Enough With the Coffeehouse Wi-Fi Ban Stories, Already

By  |  Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 8:35 am

Full disclosure: Sometimes I blog from the coffee shop near my apartment, one that is supposedly bucking the trend of skimping on free Wi-Fi.

At least you’d think coffee shops sans Wi-Fi were the latest fad after reading a recent Los Angeles Times story on the subject. Shop owners want to reconnect with their customers, says the Times, or they want to give customers a place to unplug. Or more likely, they want to keep out the moochers who buy one cup of coffee before claiming an entire corner of the cafe for hours of laptop work (guilty!).

I don’t doubt that these places exist. The problem is that they’ve existed for years, and the only trend staler than coffee shops banning or restricting Wi-Fi is newspaper trend stories about these businesses.

Actually, calling out newspapers for hyping the banned Wi-Fi idea is sort of a stale idea, too. A year ago, Slate’s Jack Shafer skewered the Wall Street Journal for one of these stories, entitled “No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users.” He noted that at least two stories preceded that one, including a 2006 Boston Globe article (“Wi-Fi Wars”) and a 2005 New York Times article entitled “Some Cafe Owners Pull the Plug on Lingering Wi-Fi Users.”

The only thing missing from all these stories, aside from bad puns about electrical sockets, is a measurable amount of hard data. If this trend has been gestating since 2005, wouldn’t the prospects of free Wi-Fi be a crapshoot in every coffee shop by now? And now that Starbucks offers free Wi-Fi, don’t independent shops have a better reason to compete than ever?

 
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  1. glennfleishman Says:

    I beg to disagree only slightly. I wrote the sui generis piece for the New York Times in 2005 that you link, and have read at least 100 (if not more) of these articles since. The WSJ's was particularly egregious last year because it had nothing new and tried to make it a trend piece.

    However, the LA Times hit on a change that I do think anecdotally is starting to take root: banning computers and other devices altogether as a means of providing a "third place" (as coffeeshops have often acted as) that's different from home and work, where the Internet and technology is always available and used.

  2. Jose Alvear Says:

    If a coffee shop says they ban computers and other devices, then I would never go there. I guess people are supposed to talk to each other? But coffee shops are not singles bars. People go to drink coffee, eat and read. Maybe do some computer work. Without technology why have chairs and desks? For people talking?

    What's next? Banning people from using their cell phones to read or play games? Are iPads allowed, even though they aren't computers? Will the coffee shop not allow books or magazines because people aren't talking to each other?

    Any coffee shop that tries to dictate what I can or can't do or what gadget I can use will probably not be in business long.

    Does anyone have any examples of coffee shops that have been economically successful with this no Wi-Fi or no-laptops model? If so, I'd like to know about it.

  3. CHRISdotTODD Says:

    I’m in the Portland area, and am a frequent Starbucks customer/user of Wi-Fi. Perhaps I’m not looking, since I go to Starbucks, but I have yet to see any place that has made any indication of no longer offering Wi-Fi.

    I try to buy a drink for every 2 hours in Starbucks, and I also watch to see how busy they are. From my experience, I have yet to see a case where I took a spot that could have been filled by someone else.

    With that being said, I could see coffee shops and cafes promoting an “electronic-free” environment to just get away. Of course I think that’s probably better suited to a spa.

  4. CHRISdotTODD Says:

    Here’s something I forgot about, until I went to a Starbucks this afternoon. It seems some places discourage multiple hour visits by lowering the temperature to the point that it’s unbearable to sit still inside for more than 45 – 60 minutes. Since I’ve been here before, I think the set temperature is purposeful.

  5. Mary Says:

    When trying to run a business it is crucial to actually make money. Making money is difficult when people begin to move into your business. People spend the whole day using up our electricity and our wifi, not bothering to buy anything. So of course you will begin to see some consequences.

  6. Yaya Says:

    Why don't they just do what Juan Valdez coffee shop in Times Square does, when you purchase something, they provide you with a code on the receipt for use of their WIFI that is good for 2hours.

    I'm a regular Starbucks customer and I wouldn't mind them doing this. I already make a purchase when sitting there, one because I like their coffee and two, because it's only right since I am using up their facilities. But if they want to make sure they get more out of me if I'm there over 2hours…then give me a reason to make another purchase, give me an option. What Juan Valdez does is non confrontational with customers.

  7. Bonnie smythe Says:

    Whatever happened to brewing coffee at home with the entire house can be wi-fi and sure is quieter that a crowded Starbucks. Home brewed coffee is cheaper than purchasing it by the cup (with no refills). Home, sweet home.

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  10. ankit malik Says:

    Hmm. I was beginning to get interested about these Wifi Ban stories. I've heard some of it from some of my friends. I will definitely take a look at this. Thanks!

  11. Mart Says:

    I definitely don't like the idea of this Wifi Ban thing! This is part of the business having a free wifie. Good luck! Best Semi-Pro Digital SLR Cameras

  12. refinish hardwood Says:

    When trying to run a business it is crucial to actually make money. Making money is difficult when people begin to move into your business. People spend the whole day using up our electricity and our wifi, not bothering to buy anything. So of course you will begin to see some consequences.

  13. Best places to visit Says:

    I beg to disagree only slightly. I wrote the sui generis piece for the New York Times in 2005 that you link, and have read at least 100 (if not more) of these articles since. The WSJ's was particularly egregious last year because it had nothing new and tried to make it a trend piece.

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