False Advertising

Posted on August 10, 2009


Last week, the Wall Street Journal wrote about coffee shops in NYC pulling the plug on the table-hogging laptop crowd.  The article received a lot of attention as was tweeted and re-tweeted profusely, but as a member of the mobile workforce, I feel like it also deserves my commentary.  Let me start by saying, I would hope the situation is a little different here in San Francisco???

The thing that really strikes me is these coffee shops that are booting out laptop users probably also proudly claim (in horrific ALL CAPS signs) that they offer free wi-fi inside.  Like most thoughtful laptop-carrying coffee drinkers, I know that free is a bit of an overstatement.  In fact, the point that you have to purchase something to gain the right to loiter goes unsaid.  To that, I will happily comply. 

So, let???s do a little math.  If I sit in your coffee shop every day for a month (let???s say 20 working days), and I buy a $2 cup of coffee ??? only ??? every time, then I pay you $40/month for use of your wireless internet (minus the price it costs to make that coffee).  Let???s say 20 more mobile workers do the same thing.  Now, you Mr. Coffee Shop Owner, are up $800.  Even it if costs you ?? of that to pay for the coffee you made me, $400 more than covers the wireless bill.  Am I right?  I???m not that good with math, so I???m only taking absolutes into consideration in my example.  But, I???m guessing laptop workers who camp out all day also get hungry on occasion, and therefore spend more than the daily $2.

Some would argue (I know because I got into an argument about my math) that the laptop crowd is discouraging the $6 sandwich crowd from popping in for a quick bite, which is arguably a much more profitable business for the coffee shop owner.  This is just a classic "catch 22."  You want your shop to be busy enough to attract eaters… but not so busy that they don't have a spot to sit. 

So, I???m all for sharing tables (I suggest adding more communal spots) so you can entertain more customers, but please stop your false ???free wireless??? advertising if you???re going to throw me and my laptop to the curb.  What will you do next ??? kick me out when I???m reading a book?  Maybe we can join forces and claim technology discrimination??? In the meantime, I???ll be looking for a more friendly coffee shop here on the left coast.

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