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Loiterers not welcome

No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users – WSJ.com

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.

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I’ve often wondered about this trend and how many cafes manage to stay in business when it appears that most of their customer base is people sitting alone, on their laptop, nursing a cup of regular coffee (not even a cappumacchilatteccino!)

Well … now I know. They are finding it difficult and are trying to find different ways to discourage laptop loitering, from encouraged table sharing, to outright bans.

I think it’s fine for laptops users to hang out in a coffee shop … just make them stand or sit on the floor, and reserve seats for paying customers … or rent the chair by the hour, reduced by the amount of food and/or drink that is being purchased.

There are lots of places that offer free wi-fi … many of which are actually designed for loitering, like the public library, for example. The Salt Lake City Main is a perfect example of this … not only is there free wi-fi in the library, but there are a number of cafes in and around Library Square where you can get your caffeine fix; and surprisingly, food and drink are both allowed IN the library itself.

Sure, there are a few stinky people in the library as well, but it’s quiet, and best of all, it allows you to actually make use of your tax dollars rather than having a negative impact on a local small business owner (obviously, I’m not talking about Starbucks, but the smaller, local independent shops and chains).

If you are going to go to a cafe, at least be considerate, and make sure the business owner knows that you appreciate the amenities that they offer by spending some real money, not just a $2.00 cup of coffee, especially if you’re going to be there for any length of time. Don’t be a freeloader.

I’ve never understood people who take their own food/beverage into an establishment that’s in the business of selling same. The one exception is taking a special bottle of wine that a restaurant doesn’t serve, but even in that case, the restaurant will charge a corkage fee … so it’s more about drinking what you like, instead of taking money out of their pockets.

When I lived in San Francisco, I frequented a bar called the Hi-Ball Lounge. On Monday nights, there was DJ’ed swing dancing … and many of the dancers would show up carting gym bags filled not only with changes of clothes, but with energy bars and water bottles; essentially turning the bar into a gym. Since the really small cover charge on Monday nights went entirely to pay the DJ, if patrons didn’t spend any money at the bar, then the bar didn’t make any money that night.

Luckily, there were a few of us who did what we could to keep the Hi-Ball in business, but eventually it, like all good things, came to an end … all due to the freeloaders.

So the next time you go somewhere because they offer a free amenity, think about why they’re offering it … it’s not for people to come and take advantage, but to encourage people to come and spend. If you want to keep the economy moving, it’s the only way.