to see if they like it. When they bring it up to the register to buy, the clerk retrieves a brand-new copy.
> Selling coffee is the mission. Providing a place to hang out -- whether for a few minutes waiting for a friend or for a longer time -- is something that may, for some shops, be a means to advance that mission. But I don't think its the mission, or even a core service. If it was, they'd be selling that directly.
Really? And this is based on your experience running how many coffee bars?
Just today I was helping a friend with his resume, one who has started a couple of successful bars. The heart of what he had to say was about creating spaces for people to unwind, interact, meet, and just hang out. They were charging for the food and alcohol, but what they were selling was an experience.
Well that might have been true in the 17th century but Starbucks is totally fixated on making the most optimal use of its space - got to keep the cash coming as much as they are in avoiding CGT the tax on it.
> Of course, this is exactly what anyone familiar with the tragedy of the commons would have expected. Self-regulation is not nearly as common or as effective as many would have us believe. Those squatters could yield this quasi-public space to others and work from home.
I'm not sure you get the concept of these coffee shops. When I pay a coffee more than 5 dollars, I am not paying for the 0.1 dollar that the coffee actually costs to make, I am paying for a place to sit as well and do something with my time. Be it 10 minutes or 3 hours, it does not matter. You are not paying for the coffee. I consider it part of the service. I know for once that if I can't stay in these coffee shops I wouldn't even consider paying that outrageous amount just for a drink.
This being said, I don't really like going to SB or places like that, but when I do I certainly don't for the drink only.
Personally I don't see any difference between this and paying for a train ticket and being unable to sit during the journey. So yeah, I think it's fair. Whoever comes first gets the seat, and keeps the sit if they want to. It's not like you are renting the seat per x minutes or something.
When you are in park do you bitch about people sitting on benches for too long?
I'm not asking for justification. You think it's fair, and I respect you for that. I may have a different opinion, and that's fine too! It's just that it seems dishonest to deflect a question like the politicians do.
i sympathise with the local indie coffeehouse trying to cultivate an atmosphere and wanting to keep out the laptop workers. but starbucks? that's just about the only reason they exist - the only people who stay at starbucks are doing it to leech wifi. that is the atmosphere. it seems silly to fight it.
'Serious' is a strong word but I have this problem all the time.
2 of my favorite coffee shops (Filter and Peregrine in DC) are really small and constantly full of people working on laptops. I love the coffee but don't take guests or coworkers there because there are never open tables to sit and chat. I know other people who avoid them entirely because having sitting space is more important to them than the coffee itself.
People who stay for more than, say, an hour or two hurt turnover which is critical for smaller coffee shops that also serve food or snacks, whereas places like SBux make most of their money on people getting a quick morning fix, and can also afford bigger spaces.
I'd prefer if things bifurcated, big national chains that can afford the room offer wifi, smaller local places kill it to keep turnover up. I can see how it's a lose-lose for coffee shops having to choose one group or another. Some places turn it off after, say, 3pm which is a nice compromise.
This happens at a highly-frequented SBux in Lisbon's Rossio train terminal. There's a code on the receipt for 45 min of usage but, the one and only time I went there, I used the net for hours and it didn't turn off. I think it's just to deter people.
Yep, I've had the same issue at those shops. Greenberry's in Arlington had the same issue. We tend to forget that, while, yes, most of us on rare occasions camp out on a table with a laptop, there are people who, day after day, do this for hours straight at the same coffee shops. Those of us who pop in and grab a coffee to go at these shops? You guys see it too: the same mooching assholes, day after day, taking up 4 person tables with their bag and their laptop.
I can't even count the number of times I went into a shop wanting to actually buy food (high margin item) and coffee and sit down for 40 minutes, but couldn't while one of the regular moochers took up a table with an empty for 3 hours coffee cup that he spent 2 bucks on.
Not only do they tend to take up a table, it's usually a table marked as handicapped. Not that there's an obligation to honor that designation, but if you automatically go there when your Macbook Air could easily fit on a tiny little round table, you're a prick.
Ask friendly whether the whole table is booked and sit down. If they don't respond, just move their bag a bit and sit down. Keep looking friendly and relaxed, signal that you're not a threat and everything's usually fine. It's not that difficult.
(Escalated version: If they start complaining in an unfriendly way, mix your coffee with their laptop. Accidents happen in crowded coffee shops.)
DC seems to be one of the worst cities for this. I suspect it's the general demographic in many of the areas (lots of students, recent ex-students, interns, short-term residents with minimal social circles) coupled with miserable weather.
I haven't seen it be as great a problem in SF or Manhattan, but that could be due to the relative distance of universities from the "interesting" parts of these cities. Berkeley does have this problem near Cal but that's to be expected.
Saturday I went to the Duboce Park Cafe in SF and all of the good tables (against the wall/window) were taken up by single laptoppers. The only available tables for us were in the middle of the room and at the counter. I even came up with the idea that they should build little walls for the tables to divide them into two single seats, like library carrels (http://rmulibrarian.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/new-library-fur...).
Even so, if laptoppers had better manners, they'd take the worst seats first.
There are multiple definitions of fairness. FCFS might be considered a fair admittance rule, but not an occupancy rule. Consider processes in a computer system. Do we let one process hog the CPU indefinitely while others are waiting? No, most usable systems will context-switch when the current process exceeds its time quantum. "First in, first out" is usually a better rule for occupancy. Applied to coffee-shop seats, that would mean that people who haven't bought anything for a long time should lose their place to people who purchased something more recently. It's only fair.
The four tables on the right were singly occupied, as well as another wall-row of four tables behind the photographer. None vacated, and none ordered more during our time eating there. By my napkin calculation, we paid the cafe 10x what the coffee/laptoppers did.
This seems to be something that the staff should resolve. Write an email to the owner/manager with your concerns. In the absence of a person's ability to determine appropriate behavior, it's the duty of the establishment to do so.
They may tell you that those people consistently buy enough to justify their discount-Regus space and they may tell you that those nerdlings are holding tables for the groups of coworkers who rotate in on an hourly basis.
They may also have no idea that it's causing a problem because they see acceptable revenues.
Be more aggressive in asserting change and you'll feel a lot better. Just asking the staff or the shift manager will let you know if it's an easy problem to solve or if you should probably find a different place to hang out.
Coffee shops have become workplace annexes since at least the mid-1990s. I like to take meetings in them because the risk of being overheard regarding internal politics is reduced, it gets interviewees a chance to refresh while you get to know them, and frankly, we all need the walk sometimes. A cup of coffee is also a good unit of time. You may need to wait five minutes for it to cool to a drinkable temperature (I'm a quaffer), you'll take sips from time to time, and you'll eventually finish and have an understanding that something is at an end and a change should be made. In this case, it's throwing away your trash and de-assing the place. :-)
(And if someone has the iron butt to sit in those chairs in your photo for 4+ hours, the muscle and nerve soreness should be motivation enough to go someplace else.)
we paid the cafe 10x what the coffee/laptoppers did
There's probably some price where the cafe would force people to move, but you haven't spent enough yet. I can't tell if you're mad at the cafe for not honoring you for spending money, or if you're mad at the people with laptops for existing.
From the cafe's perspective, it sounds like everything worked perfectly. Even though you couldn't get the seat you wanted, you still had brunch there. And the people working on laptops bought something there; if they couldn't use their laptops, they probably wouldn't have bought anything at all. That, I suppose, is the advantage of being the only convenient place that serves both cucumber and capers with their lox bagel.
Short term gains for long term reputation losses as an acceptable mode of business?
Serving both cucumber and capers with their lox bagels is not much of a defensible competitive advantage, but I guess the owner just needs to ride out customer churn until they hit their ipo and can punch their exit strategy... well...
"The market" will resolve this problem. Just watch what happens when Starbucks not only tries to charge you $8 for a poorly made coffee, but also doesn't let you work there.
I suspect this wont actually happen, and also believe most of us only go to these establishments because a) they're everywhere / convenient, b) they let you sit there with a laptop and least importantly c) they have coffee
I have a similar ratio, but I would welcome a time limit. Web I go its usually just to hang out for a bit, read a book, and maybe comment about the passing customers on Twitter. But if it is one of those one or two in ten times I plan to stay and there are people at every comfy chair with laptop plugged in, I'll leave without buying anything. So I guess we have opposite philosophies there. I don't think it would at all affect my patronage when I want a coffee to go.
>What's the secret sauce that makes Starbucks so successful? They made it a comfy place to hang out...the "3rd place" between home and work where you can go and feel welcomed.
Starbucks even gives you free refills on coffee (plain old brewed coffee, not any more expensive drink) if you pay with their combination prepaid/loyalty card. Clearly Starbucks seems to have no problem with you staying there for quite a while, so long as you do it often.
There are a handful of coffee shops here in Seattle (Zoka immediately comes to mind) that I generally avoid because they're so full of people who use them as de-facto offices. That's not a huge loss for me, as there are plenty of other perfectly good coffee shops around.
You're in a different segment than me. I'm sure there's a few coffee shop customer segments and most of the folks on HN probably fit into the segment that this policy will alienate.
This would be beneficial for me. There's a really nice coffee shop in Brookline, MA (borders Boston and connects to the T) called Cafe Fixe. They make a great espresso. I try to go with my girlfriend every so often.
If I go there and there are no seats available, I leave without making a purchase. I know the same people sit at the tiny coffee shop for hours at a time. I'm sure the business lose hundreds of dollars (if not more) per week because seating isn't available.
This type of policy will probably help small specialty coffee shops more than the big chains.
When I'm in the states, I bring a jacket in the summer to starbucks.
I actually had a problem with certain starbucks in Beijing that don't have adequate heating in the winter...my feet are just hurting after 30 or so minutes. I've mapped out all the stores with decent AC and heat now, though I switch stores seasonally.
I am just happy Starbucks banned smoking around their stores. The side effect is that I have seen some laptop users actually outside!
Locally in Atlanta I only see the problem get bad when school is in, then some of the various coffee shops become Apple show rooms. Its like a clique that has last longer than I expected, but I am a generation or two removed.
As a telecommuter, I recognize when I go work from a coffee shop that I am using their resources. But that's why I 1) buy stuff while I'm there, and 2) tell all of my friends what a great place it is.
If one of my local shops pulled this on me, they'd not only lose my business, but that of friends when I tell them about the experience. Perhaps this isn't a big concern (I'm not particularly important, after all). But if it happens with enough customers, it could be bad for business in a more broad sense.
I recognize when I go work from a coffee shop that I am using their resources.
You should also recognize that you're using the resource (rivalrous) of other patrons.
they'd not only lose my business, but that of friends when I tell them about the experience.
Nothing personal, but if what you're telling them is that it's a good shop because they let you hang out all the time while buying little (less than their normal sit-down turnover proportion), then it's probably better that all of you stay away. I mean, your friends probably aren't idiots and they know you're not recommending the shop because you can't stop drinking their coffee and eating their food.
What would benefit the shop the most is if you were going broke from spending so much money there, and I'm gonna guess that's not the message you're sending. Your tone is really more of the (prospective) freelance client who says the gig is going to be "good for your portfolio," so can you work for cheap this time?
Again, I don't know you so this can't be personal, and you very well may only be there for an hour a day. It would be interesting to see proponents of coffee-camping and their $/hr spend at the places they set up shop.
Don't worry, I don't take your tone personally. :-)
I usually only go for half a day (4ish hours), and I wouldn't be surprised if I pay less than the usual turnover rate over time. However, given my locale, it's not unusual for me to be one of the only people in the coffee shop for the majority of my time there. So I'm not really a rival for other patrons too often.
I guess the take-away point here is that blanket statements about laptop hobos is kind of a sensationalist sentiment. I am sure there are folks negatively effecting some coffee shops, and I am equally sure there are some positively effecting others.
Agreed. I was a telecommuter for two years and regularly worked from my local coffee shop for 2-3 hours a day, usually mid-morning or mid-afternoon when it wasn't terribly crowded. I spent around $150 a month on coffee, on average. Like you, I also brought friends regularly.
If my coffee shop had pulled something like this, they would have lost a regular, paying customer. I kind of resent the "hobo" label.
Pulled something like what? From the article, the actions taken include "limited access to wifi at peak lunch hours and turned it off on weekends" at one place and "instituted a half hour wifi policy between 11.30 and 1.30" in another cafe. How would either of these have bothered you, when it sounds like you are already working around those times as a self imposed restriction? It kind of sounds like you are self identifying with people who do things that you deliberately don't do, which is odd.
If you're ethical about it, then cool. If you're one of those that think a $3.50 coffee entitles you to 4+ hours of electricity, seat, + Internet access, then you're the problem the coffee houses need to address.
This is why I 1) only hang around coffee shops with big seating areas, 2) pick the smallest table near a power plug, 3) try to buy something every two hours, be it water, coffee, sandwiches or muffins, to "simulate" turnaround as much as possible, and 4) evangelize for my local on G+, TripAdvisor etc.
I'm probably a bit over-sensitive because I come from a country (Italy) where waiters and owners will basically tell you to sod off if you hang around a table more than one hour... which is probably why most cafes there never offered wifi in the first place.
> I come from a country (Italy) where waiters and owners will basically tell you to sod off if you hang around a table more than one hour
Of course, that would also be a perfectly reasonable solution. It has the big advantage of being straightforward, directly addressing the actual problem without inconveniencing non-campers), and letting the customer know what the issue is, and it seems much more likely to work than any of these technical tweaks... (after all, you can easily use a laptop without wifi in many cases, or with a cellular modem, and some campers aren't using a computer at all)
Ideally they'd also apply such a policy thoughtfully, e.g., being more lax when the cafe is uncrowded, and letting you stay around longer if you were buying enough stuff. [After all, you're essentially renting space, and the appropriate price shifts up and down with demand]
Around here they explicitly put up signs saying they may ask you to leave if it's crowded and you've been there for a long time, but I've never, ever, seen that policy actually applied (and some people, mainly students studying, sit there for ages and ages nursing small coffee).
Personally, I'd also like it if they also gave one the option of straightforwardly renting space... sometimes I like to sit in a cafe, but don't really feel like drinking or eating anything...
The Grove on Fillmore St in SF has a goodbye to wifi sign near the entrance that I just noticed a couple of weeks ago, which I thought was pretty interesting. I, personally don't mind the wifi'ers at Starbucks or Panera, but my main comment is that the seating plans of these shops are not setup for solo workers. One visit to Starbucks had a slew of wifi workers sitting at 2-person tables. I couldn't help but think that the shop was a 1/2 occupancy just due to the seating plan.
It's definitely an interesting problem. Everyone has laptops, and coffee shops seemingly are not hurting for patrons anymore.
The problem with coworking space, at least here in Manchester (UK), is that it's inflexible and expensive. If I could pay something like £20 for a day, without any subscription attached, and get free coffee, I'd use it a lot. As it is, you have to pay for weeks or months in advance (and more like £30 to £50 per day), so I might as well go to the coffee shop whenever I feel like.
I like your plan, but I think you need a steady subscription cost. This subscription has the two fold advantage of giving the space a predictable income, and it makes the spaces participants less likely to engage in "not my problem" usage of the space itself, ala tragedy of the commons.
A hybrid system like what zipcar uses might work well. A small yearly membership rate (roughly £50/year) + reduced £15/day usage rate. Best of both worlds.
How would you feel about a credit-based hourly system? I.e., you put in £40 to your account, and you pay £2-£3 an hour for a desk which you can book a day or two in advance. Then you can order coffee from your desk which comes out of your account (but is, of course, cheaper than if you bought it using a card)?
$20 still seems like a reasonable price for that. It would be more that the all-day'ers are getting a better deal. I'm sure prices would equalize regardless, and those who don't want to pay can continue their coffee-shop campouts.
I've been to a few places like this (not US). You pay per hour and do whatever you want. Some snacks are usually free. At one place coffee was free as well, though you operate the coffee machine yourself.
I found those “open spaces” enjoyable but not optimal for work. People mostly come there to spend their leisure time, and they tend to gather in larger groups and behave noisier compared to coffee shops. This can be distracting, although perhaps not if you yourself are with a group of coworkers. Sometimes such places host small-scale art events (I imagine they aren't very profitable otherwise), so you have to adapt to their schedule.
A library is a better place, when it has good Wi-Fi and is generally well-maintained.
I've written to my local library organization suggesting cafe areas in some of the bigger libraries. Never heard back, but I really hope they think about it. It could raise some money and improve patronage. The local library is much more convenient for me than the coffee shop, but I need to be eating/drinking when I'm working on something.
They also appear to let you bring your own food and drinks. I've seen moms break out a box of Capri Suns to give to their herd of children and people unwrap a footlong from Subway in the Barnes and Noble Cafe.
Depends if they can handle the infrastructure though. Auckland Central Library in NZ was right next to two universities which meant that during the day all seats were taken up by students and the internet slowed to barely able to connect. Newcastle Library here in the UK has such iffy internet that you can barely connect.
This hasn't been a problem in my experience in Chicago (and to a much greater extent Oak Park). In both, there were lots of homeless people around the library --- but they weren't at the same table as you, and they didn't disrupt anything.
I've worked from a library a few times recently. Security is important, but there are libraries that don't have this problem (might depend on the country, though).
Other points I personally regard as features that help me focus. If wanted to get some food, I'd go to a café. To meet someone in person or make calls, an open space (if there isn't any, a café) is a decent option. But if I want to concentrate on something for a couple of hours, I personally go to a library.
Not in defence of laptop hobos, but the following is bs:
> "For centuries cafes have been places where people go to meet, trade gossip, network and otherwise come together informally, and some coffee shops are trying to encourage that social interaction again by taking action against the laptop hobos."
Anyone who has done a bit of history (or can find WP) knows that coffee-houses and pubs used to be places where people used to read, work, play games, and hang out for hours on end, whole days or evenings; every evening. Why? Because it saved money on not having to heat ones own living-room in winter...
Using a bit of electricity on top seems relatively minor in comparison...
(though a shift in the relative price of space and drinks/food likely explains the current issues...)
Sounds like a great opportunity for someone to create a new coffee shop chain specifically centered around the idea of seating people with laptops for a long time. Actually I'm not sure why this hasn't happened yet.
Internet cafes tend to be boring white boxes without food or drink, the walls lined with five year old crumbling windows PCs.
It seems like there is a middle ground which has not been explored, which is simply a more expensive coffee shop with more space, where you are allowed/expected to stay for long periods of time. I would pay for that.
You can call that an internet cafe if you want, but it wouldn't really be like any I've been to.
Interestingly enough, this is how some coffee shops operate in Tokyo. It costs $21 to rent a small private room with Internet access, computer and unlimited supply of coffee and soft drinks. According to article, these rooms are mainly used by unemployed people who can't afford to rent their own place.
I honestly have no problem with this.
If a shop feels the need to enforce limits then that's fine and is up to them.
If I go to a shop and there are frequently no seats for whatever reason I will stop going there. If I need wifi for something and a shop doesn't offer it then I won't go there either. It's up to the coffee shop to decides how best to balance this for themselves. There are plenty of other coffee shops and I will go to the one that normally has space and has wifi and good coffee if at all possible.
If I'm ever at a coffee shop too long then a worker there can ask me to leave. I will happily pay my bill and leave. However I will likely never return to that coffee shop. This is up to the shop, if they need the seat more than my custom then I honestly have nothing against them and as I said, there are many more shops. (I have never actually been asked to leave a coffee shop however.)
Such a weird topic to me. Wifi as a free service became popular as a way to attract people to establishments but the side effect is they get leeches. So at this point they want to reduce them, some taking steps far enough to remove the wifi. But now if they need to remove the wifi to keep their customer's flowing and happy why did they need it in the first place? Knee jerk reaction to a fad? Maybe it helped them grow in the first place?
I think any service, free or paid needs some sort of regulation from those who will take advantage of it. Having rules which state you need to be paying a customer and limit your stay to 30 minutes or whatever per order is probably the absolute maximum you require since its privately owned property. Having the rule covers your ass when you need it but doesn't require you to enforce it when traffic is slower.
I think this might also be something technology could solve.
Hosted wifi networks always seem awful, If there was some way to super easily enforce a bandwidth and per-device time limit to discourage squatters without making the network impossible to use, that would be great.
It always seemed to me like leachers are something that shops should deal with on a customer by customer basises. But I can understand why they want rules from corporate. It can be very hard for a barista to tell someone to leave (or even kick them out) but let another person stay.
I know several Starbucks where people will spend 8+ hours sitting there with their laptop. There was even one guy that would be there from open to close 4-5 times a week! Some of these people would get agressive about which table was "theirs" or which outlet they used. (one guy was from another country and his power adaptor blocked the second outlet.)
Blocking the power outlets help, but a good MacBook will last 4-8 hours anyway. I'd hate to see the free wifi disappear because of a few bad apples.
Could almost make a case for a "tragedy of the commons" situation here. Common resources of seats and wifi. Most people treat them reasonably using the seats for social interaction and the internet for meeting resources perhaps, but some people having no reason not to leech onto it and over use it then causing the aforementioned problems ruining it forever one with blanket bans and plug power slots.
As per usual moderation is probably the key. Around here lots of places give out wifi for 2 hour per drink. At least they keep you buying if you are going to sit and take up space and wifi. Seemed pretty fair to me. Most casual cases and meetings are well with in 2 hours so more cases are covered and the hobos get the boot or are forced to pay.
As someone who works remotely a lot - I hate working at my apartment, so I usually coffee shop-hop when I'm getting things done. I like being around people, and a lot of the times I'll meet up with a friend and cowork, catch up, etc.
So, open question: What are good alternatives? (in SF)
-The libraries are full of actual hobos (i.e. they smell like piss)
-I researched coworking spaces awhile ago and most required an exorbitant subscription/startup/VC funding. Wix was awesome but then they pivoted into something else.
-Noisebridge is great for side projects and hanging out but I don't bring my professional work there.
First, who reads msn.com ?
Second, in 2010 starbucks in NY required you to have a starbucks card to access wifi. That didn't work well and they gave wifi free again, so stay cool-- they know what is good for their business.
As an ex-Senior PM for MSN.com, well, lots of people. When I worked there a couple of years ago, we were the fifth most visited website in the world, averaging 7,100 articles read per second. But hey, I realize it's not hipster-chic.
You can tell a good coffeeshop by the ambient temperature they maintain. If you're cold, they want you to get it and go.
I'm lucky to have a coffeshop/arcade nearby. The owner wants you to stay, hang out, play games, read some comics. Sometimes I've gotten 3 drinks and food throughout the day. It's not a great study/work location especially when you get distracted watching someone else play a new game on the projection screen but the ample seating means no one walks in and goes "oh...well, guess I'm getting it to go"
Mishka's Coffee in Davis, CA has an interesting approach to this. They have a small dedicated section at the front of the cafe that is reserved for  "the original, intended way [of using a cafe]". You're only allowed to read a newspaper or hang out and chat in this section.
That's an entirely reasonable way to handle it. Simply designate a certain amount of tables off-limits to using for "work". Then the coffee shop stops losing business when somebody just wants to DEPRINK COFFEE for twenty minutes.
All of the comments on the msn page, seem very self-righteous.
If only there was a way to monitor bandwidth per attached wifi device and slowly limit it for devices attached for a very long time. Why can't they do something like this using a $50 WRT54G and the Tomato firmware? Just turn the QoS setting on and put everyone in a very low bandwidth class. You don't need a perfect solution (like giving 50MB per coffee).
I feel like I should probably buy a cup of something every half hour to an hour when I sit there. Nothing irks me more than looking for a seat to drink and surf a bit then tables full of people who don't even have a drink but are just using it as a public free wifi office (lots and lots and lots of salesmen).
Putting codes on receipts that die after a half hour or so is the best possible solution to me.
It's interesting to notice the attitudes of the individual shop owners and how they appear to have changed over time. It used to be the case that coffee shops wanted to attract the quiet techie types, clacking away at their laptops and sipping on lattes while checking email, watching videos, working, building the next facebook... whatever. It didn't matter, as long as the ambiance reflected that progressive hopefulness that a quiet 20/30-something on a laptop used to project.
"Used to project," being the key phrase there. It seems that based on the attitudes of coffee shop owners, we're entering a post-internet era. Are people finally starting to again realize (as they once did in the early 90s) that being antisocial in public is simply not cool? I tend to think we've evolved with understanding as a basic part of our subconscious. We see a person engaged in antisocial behavior in a public places, and we tend to think less of that person. It would seem that our innate beliefs are once again rising to prominence.
The one thing that still fascinates me is the thought that somehow lack of wifi and electric outlets will drive people away. Sure, it might work for a short while if there are suitable alternatives near by, but once those alternatives follow suit, people that rely on coffee shops for a place to work will simply resort to air cards/phone tethering.
A typical MacBook Pro will last you 6-7 hours with screen at low brightness. Newer Airs do even better. Ditto for iPads, etc. Plus many of tablets/netbooks come with a built-in LTE service.
A more sustainable solution would seem to be better equipped spaces. Someone kept going off on people taking tables that would seat two-four others. While the comments themselves illicit no sympathy from me (especially about spending 10x), there is a good point made that if we developed etiquete of providing and using laptop-specific seating, it would ease some of the congestion. Just a thought...
I've never been a coffee drinker, so I'd sometimes park where I can pick up a signal, using my vehicle as a power source, but since I got a "4G" mobile hotspot I no longer use free wifi and I have the option of smoking while in the confines of my automobile as well as a change of scenery as the situation permits.
As for Starbucks, my local one (it's one of few bigger "reserve" store) had this problem before they renovated.
When they renovated the store, they changed it so they have "bar" desk facing the two sides of the store facing the window with plenty (pretty much every seat) and also some in the very middle section of the seat.
What I have been observing is that people who need power for their laptop tend one of those seat -- while some people do use laptop in other seats, they are more transient.
Of course given this is all given there are enough space to do this type of arrangement, but sometimes these approach of actually manipulating behavior rather than being prohibitive is one approach those places can take.
Is it just me or are coffee shops turning up the music too? I'm having a hard time finding a coffee shop where I can have a skype or phone call. Loud music and/or noise is one way to discourage long-term telecommuters who need to stay in touch.
I'd be more understanding of this sort of thing at Starbucks if the Starbucks locations near me weren't friendly to ACTUAL hobos. I've walked into SB and been hit with a wall of piss reek on more than one occasion.
Heaven forbid a business's policy to provide food and drink to the homeless interferes with and limits your "understanding"/acceptance of their not desiring you to spend the day using the Wifi whilst not spending money, probably whilst claiming that you benefit the business somehow by "creating atmosphere"...
Newer laptops have 6+ hour batteries. Not having a power outlet won't deter anyone in the future.
Also, if you have Clear or tethering you don't need WIFI to get online. I have Clear and it's been fun to find new places to work. (I just wish Clear had better coverage maps.) So why be a "hobo" at one location when you can work at several locations?
As far as limited space, this is not really an issue unless you live in a big city. If you're in NYC, you're elbow to elbow like sardines all day long everywhere you go, is this really news to anyone? If you don't like it, move somewhere less crowded.
Fairly simple solution- try selling Gogo-style wifi to customers? That way people who are using the wifi the most will be paying their share. Counterargument: "I'd just go to a place that has free wifi." Exactly.
A simple solution to this problem would be to replace the seating in the coffee shop with less comfortable ones.
A while ago I had to work from a coffee shop for one day and while the chair I was sitting on was comfortable for 3 to 4 hours, my back and arms really started to ache after that time. The next day I still felt it.
This would solve the problem: regular laptop hobo's will not use your shop because it will not be comfortable to work there, while customers that are there to socialize are there for a short amount of time anyway.
I work in an office where I frequently lose internet (thanks Comcast!) during the middle of time sensitive projects, so I have definitely camped out for several hours in a Starbucks while crashing on some issue or another. However, given that I buy more than 1 coffee per hour, I don't see the damage. Also, last time I had to crash land at the Starbucks I went to the restroom to find my seat snagged by an actual hobo (title reminded me), so I went to the bar that offered free wifi instead.
In Berlin there's St. Oberholz: http://www.sanktoberholz.de/
which has really embraced the people using it as an office. Feels like a very welcoming place when you have to get some work done and you won't bother "normal" people since everyone knows what the place is about. They even have added a better co-work space with more office services like snail mail, scanner, printers, conference rooms etc.
Obviously there are two sides to this coin, and that calls for two solutions. Some coffee shops can certainly adopt this and similar policies to cater to customers that would prefer not to be around people tapping away on their keyboards, while other coffee shops can become the new haven for those people.
I think it's a fair solution, and it reminds me of how some restaurants will adopt policies to ban children from the premises for similar reasons.
> Some shops say they've had enough. They're either laying down customer rules for Wi-Fi use or eliminating it at certain hours -- or even altogether -- while blocking their wall outlets.
Portable hotspot all-day batteries (e.g: Macbook Air's) are two examples of bypassing such restrictions. Forbidding the use of laptops sounds more convincing. But that should be enough to trigger some sort of segregation anyway. Not a slick move.
A good non-technical solution to this problem is an intentionally slow/standard Internet connection, such as at my cafe of choice.
For me, it is frustrating to be at this cafe at peak laptop hours and I think it causes people to churn in and out. So, I try to only use my laptop there when there are fewer laptop users at the cafe. I think this is a good psychological effect for the cafe to impart on its customers!
IMHO this is one of the many signs that soon there will be a new kind of coffee shop that emphasizes more on the social space rather than on coffee.
What people like us are looking for is not a cup of freshly-brewed black coffee (although that definitely adds to it) but a social space with stable & fast internet. Something that is a crossover of a coffee shop and an open workspace.
Why hasn't anybody figured out to put a reasonable time limit on each device Mac address? 1 hour since you first log in should be enough to satisfy 90% of customers and discourage the 10% hogging seats. Its like saying - you are limited to 5 refills and being able to enforce it discretely. Who would object to that other than those taking advantage?
I think the reason is because that really didn't work for some reason. Starbucks experimented that idea for a while. (I think it was something like 3 hours for buying a something using registered card, and that then they decided to open it up...)
My personal opinion about MAC address filtering though, if they become the norm, everyone will start using a piece of software that changes MAC address periodically... (As it's already trivial to change your MAC address...)
Coffee shops have traditionally also been places to read or write, why is using a laptop that different? For those who have complained about laptoppers taking up two person seats a) Most cafes I've been to have had few one person seats and b) most laptops with a coffee take up the space of a two person table.
Visit San Francisco's 'Coffee Bar' in the Mission to see a place the eeks out every drop of profit with many kinds of seating and various rules over time for some areas. Always packed and people learn the rules quickly. Lots a good nudging going on.
As someone who occasionally does spend a few hours in a cafe writing (I'm doing my PhD and it stops me going mad), what's the fair payoff? Sit at a small table and buy a decent coffee (i.e. a latte rather than a cheap filter coffee) every two hours?
i can't remember the last time i sat in a coffee shop just to chat for 20 minutes. i am in, and out, because EVERY single one is filled with laptop 'workers'. even the $15 exotic coffee place that looks like a meth lab is filled with hipsters on their laptops.
i live in santa monica, this is definitely a recent phenomenon - i used to be able to walk into a bean or bux and grab a table for a few minutes, like... 3 years ago
I've noticed that there are two types of laptoppers that frequent coffee shops, the "well-heeled" and the "hobos". The former are social, interesting, always buy drinks/food. They may stay for a long time, but they typically add to the atmosphere rather than detract from it. The only thing that really bugs them is when the Internet is spotty or really slow.
Then there's the other sort, the "hobos." They bring a ton of crap, (I saw one guy haul a fricken printer into a Starbucks) it's even chances on whether they'll order something or not, get angry at the drop of a hat, and you get the distinct feeling like they don't have / can't afford Internet at home.
The thing about the latter is, they tend to have older laptops whose batteries can't hold a charge. Guaranteed they won't have 4G devices. So removing the power outlets is probably the easiest and best solution to the problem. You'll keep the good sort from being able to stay all day, but if the problem is really that bad, the well-heeled wouldn't want to stay anyway due to the atmosphere being created by the hobos.