Hey everyone. We have the classic problem of customers coming in, spending $1.50 on a cup of coffee, and then setting up their office at one of our tables for the next 5 hours. A couple of them even have the audacity to complain when the connection goes down once in a while. I'd hate to limit our internet, but with the rules in our city we have VERY limited seating and we need to create more turnaround. Anyway, long story short, I don't know how to limit the wi fi connection in our shop. I'd like to give customers a certain amount of time on the internet every time they buy a coffee, but I don't know how to set that up. Can anybody help me? Thanks for your input.

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Hi Cameron,

Our company provides Wi-Fi services to coffee shops. We built our system around the needs of the cafe with issues like you are talking about. Our service let's you give away free Wi-Fi in exchange for a purchase. As an owner you can fine-tune the amount of time you choose to give away with a purchase to accomodate your table turn around. We find most of our customers give away 1 - 2 free hours with a purchase. you can shoot me an email if you'd like to know more about our Wi-Fi service. brianvanlieshout@WEBbeams.com.
The solution above is much what I would have suggested. Use software to limit the time. This forces customers to either purchase something else or move on when the connection times out. Another option is to offer a in-house computer that you charge a hourly rate for in addition to your wireless. This generates a lot of revenue. In the coffee house where I used to work, we made over $300 per week this way. We also offered free wireless with purchase, but the in-house computer generated enough revenue for us that it didn't matter that we had lower turnovers.
Just one computer generated this revenue. The rate was 2 dollars per quarter hour, but only 5 per hour. We ran it ourselves, but had no timeout programs installed so we had to keep track of how long they used it and ask for payment afterwards. We were never that busy, but we were 24 hours, so that was how we were able to generate so much revenue in a week. Keep in mind our rate was lower than most places in town so our price was actually part of the reason we did so much business.
Much like others have suggested, I would offer an hour (or two, depending on how fast you need to turn the tables) of "free" internet with the purchase of a beverage. If your POS will handle it, have it print an access code on your receipt. Each access code would grant one hour of internet access and "expire" (not be redeemable) after 1, 6, 12, or 24 hours.
I've used a system, ZoneCD from publicip.com, to control my wi-fi access since we opened and it has served us very well.
The system runs on any intel based system that has two network cards and at least 256 mg memory. It doesn't require a hard drive as the entire system boots from a cd and uses either a floppy drive or usb key to keep current configurations. They offer a free version, publicip.net, but it required a "keep-allive" window on the user's system which can be a bit annoying. The paid version (low monthly support payment) does not require the "keep-alive" window but rather uses the network heartbeat to keep the connection.

The system can be configured several ways but we use a ticket system where we generate random user ids on their website and then download them to our POS system, Coffee Shop Manager. We can then print off tickets for our customers.

We could actually setup several different options for payment and length of time but haven't had much of a need. We have had a few non-customer users and have recently tried using a second user type that limits their bandwidth and their time to an hour rather than the four hours for our customers.
Are you going to cut off or limit the wifi as well? If not, I'm curious to see how the computer station will help fix your original problem of limited space due to the Laptop Loafs. That is, unless you are counting on the added revenue from the computer station to make up for the revenue loss due to Loafs occupying tables. If yes (cut/limit the wifi), then problem solved.
OK. First of all, raise your coffee prices. A buck fifty? Come on, you're worth more than that.

Next, WiFi. I own a similarly tiny (22 seat) coffee shop in Piermont, NY and we've been wrestling with the yin and yang sensibilities of the WiFi question since we started in 2004: weighing customer's desires for WiFi against the fiscal common sense that screamed an emphatic "NO!"

Guess what. Money won. As I couldn't find a way to turn WiFi's expense into a reasonable revenue stream, we never did it. Best decision I ever made. (For a while, one of the residents in the apartments upstairs had an unprotected network that wireless customers pimp rode, but they moved out.) It just doesn't make that much money. Green Bean (above) made $300 a week, but for a 24 hour a day shop, that's just a bit over 50-cents an hour. I can make more than that short changing the cyclists.

But now that you've opened the Pandora's box and customers are accustomed to the service are you forever screwed? No. We found there were a very few customers using WiFi, but they drove away a large number of other customers who just wanted to sit and buy coffee. What do you do? Lose the WiFi. A few will complain. Then they'll stop complaining and either leave or stay. If they leave, so what? You've only lost a few bucks.

If you are worried about complaints, make up any reason to discontinue the service: Our computer got a virus and infected all the users so we had to put it in quarantine. The phone company called and told us no more porn. The dog ate it. Whatever. In the end, it'll be a lot like a vasectomy - after a brief period of mild discomfort you'll have a lot more fun and worry a lot less
That's it. Now go raise coffee prices. Tell 'em you had to because the dog ate your cash register.
Tim
In our shop we offer Wi Fi, but only during the slow part of the afternoons. During the Wi Fi timeframe, we also offer specials like coffee and a snack. The ever changing daily 'special offers' minimize losses in our margins due to customers staying too long. Julianne
I am right there with you....We have people sitting in our parking lot, or buying bottle water $1.00 then staying forever....the biggest was this lady who for a couple of weeks would come in buy a coffee then set up here partylite party table....we had to draw the line their...but we often get home or internet based workers who will sit for hours upon hours...I don't know what to do either especially when they take up a table for four with just them and their stuff. I know some coffee shops have computers available but no wi fi...i dont think that would work...for the most the only answer is bear with it or start giving people egg timers with their drinks $1=1 hour or something
I'm interested as to how you solve this. As someone who travels a lot and constantly needs wifi, I've come to expect coffee shops to have it. Even when they don't there are usually so many networks to choose from that it wouldn't matter if the shop didn't offer it. Another solution may be to get rid of your outlets - my battery won't go longer than an hour so I'd be likely to come it, get a cup of coffee, catch up on my email and be off in 30 minutes to find a plug somewhere.
On the other hand, if you keep me around I'll almost always buy a cookie or lunch. It seems like you have a stable supply of customers with laptops that want to be in your store and they have to be a good demographic. Instead of kicking them out you might be able to find a way to monetize them.
Thank you to Tim Bartz for his courage and stand to not offer wi-fi in his shop!!!. I thought I was the only jerk (in the eyes of the wi-fi people) to also not offer said service. I have never been infected.
Solution is a simple one....

Offer FREE beverage with paid wifi access.

Think of the promotional opportunities of offering a Coffee House/Espresso Bar offering FREE Coffee...

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