Would Vancouver Coffee Shops Ever Pull The Free WiFi Plug?

August 5, 2009.

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Other North American cities are beginning to wake up and smell the consequences. From The Wall Street Journal:

A sign at Naidre’s, a small neighborhood coffee shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., begins warmly: “Dear customers, we are absolutely thrilled that you like us so much that you want to spend the day…”

But, it continues, “…people gotta eat, and to eat they gotta sit.” At Naidre’s in Park Slope and its second location in nearby Carroll Gardens, Wi-Fi is free. But since the spring of 2008, no laptops have been allowed between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekends, unless the customer is eating and typing at the same time.

Amid the economic downturn, there are fewer places in New York to plug in computers. As idle workers fill coffee-shop tables — nursing a single cup, if that, and surfing the Web for hours — and as shop owners struggle to stay in business, a decade-old love affair between coffee shops and laptop-wielding customers is fading. In some places, customers just get cold looks, but in a growing number of small coffee shops, firm restrictions on laptop use have been imposed and electric outlets have been locked. The laptop backlash may predate the recession, but the recession clearly has accelerated it.

More after the leap…

“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.

So far, this appears to be largely a New York phenomenon, though San Francisco’s Coffee Bar does now put out signs when the shop is crowded asking laptop users to share tables and make space for other customers.

I can’t see this happening in Vancouver just yet, nor any time soon for that matter. Our city hasn’t been as hard hit by the recession as either San Fran or New York, at least not enough to make such moves even remotely worth entertaining. With only a few exceptions, most of our coffee shops appear to still be falling over themselves offering free WiFi.

Laptop or no laptop, the restaurant industry I grew up in had a name for folks who sat nursing a cup of coffee for three hours. They were called campers, and they were thrown out. But the “sure you can” culture of our cafes (and even some restaurants) makes us all patient to a fault with those who trespass against what you would assume to be common business courtesy. Nobody is in the business of saying no. Let them eat Waves.

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