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Is Limiting WiFi at Cafes Good for Business?





Will limiting WiFi or restricting laptop use at a cafe make for a better business, or will it just send more customers away in the long run?


In the last year, I’ve experienced a good amount of cafes that run some kind of no-WiFi, or limited laptop areas. The backlash comes from too many independent freelancers and work-from-homers that set up their office at a table in a cafe and stay for hours at a time. Restaurant and cafe owners do not like this, they think its bad for business. Recently, Huffington Post reported of a cafe owner who has implemented laptop free zones between certain hours, which improved his business by 15 to 20 percent. But will this help the restaurant in the long run? I’m skeptical.


As a freelance writer, I work from home. I spend most of my day at my desk alone, I don’t see anyone and only talk to a few people throughout the day via G-chat or web conference. So I like to take some time every morning to post up at a cafe and crank out an hour or two worth of work. I see a few regulars, hear the bustle of the crowd, and find myself concentrating more on my work. It’s extremely helpful.


I order the same thing everyday, one coffee and one hard boiled egg. I always tip, and I’m always very pleasant with the staff.


On an average day, I see about 5 to 10 other people that do the similar act at the cafe I go to. They’re regulars just like me. They order the same thing everyday, set up their computer, work for about 1 to 2 hours, then leave.


Why are we an enemy?


Though you may think it’s annoying for a few people to be working at laptops in your restaurant, you’re missing the bigger picture.


First, when I go to my usual cafe, I rarely see random people using their laptops and staying for hours. Its usually a mix of daily regulars that I see every time I’m there, and Caffeine pouchescustomers that frequent the cafe, but aren’t as consistent. If the cafe posted a time limit for a table or dead zone hours for WiFi, I’d just stop going to that cafe. I don’t want to think about how long I’ve been there and if the WiFi is going to be cut off. I’ll just find another cafe to go to. I would assume that most regulars that went to such a cafe would stop going as well.


This leaves an owner betting on new customers everyday rather than a steady set of regulars that are happy to come and pay for your overpriced salads.


Secondly, when your regulars stop coming because they’re basically being forced out, your restaurant will look empty. And every cafe and restaurant owner knows you don’t want an empty looking cafe. Potential customers are always skeptical if you have a plethora of empty tables. So why kick out the people you know will consistently buy from you and make your restaurant look busy?


In regards to the business owner from the Huffington Post article that put a 30 minute time limit on tables, that’s just absurd, and you sir, are an ass. I would never go to a restaurant that made me feel I had to rush to finish my meal. Obviously the food can’t be that good because thirty minutes gives you no time to actually savor what you’re eating. And if you’re dining with a few friends, conversations extend a meal, and that’s what a restaurant should be helping provide to a customer: a place to relax, eat, and have good conversation. You’re not even letting people do that though.


I understand if you have a full house of patrons, and some dude has been sipping an espresso for four hours while he uses the internet. Those people are the extreme of a demographic that respects a cafe or restaurant’s situation. Those people are just assholes, plain and simple.


However, for the freelancer setting up shop at the cafe, we understand that we shouldn’t be claiming stake to a table for 4 hours at a time. We may be there 2 hours, but that’s usually the most you can do unless you order more food. And if a restaurant starts getting crowded and people are desperately looking for tables, a good customer knows it’s time to leave. However, I’ve only been to very few cafes and restaurants in my life where that’s been the case, and it wasn’t because of table-hogging laptop patrons, it was because the food and customer service was excellent.


Now, I will play devil’s advocate for a moment and admit that some WiFi restriction is okay. The cafe I go to has “Computer Free Zones,” which are mostly the tables set for 4 or more people. That’s an understandable request seeing most jerks with a laptop would take that table all to themselves. However, there’s still a large amount of available seating for anyone who needs to get some work or study done.


In New York, I experienced the WiFi restrictions as well, but they weren’t as severe as everyday for 3 hours with time limits at tables. One cafe cut the WiFi for two hours on weekends during their brunch service because the cafe would become extremely busy. I’ve been there and can testify that I would’t want to be working there at those times anyway.


Another cafe in New York, had WiFi free hours at the end of the night. They did this to help clear out stragglers that would stay until the place closed sucking up their last seconds of free internet, but as well, to encourage a more social atmosphere where people met, made friends, and had good conversation. It wasn’t so they could make more money, it was to change the ambience.


Though it may be good for business to kick people out who need to get a little work done. I’m skeptical that it will help in the long run. A consistent customer that comes in everyday is worth much more value than a potential customer that might spend more money for one day.