This is of great interest to me because a) I love coffee and b) I love the cafe culture of San Francisco. Here in London there is little free wifi – and in such a dense capital cafe owners give little encouragement to stay beyond the bottom of your cup as they try to create churn. Hard seats, uncomfortable seats and loud music are examples of methods employed to this end.
Back to the US, The Globe cites the issue of free-loaders who don’t buy anything and either sit outside in their vehicles or even worse occupy a table in the cafe without the purchase of a beverage (caffeinated or otherwise).
Other issues raised by coffee houses include the off putting ‘sea of laptop screens’ and the breakdown of the social aspect of cafe culture as people concentrate on the contents of their screens and not the customers around them.
On the first point, that of free-loaders, I’m really not convinced. I’m actually surprised that more cafe’s don’t employ some method of authentication to weed out such cases. It could be anything from cycling the network password each day (with the current one written on a blackboard in the cafe) through to using something like NoCatAuth to manage users/challenge a code be entered.
And as for people sitting in a cafe without buying anything, that’s hardly a software issue. Pick ’em up, tell ’em it’s not on and kick ’em out… Simple.
But the social issues raised are of interest. I do think there is some mileage in the argument.
Here’s a photo from my Flickr of us in my favourite coffee shop in the world, Ritual Roasters. Check some more random photos from the place ,,… It’s a sea of laptops and not exactly the most social environment. In fact, despite the ambiance of the place, it’s atmosphere is only a notch above the horrid and skuzzy EasyEverything net cafes.
I guess it depends on what you want from your local cafe, but I can see why those who choose not to use cafes as mobile offices might be peeved.
Students, the self-employed, etc want a cheap place to work, with some level of interaction above sitting in an empty living room or office cubical.
UPDATE: Tara Hunt reports lack of free wifi in coffee shops in Calgary, AB.