Are today's cafes the new workplace for America's disconnected workers?
Increasingly restaurants and coffee shops, especially big chains like Starbucks, are offering complimentary unlimited Wi-Fi.
"We intend to provide you with a great digital experience to go along with your great cup of coffee," the coffee chain's website says.
But Starbucks and small, independent coffeehouses alike are growing concerned about the multitude of customers who encamp for hours at their tables. These 'laptop hobos' are working, surfing the Web, using the shop's outlets as an unlimited power supply for their wireless devices, and occasionally getting downright territorial with other customers over space.
Some shops say they've had enough. They're either stipulating customer rules for Wi-Fi use or eliminating it at certain hours- and even altogether - while blocking their wall outlets as some New York City Starbucks have done.
"We had customers watching YouTube videos and blasting them at full blast," Jason Burgett, co-owner of Wooden Spoon Cafe and Bakery in Denver, told the Denver Post. In 2012, Burgett's cafe disabled its Wi-Fi and banned laptops and tablets.
"We're a small shop with only 16 seats," he added. "We prefer that our customers have the opportunity for social interaction."
Even big restaurant and coffee chains are scaling back their complimentary Wi-Fi. Panera Bread now has a 30-minute Wi-Fi limit between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. "This time limit helps us service more customers at our peak business hours and frees up more tables," Panera spokeswoman Missy Robinson told the Post.
Last year in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood Eleazar Delgado decided to limit Wi-Fi access at his Cafe Jumping Bean during weekday lunch hours and turn it off on weekends. Delgago told the Chicago Tribune he made the decision after his lunchtime regulars complained they were being displaced by laptop users. At first he worried his decision would kill business, but he found his revenue increased nearly 30 per cent.
"I was amazed," Delgado said. "The weekend policy worked like a charm...People were hanging around. Now we have space for people to eat."