Wifi Coffee Shops – Customer Drain and the Cost of Generosity

I’m writing this post at what used to be one of my favorite wifi coffee shops in San Francisco. I won’t name the spot, because while I don’t foresee myself continuing to patronize it, I do hope for its continued success.

I’m quite oppinionated when it comes to offering wifi at coffee shops. In a nutshell, if you want my patronage, you damn well better have free wifi. I don’t often spend my Saturday mornings at Starbucks or Peet’s for this particular reason. While both companies offer free wifi sometimes, I’d rather they just not have any at all versus trying to make me pay for on our via t-mobile or some other third party. It makes me feel taken advantage of.

The coffee shop I’m sitting in right now actually does have free wifi, and this is one of the reason it used to be my favorite (they also make a fantastic tuna salad sandwich with gold fish crackers on the side!). So what’s changed?

These signs were at every table:

These signs aren’t unreasonable, and are actually pretty courteous. So what’s the problem? Well, for the shop, the problem is that people were abusing the wifi, taking up seats for hours at a time, and not buying much. But the bigger problem is that this place used to be packed with “Wi-Fi Folks” on the weekends, and right now, there’s only two patrons in the shop. I’m the only one with a laptop.

As polite as these signs are, they’ve basically told the bulk population of weekend customers that they’re not welcome. I almost didn’t even want to take my laptop out of my bag and become one of these trouble makers (despite the fact that I will purchase at least 3 americanos, said tuna sandwich, and possibly a slice of pie).

I feel bad. This place used to bustle. I’d get here as early as possible and still have to jockey for a seat. Now, I can have my pick. Good for me, not for them. I feel worse though, because I don’t know how else they should have broached this issue with their customers. Free wifi, in my opinion, is one of the best ways local coffee shops can compete with the chains. What are they supposed to do when this kind of generosity is no longer economically viable?

Has anyone out there had a similar experience? Patrons, wifi coffee shop owners, I’d love to hear your take on this.

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5 Comments on “Wifi Coffee Shops – Customer Drain and the Cost of Generosity”


  1. Seems like a lose-lose scenario for them, but if you can’t make it work you shouldn’t be in business i suppose. Having the life blood sucked out of your business by freeloaders also sucks. I suppose having locks on the power outlets is a subtle way to say “NO” without having to make it so obvious.

    • danwalsh Says:

      Not a bad suggestion! I like that they were up front about it, but maybe being more subtle keeps it open to interpretation. If I was there and saw the outlets were covered, or somehow locked, I would probably just assume it was for safety reasons. Parents DO hang out with their kids in coffee shops.

      I like your style Vincent!


  2. Well it is tough to accept your business is going down the spout, and finding new ways to work with it or to shut up and do something else. Even more so when business isn’t going down fast.

    There are other ways to encourage purchases whether it is marketing your goods with funky posters, or even just walking around and offering re-fills every hour or less. Kinda reminds people they are in a café.

    Another idea would be a reduced priced coffee if they buy throughout the day as they site around. An empty cafe never fills up, so having bums on seats is also good for drawing peeps in.


  3. I am in the web industry 🙂 Just interested int he demise of old business and the marketing of the new and exciting ventures that make up the web today. Also dable in art and whatever else takes my fancy 🙂

    Over opinionated is the word 🙂


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