Coffee shops have always been cultural capsules, of sorts. Visit a local establishment and you'll instantly get a feel for the vibe of the neighborhood and its java loving inhabitants. From posh to trendy, artsy and eclectic, coffee shop vibes have been known to run the gamut. But, aside from the presence of coffee, most cafes usually have something else in common—wi-fi.
As corporate America goes mobile and unemployment sends job seekers in search of wired havens, coffeehouses have become surrogate work spaces for the laptop endowed. However, amidst tough economic times, coffee shop owners—who courted computer wielding clienteles at the turn of the century—are starting to rethink the love affair.
Whereas free wi-fi used to be a novel way to attract customers, a perk if you will, it has become a prerequisite to doing business and a liability for some cafes. And, the first round of a heated tug-o-war has started, with NYC coffee shops pulling the first plugs. Citing customers who nurse a lone cup of coffee for hours while indulging in the house wi-fi, some café owners have started to take action. Ranging from an all-out ban on laptops to time restrictions and covered power outlets, free wireless networks may no longer be on the menu. Some coffee shops have even started kicking out Internet abusers.
For their part, customers have certainly taken notice—with some sympathetic of the cafes' plight and others posting mad. They may have gotten used to the dirty looks after hours in front of the computer screen at the cafe, but the laptop pushback has hit the internet. Thanks to blogs, reviews, and social networking sites many shop owners are finding themselves face-to-virtual-face with disgruntled customers.
With lines being drawn in the sand, there has to be some sort of compromise. A few of our Facebook fans suggested the good old pay-for-play method, while others printing access codes on customer receipts to ensure that guests make purchases before getting wi-fi access.
Another issue still remains, does the presence of wi-fi affect the atmosphere? A number of owners have expressed concerns that their cafes are being turned into places of business, with some patrons working on cell phones and laptops and disrupting the social atmosphere.
What are your thoughts on the café-laptop standoff?
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