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Ovation: Coffee Shops Evicting Wi-Fi Squatters.

08/25/2013

CoffeeShopSquattersMy folks love a good cup of coffee.  In fact, they have a pretty serious Starbucks habit.  They drink simple brewed coffees, not the fancy high-fat super calories offerings, and they sometimes will walk to their local shop for a fresh cup.  They like to sit and drink their coffee before they go on with their day.

Sometimes there’s nowhere for them to sit down.

Like many around the world, my local coffee shop has turned into a hodgepodge of maddening chaos.  What used to be a place to grab a quick cup of fancy coffee has turned into an expensive fast food join that serves “artisanal” sandwiches heated in a microwave and processed baked goods from “the home office” as loud music blares and dozens of excited conversations take place simultaneously.  It’s a coffee shop, a bakery, a sandwich shop, a smoothie store, a daycare, a conference room and a home office for far too many people who camp out to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi that the store offers to its customers.

As they were growing, independent coffee shops used to try to lure business away from larger chains by offering free internet access and electrical outlets to encourage customers to buy their products.  Unfortunately, the practice of arriving early to claim a favorite table has become problematic.  In some instances, the “squatters” take up so much real estate that other customers are staying away.

“Our stores were designed to be community gathering places.  We’ve heard from many of these customers that in some high volume stores, they want to be seated to enjoy the food and beverages they purchase in our stores but many times are unable to.” – Starbucks spokeswoman, Alisha Damodaran

To be profitable, coffee shops have to sell high volumes of low priced items so they really can’t afford to provide temporary office space to people hoping to pay only $1.85 per day in rent.  The business no longer needs these unprofitable seat fillers and they’re becoming increasingly unwelcome.

One Chicago coffee shop may have found the perfect solution.  The shop, Perfect Cup, has plenty of electrical outlets and Wi-Fi but in order to access the network users must enter a password that is found at the bottom of their receipt.  Each password lasts for only three hours which encourages customers to make subsequent purchases in order to maintain a connection to the internet.

“Our product isn’t Wi-Fi.  The reason we have seating is for serving our product to people.” – Darleen Scherer, Co-owner of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Gorilla Coffee.

Hopefully, as more customers complain about laptop users with an empty cup in front of them occupying seats for hours, some taking up entire tables with piles of books and papers, the squatters will be asked to move on.

And then there might be a place for my mother to sit down.

Are you a coffee shop squatter?

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10 Comments
  1. I’ve been seen enjoying my Kindle while leisurely sipping on a vente white chocolate mocha with whip. I do make sure to ‘pay my rent’ while I read.

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  2. Youngest son GB was active with a local group that started an office for displaced workers. They provide space, wifi, communal coffee and, best of all, other geeks and computerly types to mingle with and talk code.

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  3. If a coffee shop becomes that busy where customers who are not using the wi-fi can’t find places to sit and enjoy a drink then the idea of having a code on the receipt for up to a couple of hours or less is a good idea. It keeps things moving. Or maybe they should have a special seating area for wi-fi access only so those using computers don’t take up all the space. Or maybe on the weekends there should be no wi-fi access at all, so others can enjoy the food etc.

    In reality, everyone wants to make a little money if running a business and everyone should be able to sit down if they buy a drink. We have a library where you have to book slots per hour to use their internet. That way everyone gets to have a go and no one is a permanent sitter.

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  4. It is an interesting dilemma. Because of the corporate downsizings, an increasing number of folks work as independent contractors, so they use the coffee shop as an extended office. Yet, I see the point of “where can we sit” drinkers. I like the Chicago idea, but I think the managers should poll their customers and figure out a best path forward. Maybe the squatters would pay a squatting fee – nothing major, but something like you need to buy a another cup of coffee (or something) after each hour. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Take care, BTG

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  5. Your commenters all have very good ideas! When we first moved to Alberta & didn’t have a place to live, hubby used to squat in our vehicle outside a Future Shop in the area (with their permission) to use their Wi-Fi so we could look for jobs, places for rent, etc. I don’t think it even occurred to hubby to take up space in a coffee shop since we were on such a tight budget.

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