Local coffee shop under fire for disconnecting power outlets...

Local shop Coffee Slingers has taken heat over Twitter and the blogosphere for disconnecting the power to their electrical outlets. Here is what one such notable local blogger had to say about it:


I would absolutely love to get people in the industry to fill out some of the responses here and let him know what you think of the situation, or back him up and give your reasons as to why.

Is it wrong to combat squatters?

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I dunno 'bout y'all, but as a customer, I really have had it up to here with folk that think that their purchase will allow them to squat an entire table for hours on end. I have no idea where folks even got the idea that it was socially acceptable to go into a business and turn it onto their office. If there were counter seats, or a rail, it may be acceptable. If you and your friends are ordering a constant stream of goodies, and there are four of you at the table, possibly. If you have a weekly study session that *doesn't* bring in snacks and drinks (really!) *and* you have the blessing of the owner/manager, sure, why not.
But it's really hard to invite a handful of friends to the cool local coffee shop in whatever town I find myself in, and not have a place to sit down and catch up because the entire place is filled, one to a table, with wi-fi squatters.
It's socially inelegant, and culturally degrading. And pretty danged selfish.
I'd suggest that if a coffee shop wants to cater to web-surfers, studying students, and home-office workers with cabin fever, they line the walls with cubicles and charge accordingly. Have their drinks come out of the charge, but make it ten bucks an hour? Fifteen? Whatev.
Leave the tables for folks in groups of two or more.
I understand the value of space for paying customers and the need to somehow limit sit down time.
I believe this has been solved by many shops with wifi by metering and charging for usage. No need to shut off power to outlets. No need to raise the prices of drinks. Just plain dump of a shop to use that method of communicating their needs to customers. Time for a friendly petition or letter to the ownership suggesting a win win solution.
Joe
Coming from a shop that decided to cover all its outlets to discourage squatters, I've realized 2 major things: 1) whether we like it or not, this is a society that can expect as the norm, any cafe to have free wifi, because if you don't there'll be another shop down the street that will. They may not all spend the money you'd like, but losing all the internet surfers would definitely impact the cash register. 2) Anytime you take away anything, people are going to be pissed, and they will remember it with annoyance when deciding which cafe to go to.

I think if you are very anti-office cubicle environment, the best way would be to promote yourself from the beginning as a community oriented shop with no wireless. Hopefully, the people who don't need to bring laptops would be more drawn to your place, and you'd draw enough people that way to make up for the lack of computer people. I think just up and cutting your wireless is a pretty big mistake (my shop relented and reopened the outlets after sales dropped).

the other option is figuring out some kind of compromise. limiting power outlets, designating a laptop area, or charging by the hour are the most common ways of harm reduction I've seen, each with different pros and cons. Actual Cafe in Berkeley has "no wireless weekends" which seems to be working ok, though I don't know their actual sales.


Joseph Robertson said:
I understand the value of space for paying customers and the need to somehow limit sit down time.
I believe this has been solved by many shops with wifi by metering and charging for usage. No need to shut off power to outlets. No need to raise the prices of drinks. Just plain dump of a shop to use that method of communicating their needs to customers. Time for a friendly petition or letter to the ownership suggesting a win win solution.
Joe
i still don't understand why people can't just, you know, talk to their customers. be like "hey, we're crowded, and you've been here for two hours, taking up a 4 top, and you've only bought a seltzer water." clear, personal communication solves a lot of problems.
I have tired being nice have been told really! why can't I sit here I am just reading, hanging out or a varitiery of other things. I have had people bring Starbucks drinks in and been told when I finish this iI will buy one of yours. They society has turned into a we are entilted to it because I want to and forget we are supposed to be kind and respect other people. Just my take on it. I have not shut off power but if you don't buy you don't stay end of story.

Jared Rutledge said:
i still don't understand why people can't just, you know, talk to their customers. be like "hey, we're crowded, and you've been here for two hours, taking up a 4 top, and you've only bought a seltzer water." clear, personal communication solves a lot of problems.
Kudos to the many owners who have cut off or limited wi-fi usage!
We used to have five outlets, but covered all but two. We are never "laptop city", so it's not much of an issue, but anyone who is here for an extended time, laptop or not, would need to have an active ticket. Luckily, most all of our customers are cool, and we don't even have to ask.
Jared Rutledge said:
i still don't understand why people can't just, you know, talk to their customers. be like "hey, we're crowded, and you've been here for two hours, taking up a 4 top, and you've only bought a seltzer water." clear, personal communication solves a lot of problems.

My issue with this is that if I am running a till and a bar, this is another thing that is going to slow down my drink output which is going to lead to customers complaining that my bar takes forever. Another issue is when you have to keep asking the same people continuously as if they don't know that their taking up table space. I personally feel that this is a clever way to cut down on the issue. Should they have covered the plug-ins? Probably. But I shouldn't have to explain to nearly every customer that comes in that "Some people take advantage of this and ruin it for everyone." Saying, "The outlets don't work." seems pretty clear and direct to me.
Another reason the wifi should be metered and charged for. You have your hands busy enough at the bar. Explain your store policy's in clear English on your website and published and displayed in plain site. The busy shops that do this get very few objections.

James Doyle said:
Jared Rutledge said:
i still don't understand why people can't just, you know, talk to their customers. be like "hey, we're crowded, and you've been here for two hours, taking up a 4 top, and you've only bought a seltzer water." clear, personal communication solves a lot of problems.

My issue with this is that if I am running a till and a bar, this is another thing that is going to slow down my drink output which is going to lead to customers complaining that my bar takes forever. Another issue is when you have to keep asking the same people continuously as if they don't know that their taking up table space. I personally feel that this is a clever way to cut down on the issue. Should they have covered the plug-ins? Probably. But I shouldn't have to explain to nearly every customer that comes in that "Some people take advantage of this and ruin it for everyone." Saying, "The outlets don't work." seems pretty clear and direct to me.
Jared Rutledge said:
i still don't understand why people can't just, you know, talk to their customers. be like "hey, we're crowded, and you've been here for two hours, taking up a 4 top, and you've only bought a seltzer water." clear, personal communication solves a lot of problems.

+1

This automatic stuff, software solutions, shutting off breakers, covering outlets... come on. Make a store policy, communicate it, and enforce it. Don't fear confrontation... its your cafe, they are your customers. Don't give me that "I'm too busy" stuff... do it when you go out to clean tables. Just take a deep breath and communicate!

Make rules. Communicate rules. Enforce rules.

Starbucks cup comes in? Walk out and let them know that you can't allow it. Outside food? Same thing (if that's you policy). Be polite but firm. You'll piss some people off, but only the ones that were getting away with something, as opposed to the Slingers' approach, which looks like it pissed off everybody with no explanation.

I know its a one-sided thing, but this blogger sounds to me like the sort of customer that actually gets it. Sounds to me like Slingers just lost a really good customer. My question is, did they want to lose this guy, or was he a casualty of a zero-tolerance policy decision?

Those Coffee Slingers guys on here? Let's hear the other side of the story...
being passive aggressive is a bad way to deal with anyone, and it's particularly a terrible way to deal with customers. i personally would have zero issue asking people to consolidate and limit their usage if it becomes an issue. which to date it hasn't.

i've had my quota of crazies, and i've had to throw the hammer down with a couple of them, but most normal customers don't mind sharing a table with another laptop user if it's busy or whatever. you just have to communicate.
I have to say, I feel the sentiment in Slinger's move, as in the cafe I used to work at, and from a lot of people on this site, it seems to me to be a frustration that moves toward hostility, and I think is a bit of an overreaction on the shopowner's part. It seems like what happens is the owner/baristas see a couple people throughout the day pulling the whole "buy a cup of tea and take up valuable real estate all day thing", and in your mind everyone that comes in with a laptop becomes an annoying pest. Add to this the romanticized nostalgia of the cafe with no clickity noises, just people talking or reading and sipping coffee, and suddenly everyone wants to cut their wireless.

I understand the nostalgia, and annoyance at the techno squatter. But there really are a lot of people like that blogger, people who are sensitive to the fact that a cafe doesn't want to be an office space. But for one, we can't really limit the amount of time people hang out in your cafe, and you can't fairly enforce dollar amount per time spent per customer. We make cafes inviting and comfortable because we want people to stay longer in the hopes that they will buy more as time goes on. McDonald's looks the way it does because they want you to get the hell out the second you're done (ever "hang out" in a fast food place?). People can only go without food for a few hours at a time, so if you have some decent cafe grub, chances are good you'll sell some (no outside food is an easy line to draw. It's to be expected).

I know laptops take up slightly more space than just someone with a book, and people are more likely to stay longer because teh internets is more engrossing in our culture than books are. Yeah, it's sad, but let's not alienate people just because they want to use their laptops instead of talk politics. I stand by my original point; if you want no wireless, you better market the hell out of yourself as an "old school cafe" or something like that, and definitely give people fair warning before they show up with their laptops and leave pissed off, otherwise this seems like a really bad business move. You don't need to be a martyr.
Sorry to overpost, I just remembered something I had to share: the owner of the cafe I used to work for, feeling the overpowering frustration at the squatters, prior to covering all the outlets, hung a bell from the ceiling near the cash register. Every hour or so, we were supposed to ring the bell and say something like: "attention Nomad customers, this is a reminder that if you have been here for over an hour, we ask that you place another order, thank you." Eventually we all stopped doing it because it was just too tacky and embarrassing, but we still lost customers over it that never came back. Fail.

christopher myers said:
I have to say, I feel the sentiment in Slinger's move, as in the cafe I used to work at, and from a lot of people on this site, it seems to me to be a frustration that moves toward hostility, and I think is a bit of an overreaction on the shopowner's part. It seems like what happens is the owner/baristas see a couple people throughout the day pulling the whole "buy a cup of tea and take up valuable real estate all day thing", and in your mind everyone that comes in with a laptop becomes an annoying pest. Add to this the romanticized nostalgia of the cafe with no clickity noises, just people talking or reading and sipping coffee, and suddenly everyone wants to cut their wireless.

I understand the nostalgia, and annoyance at the techno squatter. But there really are a lot of people like that blogger, people who are sensitive to the fact that a cafe doesn't want to be an office space. But for one, we can't really limit the amount of time people hang out in your cafe, and you can't fairly enforce dollar amount per time spent per customer. We make cafes inviting and comfortable because we want people to stay longer in the hopes that they will buy more as time goes on. McDonald's looks the way it does because they want you to get the hell out the second you're done (ever "hang out" in a fast food place?). People can only go without food for a few hours at a time, so if you have some decent cafe grub, chances are good you'll sell some (no outside food is an easy line to draw. It's to be expected).

I know laptops take up slightly more space than just someone with a book, and people are more likely to stay longer because teh internets is more engrossing in our culture than books are. Yeah, it's sad, but let's not alienate people just because they want to use their laptops instead of talk politics. I stand by my original point; if you want no wireless, you better market the hell out of yourself as an "old school cafe" or something like that, and definitely give people fair warning before they show up with their laptops and leave pissed off, otherwise this seems like a really bad business move. You don't need to be a martyr.

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