Wall Street Journal is reporting something we've noticed recently, locally, at one location. However, they're reporting it's happening in New York City in a big way: coffee shops offering free wi-fi are starting to boot out the free (wi-fi) loaders.
We noticed this locally at a Panera Bread store, which offers free wi-fi. But during lunch hours, they restrict the amount of time you can be connected to the service. What the WSJ is reporting is similar, with some coffee shops even going so far as to cover --- and lock --- their electric outlets.
Yes, it's not just the fact that customers sitting in a coffee shop surfing the Web during the busiest times of the day might keep paying customers from being able to find a seat, it's also the electricity that they use, which does add up, no matter what you might think.
Larger establishments, like Starbucks (free wi-fi for AT&T customers) and Barnes & Noble (free for all) are not shutting down free wi-fi; most of the "crackdowns" are among smaller shops.
"You don't want to discourage it, it's a wonderful tradition," says Naidre's owner Janice Pullicino, 53 years old. A former partner in a computer-graphics business, Ms. Pullicino insists she loves technology and hates to limit its use. But when she realized that people with laptops were taking up seats and driving away the more lucrative lunch crowd, she put up the sign. Last fall, she covered up some of the outlets, describing that as a "cost-cutting measure" to save electricity.
There's been some backlash from some customer. For example, Brian R wrote about one such place, the Cocoa Bar on Yelp
Laptop users are not welcome here. I was treated very rudely here by the staff and owner. Coffee shop are laptop havens, if you don't want people to bring computers in, don't open a coffee shop you morons!
Down with Masoud Soltani! (the owner)
Hannah M. wrote
about the Cocoa Bar:
The establishment doesn't allow computers to be used in the store after 8:00 on weekends - no exceptions! When I pointed out that we were one of two tables in the entire place and not even in eye shot of the other couple, they claimed the ambiance would suffer. What ambiance? It's an overpriced, under-stimulating wanna-be hot spot.
It should be noted that the Cocoa Bar has some negative reviews based on pricing, service, and food, rather than wi-fi. However, some are more understanding. Norm Elrod said the following about his own experience with a different establishment.
"I used to be one of the abusers, sipping a two-dollar cup of coffee in a to-go cup for hours." But, he says in an interview, now he practices what he considers better coffee-shop etiquette, lingering over his laptop during off-hours and spending more money.
When we partake of free wi-fi, we make sure that we also partake of the establishment's offerings as well. Free wi-fi is great, but it's a bonus, not a right.