Fewer Twitters with caffeine jitters?
August 7, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

According to the Wall Street Journal, coffee shops in New York are starting to cut back on laptops -- by reducing WiFi privileges, removing outlets, or banning the machines outright. This article has spawned a vast number of spin-off pieces and conversations across the Web.

Meanwhile, the quest for a place to lounge in the glow of unlimited Internet use continues to be a beacon... even here on MetaFilter.
posted by Shepherd (100 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
My local Barnes and Noble is perfectly willing to take advantage of the coffee shops' near-sightedness. After years of charging for access to their AT&T wireless, they've made it available free!

That said, if you live in a place with good libraries, you should go there instead. Support public institutions and resist the privatization of public space.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:39 AM on August 7, 2009 [15 favorites]


I can hear the wailing from Williamsburg all the way in Wyoming.
posted by elder18 at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Related: My coffeehouse nightmare: "This kind of money is only achievable through solid foot traffic, but, of course, our cafe was too cozy and charming to pop in for a cup to go. The average coffee-to-stay customer nursed his mocha (i.e., his $5 ticket) for upward of 30 minutes. Don't get me started on people with laptops."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Man, there's free wifi all over New York, and if not, subscribe to Boingo or T-Mobile for $10/month and work wherever you want.

One recommendation: Columbia University offers free public (and fast) wi-fi that reaches anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the campus.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2009


One of the things I didn't want to overstuff the FPP with (largely because this is now my conjecture) was how much of a ruckus this is causing for what is, at heart, an amazingly thin story. Four or five bits of anecdotal evidence, and suddenly the WiFiSky is falling over North America.
posted by Shepherd at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just read the main WSJ link (so I'm not sure if this was raised elsewhere), but the same argument about chair hogs could be said about people reading books or the newspaper, though that is not as pandemic as the laptoppers. NO BOOKS in coffeeshops! That is my rallying cry.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"...there are folks who are either shameless enough or feel entitled enough that they bring in their own food or coffee, or purchase nothing, and then complain when asked to make a purchase or leave."

I hope those are incredibly isolated incidents. Although I've seen plenty of people at coffee shops that appear to be digging in for the long haul of surfing and lounging, everyone appears to be at least creating the illusion of being a valuable customer. Even in businesses that don't have a specific policy - isn't there a social contract at play here?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


...how much of a ruckus this is causing for what is, at heart, an amazingly thin story.

Does this not apply to about 94% of everything available via conventional media?
posted by odinsdream at 10:53 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


A local coffee shop (Victrola) had a no wi-fi policy on the weekends. Seemed to work out well for them. They are packed on sat. and sun. and that way turnover is fast enough that individuals who aren't working can find a place to sit.
posted by lucasks at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2009


A few years ago I lived across the street from a coffee shop. I had no A/C, and one very hot summer I took refuge from the heat by sitting in that coffee shop with my laptop, using my own wireless. I bought myself a cold drink every hour or so. I figured that was my payment for the use of the space.

The staff were very friendly.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2009


Some Seattle coffeeshops have been doing this for a number of years now, too— e.g., Victrola in 2005 (NPR, NYT). (Apparently Victrola stopped doing this for a while but recently started again.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2009


I hope that laptop users continue to be welcomed at coffee shops because they provide me with great cover. As a breastfeeding city mom on the go, I am often in need of a quiet corner I can settle into with Go Banana Jr. Coffee shops (particularly Starbucks, though it pains me to admit it and I still think their coffee tastes like dirty feet mixed with rubber tires) are a perfect place to hang out, and all those laptop users means no one gets fussed if I don't buy anything. (I do usually try to buy something, but overcaffeination wreaks havoc with the milk truck supply lines).
posted by Go Banana at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


god forbid people in a public place would have to talk to each other
posted by pyramid termite at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2009


I found the lack of free wi-fi is a boon for productivity. I'm not tempted by the siren-song of social media and I can focus for long enough to get work done, whatever work it may be. Combine this with a latte and I am all set.
posted by hellojed at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2009


I used to work at a popular coffee shop on Thayer St in Providence in the 80's. Coffee was 50 cents, served in a regular ceramic coffee cup, there were no such things as laptops or wifi, and people used to camp out there all day.

We had a $1.50 minimum for the outdoor tables, and nobody wanted to meet it.
posted by jfrancis at 11:02 AM on August 7, 2009


I was all ready to say something snarky about coffeeshop owners painting bullseyes on the top of their Chuck Taylors, but the WSJ makes some good (if purely anecdotal) points about people hogging tables during the lunch rush without, you know, buying lunch, and bringing their own sandwiches in, as if it were the school/work cafeteria. As noted above, you should be able to find a place to brown-bag it without cutting into someone's profit margin.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have never in my life entered a coffee shop and seen perfect strangers strike up conversations with one another because of the absence of laptops. In fact, I think I get into more conversations with perfect strangers because they're curious about my eeePC.

Go Banana: there are non-caffeinated drinks at Starbucks.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2009


If real estate rather than coffee is the scarce thing here, the thing people are hogging, cafes could always lower the price of coffee (or even give it away) but charge for the seat. When you walk in, you deposit ten bucks and get a timestamp, grab a coffee, and plant yourself somewhere. If you leave early, you get a refund for the unused time. If you overstay, they boot you or you pay more.
posted by pracowity at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


I have never in my life entered a coffee shop and seen perfect strangers strike up conversations with one another because of the absence of laptops.

that's because you weren't around in the 70s and 80s - believe it or not, people used to go to public places with the idea that they were in public and that interaction with members of the public was something that happened - they weren't able to shield themselves with laptops and cell phones and essentially pretend they were in a private cocoon

things have changed
posted by pyramid termite at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


As a nine-year veteran barista at a popular and locally owned coffee house, I don't get the need for instituting a blanket policy. You keep an eye on all your customers, anyway: you see someone who think is taking advantage of the wifi, you simply talk to them on a case by case basis. You don't lose customer turnover, and you don't alienate a core segment of your customer base. What's the problem?
posted by barrett caulk at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


Some Seattle coffeeshops have been doing this for a number of years now, too

Those would be coffee shops that would kind of drop off my mental list of useful coffee shops I guess.

Though...

I found the lack of free wi-fi is a boon for productivity. I'm not tempted by the siren-song of social media and I can focus for long enough to get work done, whatever work it may be. Combine this with a latte and I am all set.

Yeah, flipping the little wi-fi switch on the side of my laptop is like switching on productivity turbo mode, if I want to get some writing done. I'd totally hit a store without wi-fi to do writing if they had the outlets.

'course, sometimes hitting the internet is actually what you need to be doing, in which case not having it available at all would be quite annoying.
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2009


that's because you weren't around in the 70s and 80s

Cocaine party!
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


But seriously, did people do much working out of coffee shops in the 70s and 80s? That seems like a fairly recent phenomena to me. As does the proliferation of coffee shops, come to think of it.
posted by Artw at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2009


that's because you weren't around in the 70s and 80s

I wasn't?

Granted, I wasn't much into the coffee shop scene in the 70s, as I was still a bit too young for it, but I spent many an hour in coffee shops in the 80s and still do not recall a single time I struck up a conversation with a stranger that didn't involve me and my friends backing away slowly.

Conversation in coffee shops is between people who already know each other, generally speaking.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:15 AM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Hildegarde--I know, and 9/10 times I do buy something (yum, cookies). It can get a little pricey when it's my 3rd stop of the day though!
posted by Go Banana at 11:19 AM on August 7, 2009


Artw, you saved the thread with that comment. Made me laugh out loud ;-) Thx
posted by a3matrix at 11:19 AM on August 7, 2009


The random coffeshop conversation I always seem to have is the guess-the-nationality one. "Are you irish? are you australian?" - that and conversations about kids, if I've dashed in with my daughter. Those usually end pretty abruptly as she runs off/decides to play with breakbales and I1 have to dash off after her. She's definitely a multiplier when it comes to chances of conversation, but I;d say the laptop was pretty neutral - it extends the time I'm going to be there, but the portion of that time I'm likely to be chatting with anyone is the same.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on August 7, 2009


I walked into the Coffee Bean nearest my retinal doc last week and it was UCLA Study Hall Central. Every table, someone with a laptop and a stack of textbooks, one cup of coffee, dead silent.

I got my giant iced tea and slowly backed out the door, lest my scent alert them to the presence of outsiders.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


One really great coffee shop here in vegas has free wifi, but in order to use it, you have to buy something, and you get a 30 minute password. As long as you've bought something, you can get a new password every 30 minutes, even if you only bought something when you first came it. They also have 'for pay' computers set up so people without laptops can still get online and what-not, kind of like Kinko's. Seems to work pretty well for them. I guess it's just a matter of not thinking clearly about how to manage a "free" wifi setup.
posted by daq at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Conversation in coffee shops is between people who already know each other, generally speaking.

That's not true, I've met plenty of folks in coffee shops. I don't think, though, that the prevalence of laptops/wifi makes this any less likely to happen now. People intent on doing something are going to be less open to conversation with strangers regardless of whether that something is talking to the friends they're with or reading a book/the newspaper or messing about on their laptops.
posted by juv3nal at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2009


That setup is called a "cybercafe", as invented in the 90s, along with dreadlocks, trance music and "smart drugs".
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


...the WSJ makes some good (if purely anecdotal) points about people hogging tables during the lunch rush without, you know, buying lunch, and bringing their own sandwiches in, as if it were the school/work cafeteria.

*boggles* The fact that ANYONE would even THINK to do that just astonishes me. I've used the WiFi at a nearby coffee shop a few times, and I ALWAYS pick up a couple things while I'm there. It just....seems the thing to do (besides -- look, coffee! That I didn't have to make! Right where I'm going to be working! Why wouldn't you get any?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2009


I don't really notice people chatting with each other in public spaces. Even without computers, the coffee shop seems to be pretty much people there with friends and people reading. If it is really crowded I do chat with people who are at a table with me, but the computer doesn't really make a difference, except as a convenient escape if the person doesn't seem interested.

I guess if you live in the neighborhood or are a regular at a place a relationship could form and that would be cool.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:39 AM on August 7, 2009


A local coffee shop (Victrola) had a no wi-fi policy on the weekends.

Tryst in my old 'hood in DC does this, too: during the day, WiFi is free for all. At night and on weekends, they shut it off.
posted by deanc at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2009


This is pretty common practice in Vancouver. We joke that you can spot a Waves Coffee before you can see the sign because of the line of laptops in the window... they are one of the few coffee shops that provide free and unadulterated wifi access, and literally every surface will have a laptop on it. If you're a paying customer, don't expect to find anywhere to sit. Every other business seems to have a policy of at least nagging people who obviously aren't buying anything, or they simply don't provide wifi.

I think the solution is simple; provide your WEP key on receipts and change it daily, poof, now you get wifi with your coffee but nobody steals it. Because otherwise people do habitually treat the cafe like their own office space, where a library is much more suited to that purpose. The decline of social interaction in social spaces should be fought, and small policy changes can easily be made by owners of cafes if they are interested.
posted by mek at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


As to pre-wifi coffehouses, there was one in St. Louis, now defunct, called The Grind. From 94 when they opened to about 99 or 2000, they had no wifi. Few computers were seen, it was usually about playing pool, talking to friends, making new friends.

I spend a lot of time in coffeshops in general, and I find that the indie ones tend to be a good place to meet new people. The chain stores, nobody talks to nobody.

In the past year and a half my favorite coffeehouse added wifi and the place went from people reading and talking to a sea of laptops. But, the only constant in life is change. The establishment is enjoying all the extra business the wifi brings in, so they aren't complaining.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 11:44 AM on August 7, 2009


Some friends of mine were in town last year, and we went to a local coffee place, ordered, sat down, and began to have a conversation. After a few minutes, a very upset youngish man stormed over to our table, pointed to all the other university-aged people in the café on their laptops, and said "can't you see we're working?"

I told him that, in an odd fit of coincidence, we had just been kicked out of the university library when we tried to drink coffee and chat in there.

He didn't follow.
posted by Shepherd at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [75 favorites]


I spent a good few of my formative years hanging out in a few coffee shops on South Grand in St. Louis. We would talk until four or five in the morning and then wander on to the diner for some greasy food. Certainly no laptops involved, though I do remember one shop (Caffiend) that had a bunch of computer in the back, mainly used by Evercrack junkies.

Now I live in Davis, CA. The notorious laptop-dominated coffee shop is called Mishka's. They have a Rule, printed, laminated, and attached firmly to about eight tables, which states that anyone using a laptop or reading anything other than a newspaper must leave the table to which the Rule is attached and relocate to the Grad Student Ghettoe that makes up three-quarters of the shop. So long as you don't sit in one of the sacred spots for the traditional customers, you get free electricity and Wifi. It seems to work really well; they get a bunch of 'slow' business from the students, and have space for the 'fast' business that comes through, too.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know if coffeeshops were more sociable before laptops. I took my typewriter into one once and they got real unfriendly for some reason.
posted by WPW at 12:11 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Good. The Panera near my campus is sometimes a ridiculous example of this - tons of people lounging around all day on their laptops, while the lunch crowd jostles for remaining seats.

The weirdest thing is that we have over 2 dozen libraries, many with group study rooms, a few open 24/7, and with free internet all over campus. Some even have cafés with coffee! It is so weird.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2009


Huh, I just posted an AskMe about this topic, weird. AskMe thinks that I'm OK as long as I'm not taking up space desired by other customers and as long as I buy a lot and tip generously!
posted by tristeza at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, man--this is our store policy, to preserve the integrity of the wi-fi. It’s about the quality of the Internet, and diluting the connection speed is really not cool with us. So I mean, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and I can’t stop you, but, what you’re about to do . . . that’s really, really Not Okay.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2009 [13 favorites]


Fond anecdote:
I barista'ed in a wonderful coffee shop in ATL during grad school. It's right next to Georgia Tech, so you can imagine what finals week was like. "Campers," we called them. Sure, they brought sandwiches. And yeah, they would occasionally shush people. One group would seriously bring their own computer monitors.

But instead of just rolling our eyes and shutting them down for good, we took the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. How? We started making sandwiches. Then we added Belgian beers to the menu and stayed open later. And threw espresso-making competitions that anyone can join and win. And we still gave 'em free refills and wifi.

This lead to the kids not just camping out, but eating our delicious sandwiches, joining in the competitions and cheering each other on (while learning a new skill), and actually sticking around to get wasted at night.

Also joining the students for Happy Hour were the local business owners/creative directors/potential employers. It was an insta-community. I have many examples of students and freelancers that have gotten jobs via just camping out.

This "play nice and share" strategy turned out to be so good for business that they've opened a second shop right near Emory University— on purpose.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:34 PM on August 7, 2009 [33 favorites]


I just try to go to places that are never too busy (so I wouldn't be hogging real estate), buy something more than just coffee (generally a bagel or pastry too), don't stay more than 2-3 hours, and always, always tip. I work from home and would go batshitinsane if I had to just work at home day in and day out, and my library is usually packed with little kids, which is, well, very distracting.
posted by medeine at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2009


I told him that, in an odd fit of coincidence, we had just been kicked out of the university library when we tried to drink coffee and chat in there.

He didn't follow.


You just made me spit latte all over my WiFi.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:02 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am thinking of opening a WiFi shop that gives out free coffee.
posted by fings at 1:03 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


kaibatsu: I spent a good few of my formative years hanging out in a few coffee shops on South Grand in St. Louis. We would talk until four or five in the morning and then wander on to the diner for some greasy food. Certainly no laptops involved, though I do remember one shop (Caffiend) that had a bunch of computer in the back, mainly used by Evercrack junkies.

Hey, I remember that place. When I was unemployed and computer-less in St. Louis in 2001, it was the only place I could find to get Internet access. Evercrack was cheaper, for some reason.
posted by neckro23 at 1:03 PM on August 7, 2009


I hear tasers work better than whining.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2009


When we were in Italy this past spring I was amazed that they lacked the ubiquitous free wifi that we take for granted in the States. The hotels we stayed at even charged extra for a signal.

They did have internet cafes, where for a few Euro you get fifteen minutes or so of connectivity and beverages are secondary.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:19 PM on August 7, 2009


I am thinking of opening a WiFi shop that gives out free coffee.

I'm in for that, especially if it's fast. (10 Mbps connections for $5 an hour?) The problem with the public library is that the connections are generally very slow, insecure, and block ports used for VPN and other working-type tasks.
posted by calwatch at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2009


Conversation in coffee shops is between people who already know each other, generally speaking.

I work at a coffee shop where this isn't the case. There are tables for people who want to be left alone, but you can also sit at the bar, and if you do that someone is going to talk to you. (Whether you want it or not.)

But we also now provide free wi-fi for customers with no restrictions, and people using their laptops hasn't changed this.

you should be able to find a place to brown-bag it without cutting into someone's profit margin.

Bring food along? There's really nowhere. That doesn't mean it's okay to use up a table in a coffee shop, of course - it's just part of the suckitude of modern life.

But as for camping in general... when I have to do some serious studying, I tend to go to the coffeeshop where I work, despite the fantastic loserhood of hanging out where I work, just because it's the nicest place in town to study. We do have libraries, but you can't bring snacks, and taking a bathroom break means packing up all of your belongings and taking them with you to prevent theft. If you want to study with a group you're stuck in one of the depressing "study rooms" so that you can talk to each other, under flourescent lighting and sitting in uncomfortable wooden chairs.

We get a lot of students/academics in my shop who buy one coffee and then sit for five hours. Wi-fi is not the problem; the problem is a lack of alternative spaces for them. It cuts into our profits when we're busy and people who would buy more can't find a seat - but we can talk to people on a case-to-case basis if need be. They're still customers, and a large part of what makes the place so enjoyable.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:32 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I live by a cafe that bans laptops.
posted by kathrineg at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2009


you should be able to find a place to brown-bag it without cutting into someone's profit margin.

Cinemas!
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on August 7, 2009


daq: "One really great coffee shop here in vegas has free wifi, but in order to use it, you have to buy something, and you get a 30 minute password."

Oh, now that would be aggravating.

A sizable percentage of an internet-providing coffee shop's customer base will only go because of free Wifi. Either they'll want to work away from the house, or it's the tipping point for going to a coffee shop or not. If they're turning away laptops, it's only because they've already got enough consumer base already, and are making a conscious decision to favor it.

30 minutes per purchase is way too frequent. Maybe an hour or two would work.
posted by JHarris at 1:57 PM on August 7, 2009


I spent many an hour in coffee shops in the 80s and still do not recall a single time I struck up a conversation with a stranger that didn't involve me and my friends backing away slowly.

That sounds sorta sad. I spent many hours in the '80s at the Taylorsville Rd. Krispy Kreme in Louisville, KY, which is sort of a coffee shop/cafe, and all sorts of crazy people used to talk to me almost every night.

I guess I don't really hang out in coffee shops much, but people in donut shops still talk to me all the time. I will almost never instigate a conversation with a stranger, but they seem to happen constantly anyway. Maybe it's the places I frequent. Or maybe I'm just really, really cute.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:19 PM on August 7, 2009


Coffee shops are places you can go to buy relatively cheap drinks and linger as long as you want. I would NEVER go back to one of those places that hassles or tries to "move people along."

That's just fucking rude. If you want quick turnover, open a restaurant and take reservations. Otherwise, know the business you're in and respect your customers, especially your regulars.

(It's always kind of baffled me how coffee shops make money at all, actually; I always assumed it was from the "to-go" rush during lunch and rush hour, and the rest of the day was kind of a break-even at best.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:22 PM on August 7, 2009


Coffee shops are perfect for introverts who are not shut-ins. I like to be around people but I probably don't want to talk to them.
posted by desjardins at 2:23 PM on August 7, 2009 [18 favorites]


> still do not recall a single time I struck up a conversation with a stranger that didn't involve me and my friends backing away slowly.

Conversation in coffee shops is between people who already know each other, generally speaking.


> That's not true, I've met plenty of folks in coffee shops.

The usual beauty/status/age/gender social filters apply, even amid the smell of coffee beans.

One coffeeshop I know issues a 4-hour WiFi permit, linked to the datestamp of your last purchase.

This isn't really that big a hassle, from the customer's perspective, and it seems like smart business. Really, the camp-out-all-day-on-one-coffee approach is unsustainably generous.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:32 PM on August 7, 2009


I spent many hours in the '80s at the Taylorsville Rd. Krispy Kreme in Louisville, KY, which is sort of a coffee shop/cafe, and all sorts of crazy people used to talk to me almost every night.

YMMV, but to me this does not sound appealing. Possibly I mentally overemphasizing the "crazy".
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on August 7, 2009


There really weren't any coffee shops that I can think of in the 70s; there were coffeehouses, but they were generally non-commercial establishments, usually sponsored by a church or other organization, sometimes with the express purpose of proselytizing, sometimes just to give Da Yoof something to do besides hang out on the rooftops and shoot smack. I have no doubt that there were coffee shops in the big cities, but I didn't pick up the habit until I was a senior in high school and therefore didn't search out such places in Chicago.

In fact, the first coffee house that I remember seeing in Chicago, in the late eighties-early nineties, was... a Starbucks, years before they spread everywhere and when they didn't have that many places in the Windy City. This one was located conveniently on Adams, I think, between Union Station and State Street, where I'd pick up the El when I took the train to visit home. It got my loyalty simply by being there and having hot drinks available in the winter. Around the same time, I moved to Champaign-Urbana and frequented Espresso Royale. I used to celebrate my escape from dead-end minimum wage hell to the relatively genteel (if still low-paying) life of the library clerk by ordering a cafe con leche and just sitting outside and silently giving thanks.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:55 PM on August 7, 2009


There really weren't any coffee shops that I can think of in the 70s; there were coffeehouses, but they were generally non-commercial establishments, usually sponsored by a church or other organization, sometimes with the express purpose of proselytizing, sometimes just to give Da Yoof something to do besides hang out on the rooftops and shoot smack.

They still exist. I once worked at a poll where the church which hosted us offered such a service. Didn't seem to get much business, but the drinks were cheap and the pastor (who rolled in on a motorcycle) didn't seem to mind the slow business. He'd come in the morning for a couple of hours, close up shop, and open up after school.
posted by calwatch at 3:09 PM on August 7, 2009


30 minutes per purchase is way too frequent. Maybe an hour or two would work.

A half hour is long enough to get the coffee and dessert and enjoy it. After that, you're taking up space they could fill with a paying customer, not a scrounger. An hour for one coffee is loitering. Go find a park bench or a library.

Coffee shops are perfect for introverts who are not shut-ins. I like to be around people but I probably don't want to talk to them.

Yes. When I go to a cafe, I'm definitely not interested in chatting to strangers, I'm there to be in the crowd, watching and listening to people going by outside, and reading and writing while I drink a steady supply of tea or coffee. The worst thing in the world is to see the same people at a cafe often enough that you feel obligated to interrupt what you're doing and talk to them. I've had more than one favorite spot spoiled by other regulars who wanted to talk to me and even purposely started to sit near me.
posted by pracowity at 3:10 PM on August 7, 2009


They can come sit near me if they are a power outlet and I can plug my laptop into them, overwise they can fuck off.
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


A bunch of us got kinda tired of the coffee shop get togethers and the fact that we couldn't always count on good wifi, we couldn't get our favorite kind of donuts (and couldn't bring them in), couldn't always count on seating, etc....

So we started looking for a coworking space. There wasn't one in town, so after much much much work, we started one ourselves. It's really nice, like our own private coffee shop with tables we can move around, good wifi, music we control - and there's even a coffee-to-go shop tucked into the front of the space.

I would think that if coffee shops really start coming down on the heavy-duty work users (the all-day type) then maybe those folks will start to look at coworking spaces. Coworking probably won't work for the casual coffee shop laptop crowd - but it's a nice alternative to coffee shops for the full-timers.
posted by agentmitten at 3:19 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Coffee shops are places you can go to buy relatively cheap drinks and linger as long as you want. I would NEVER go back to one of those places that hassles or tries to "move people along."
That's just fucking rude. If you want quick turnover, open a restaurant and take reservations. Otherwise, know the business you're in and respect your customers, especially your regulars.
now that just boggles my mind. seriously. it's rude to have a business and expect to make a profit?

get off my lawn!
posted by msconduct at 3:54 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude, I got to a place run by The Coffee Nazi and he hassles me with some set of rules I sure as hell am not going back.
posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on August 7, 2009


Coffee shops are perfect for introverts who are not shut-ins. I like to be around people but I probably don't want to talk to them.

Catering to people like you may not be the best business model, however.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:22 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I dunno: Does a place that's full weekdays during the day has an edge on any place that's dead during working hours except weekends?
posted by Artw at 4:31 PM on August 7, 2009


Coffee shops are places you can go to buy relatively cheap drinks and linger as long as you want ... It's always kind of baffled me how coffee shops make money at all, actually

Beautiful. As a former (successful) coffeehouse owner, I can confirm that your species was our least favorite customer. Fortunately, because most of them were young and broke, a few could be persuaded to kick in and help out around the place to earn their right to loaf. Sweeping, watering plants outside, things like that. The ones who didn't want to chip in had to leave.

Most coffeehouse owners can't afford to go upscale (reservations? not even SF's upper-tier restaurants are insisting on those in this economy) or they simply don't have the local customer base to support that option.

Even if you're talking about chain businesses, it's just not polite to hog up space and prevent other patrons from enjoying the premises.
posted by memewit at 4:34 PM on August 7, 2009


The owner of my "local" coffee shop that I used to spend 2-3 hours a day at when working on my master's degree and I used to have this conversation. This was the only coffee shop in a rural town of about 14,000 (with half of those being college students). She had enough space to accommodate loiters and valued their business quite a bit because they were mostly townies that she could count on every day rather than college students, which were much more hit and miss. Some of them were the flavor of the place, harmless eccentrics that knew everyone, others were local business owners who held their regular meetings there, and a few pensioners. She said that once she finally convinced someone around there to come in and pay $2.00 for a cup of coffee she wasn't about to push them back out the door. Over the years, the coffee shop has gone from being a novelty to an indispensable community house. Under the constraints that she was operating under her strategy worked.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:41 PM on August 7, 2009


From 94 when they opened to about 99 or 2000, they had no wifi

The first batch of products to support the IEEE 802.11 wireless Ethernet standard shows promise, not perfection. -- Network World, 02/08/99

Just sayin'.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


For the last 3.5 years, I've been a "nomad" or "mobile worker". Sure, I have a great office setup at home - but sometimes you just have to be near other people - even if you are not interacting with them.

I had a series of WiFi coffee shops I would rotate through and always ensure I purchased a decent amount and added good tips. I would also take advantage of various library branches (the parking is also FREEEEE), etc. However - things have changed, in the last 3-4 months, I've gotten a mobile internet "stick" and no longer bother to locate WiFi locations.
posted by jkaczor at 7:16 PM on August 7, 2009


Dunno. Last time I went somewhere for free wireless was Panera one evening, where I introduced a new customer to the rest of their non-bagel/coffee menu and spent $30 on eats. We also sat in the empty back part of the store no one ever apparently sits in.

Oh, and we talked over a writing project we are working on while I took notes on my Linux netbook and did research.

One question though - If loitering is so terrible, why do they have big overstuffed recliners?
posted by Samizdata at 7:20 PM on August 7, 2009


I'm being plenty social on my laptop in the coffee shop. Just not with people in the coffee shop. YOUR DEFINITION OF PLACE OFFENDS ME.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:04 PM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm a introvert, but any introvert who thinks they have a right to be left alone is broken and needs to be fixed. Playing nice isn't an option.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 11:09 PM on August 7, 2009


An odd phenomenon that I've witnessed around my city on numerous occasions is someone sitting in their car in a parking lot outside a coffee shop or other establishment with free WiFi at night when the business is already closed, laptop aglow. During the summer, a few of them even had the engine running and the windows rolled up, presumably with the A/C blasting.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:21 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


in the UK this is the situation already. Went to a Starbucks at lunchtime recently specifically to buy food / coffee and work, but the power outlets were all blocked and the wifi was about $20/hour (unless you bought the multi-hour option). Won't be going there again.
posted by r4ktor at 4:43 AM on August 8, 2009


unemployed hipsters pretending to create art wail!
"Well, Clarice have the lambs stopped screaming?"
posted by hooptycritter at 6:11 AM on August 8, 2009


I've actually never been in a coffeeshop with wifi (I know, sheltered life) but in the three indie coffeeshops I go to for lunch striking up conversations with people at other table is considered normal behaviour. Brushing off a stranger would be rude. But the public library I work at has free wife and I am constantly helping people access the signal (not because of any problem on our end but because many people don't know how to use their laptops). Do the coffeeshops provide the same technicial service or is it assumed that the wifi is free so asking for help is an imposition on staff?
posted by saucysault at 7:51 AM on August 8, 2009


Starbucks is generally a poor choice for WiFi - even now that it is free in the US you have to go through some convoluted business with buying a starbucks card and being limited to one hour or whatnot.
posted by Artw at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2009


"...there are folks who are either shameless enough or feel entitled enough that they bring in their own food or coffee, or purchase nothing, and then complain when asked to make a purchase or leave."

You better not try that at Murky Coffe. They'll punch you in the dick.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:20 AM on August 8, 2009


Yeah, those guys are not exactly on my "place to go write" list.
posted by Artw at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2009


Wow - this is a really good blog entry on the subject... Joey is a member around here (MeFi) and one of the inovative things he has been involved with at Microsoft Canada is the "Coffee+Code" meetups, where MSFT employees hang-out at coffee-shops and meet with any interested parties informally.
posted by jkaczor at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2009


From June 1st until, oh, YESTERDAY, I did not have internet in my house here in PVD. I live within three blocks of both the library *and* Starbucks and tried my best to patronize the library for my internet needs, not wanting to be one of "those people" with the laptop in Starbucks.

In the end, I failed for two reasons: #1) The library blocked a lot of content (including half of what's linked on MetaFilter) and it's really my own beef, but I also didn't want to be "that jerk" who kept pestering the librarian to unlock DFW tribute sites, and #2) Given the recession, the library has significantly scaled back its hours so that it's only open 6 days a week, and four of those days, only in the afternoon. Starbucks, on the other hand... open 6AM - 11PM except for Sundays when they close at 9.

The main source of awkwardness: Being THAT customer who had to ask for the bathroom key every half hour due to constant green tea consumption.

We finally got the 'net hooked up in our building, but I would like to give this shout out to Starbucks for keeping me online while I was job-searching. And y'know, feeding the MeFi addiction.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:11 PM on August 8, 2009


Coffee shops are perfect for introverts who are not shut-ins. I like to be around people but I probably don't want to talk to them.

*Makes note to stop talking to people in coffee shops.*

I talk to people everywhere. It's sort of a problem.

The worst thing in the world is to see the same people at a cafe often enough that you feel obligated to interrupt what you're doing and talk to them. I've had more than one favorite spot spoiled by other regulars who wanted to talk to me and even purposely started to sit near me.

Sorry, dude. Didn't mean to harsh your mellow there. Just tryin' to be friendly. Sheesh.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2009


I am a professional barista. barret caulk outlines exactly how to handle this situation. It's a case by case basis. Also, I'd like to point out the effectiveness of putting on Big Black and cranking that shit LOUD.

re: murky.. cause I missed that first thread on it... Nick Cho is awesome. You will respect his craft and he will give you MAGIC.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:26 PM on August 8, 2009


I talk to people everywhere. It's sort of a problem.

It's not the saying hello or commenting on the weather that's a problem. There are just some people who don't pick up on the social cues and keep blathering on. It's like they can't grasp that I might not want to talk to anyone right now. It's nothing personal.

If you can't be at home, and don't want to sit in your car, there are very few places one can go to be totally alone that don't involve hiking a few miles. So, referencing Gamien Boffenberg's comment, I do think I have the right to be left alone in public spaces.
posted by desjardins at 12:28 PM on August 8, 2009


I think what's needed is an indoor public space. In the spring and summer, you can go to the park to read and eat your own food and socialize if you must. Many cities are implementing free public wifi, so you can often even use the internet until your laptop battery runs out.

But when the weather's shitty and you don't want to buy something, where can you go? When I lived in Chicago, I remember wandering around downtown trying to find a place where I could just sit down, eat my lunch and read without getting snowed on. The library had crappy weekend hours (1-5 on Sundays) and you can't really eat there. So I'd usually end up walking to the Borders Cafe, buying a bottle of water, throwing a 100% tip in the jar, and feeling like an asshole.

Indoor parks! Surely they couldn't cost much more to maintain than an outdoor one?
posted by granted at 4:34 PM on August 8, 2009


Except that a free indoor space would fill up with homeless people. If you wanted it to be used for the intended purpose (allowing people a few minutes each to sit and enjoy a sandwich they made at home), you'd have to charge for it, and it would have to be enough (compared to hotel rooms and so on) to discourage people from literally camping out there.

I wonder if struggling shopping malls could turn food courts or empty stores into attractors of these laptop-lugging pigeons, although it looks as if free wireless attracts cheapskates -- they are there for the FREE! -- so maybe wireless wouldn't put much money into the places.
posted by pracowity at 9:55 PM on August 8, 2009


Banning laptops is the wrong approach. Perhaps using their wifi-connection name as advertising to tempt people to buy one of the days special muffins/deals or gently nudge people to buy another cuppa joe is a better idea?
posted by dabitch at 4:14 AM on August 9, 2009


It's not the saying hello or commenting on the weather that's a problem. There are just some people who don't pick up on the social cues and keep blathering on. It's like they can't grasp that I might not want to talk to anyone right now. It's nothing personal.

A-fucking-men. Trying to start a conversation is fine, but if the person doesn't seem interested in the conversation, then leave'em alone and don't take it personally if whatever they're reading/writing or is on the laptop is more interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on August 9, 2009


I do work in coffee shops all the time! (After paying for a drink, of course. If I ever had the last or nearly-last seat, I'd get up and leave, but on weekdays that's hardly ever the case.

One coffee shop near me has a sign clearly and politely asking customers not to stick around for too long...which means I just don't go there. Sure I wouldn't have been their ideal customer, but now I'm not a customer at all.
posted by miyabo at 12:23 PM on August 10, 2009


One coffee shop near me has a sign clearly and politely asking customers not to stick around for too long...which means I just don't go there. Sure I wouldn't have been their ideal customer, but now I'm not a customer at all.

I'm sure that's no skin off their ass. If I ran a cafe, I'd want to attract certain customers and repel others. I definitely wouldn't want to be known as the sort of place people can hang out indefinitely while they each nurse a single drink, not unless they were making up for it in other ways (such as paying for wireless access) or unless that single drink was so overpriced that it paid for all the rest of the stuff each of them was taking for free (counter help, rent, toilets, cleaning, electricity, wireless, etc.).

Also -- and this might be hard to measure, but I'm sure it's a real factor -- a 100-seat cafe with 5 long-term loiterers spaced randomly about the place probably is not a cafe with effectively 95 empty seats, because one loiterer at a four-person table may keep up to four paying customers from sitting down, and one loiterer at a counter will lower the odds that people will want to sit to the left and right of him. And you have to multiply that by how long the loiterer stays compared to the average stay of someone having a coffee and moving on. If the average coffee visit is a half hour and the loiterer is using a four-person table as an office for two hours, maybe the loiterer has repelled up to 16 paying customers and bought just one or two drinks. At the very least, loiterers should all sit shoulder to shoulder in the worst seats.

Every business is a system that people will try to game. I don't blame cafes for trying to cut down on that stuff if it isn't paying off at the cash register. They don't owe you anything but the stuff you buy and enough time to consume it, belch, decide where to go next, and maybe have a quick pee.
posted by pracowity at 1:41 PM on August 10, 2009


Those are both good points. I guess I'll try to do work only at Starbucks now.
posted by miyabo at 9:51 AM on August 11, 2009


posted by special agent conrad uno Nick Cho is awesome. You will respect his craft and he will give you MAGIC.

I'll respect Nick Cho's craft when he stops telling people how to drink their coffee.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2009


...but then you won't get the magic...

or, that's like saying "I wont eat Marco Pierre White's food because he only makes it a certain way". People respect a top chef's decision of how food should be made, why shouldn't they respect a top barista's decisions as to how coffee should be made?
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:45 PM on August 11, 2009


His coffee tastes of hate and hipster cock. Fuck that.
posted by Artw at 9:48 PM on August 11, 2009


posted by special agent conrad uno that's like saying "I wont eat Marco Pierre White's food because he only makes it a certain way". People respect a top chef's decision of how food should be made, why shouldn't they respect a top barista's decisions as to how coffee should be made?

Because the way a customer enjoys his or her coffee is none of the barista's damn business.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:52 AM on August 12, 2009


mattididthat: but, you missed my point entirely. Coffee can be fine dining, and like going to a prix fixe the higher the quality the less control the consumer has. Really, if you don't like it, go elsewhere. There's no reason you should be so offended simply because a cafe decides it will do things differently. Some will appreciate the experience, others... not so much. So it goes.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 5:58 PM on August 12, 2009


Didn't Murky Coffee go out of business?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:09 AM on August 13, 2009


« Older Primitive Mixology   |   The Motor(less) City Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments