Independent cafes have been in the news this week voicing concerns about people who hog their tables and free Wi-Fi all day.
As a communications consultant I make good use of coffee shops, for both meetings and work, so I have some empathy. While I’m unlikely to be hogging a table ‘all day’, there are a lot of people that do. And that’s not surprising when you consider how many folks now either work from home, in virtual teams, or work on-the-go. Technology makes it all possible.
But while communications consultants, graphic designers, web developers and the like, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and electricity, some cafes are seeing their profits slip. According to a story from the BBC, independent cafes are starting to feel the pressure from the table-hoggers.
Some coffee shops are taking action, by blocking off their plug sockets and restricting Wi-Fi to certain times of day. Others have done away with it completely. That doesn’t, of course, stop people coming to the cafe with a fully charged laptop, then linking their laptop to their phone, using it as a hotspot.
In the BBC story, a cafe in West London completely withdrew their Wi-Fi but then suffered a backlash from the local community. They ended up having to reinstall it in order to stay in business.
Speaking for myself, it certainly is a pleasure and a convenience to meet clients and then get some communications work done in a nice little independent cafe. But there is an issue here about how long you can sit at a cafe table with just one drink. When does your conscience tell you that you should move on, if at all?
An interesting conversation started up on LinkedIn on exactly this issue, about how long would be acceptable. From the small cafe owners’ point of view it is an unsustainable business model, so shorter stays are welcome.
From the customer’s point of view, it would cost a fortune to buy coffees all day. Especially as some people use the cafes as their actual workspace. Some say cafe owners provide a valuable community service and should be respected. Others say you should be off once you’ve checked your emails and charged your laptop. Some aren’t bothered and would stay there all day. As they see it, they’ve paid for the space, and if the Wi-Fi is ‘free’ then why not?
It’s a difficult call and every person is going to have a different opinion. Perhaps one answer lies in the fact that some cafes are taking advantage of the trend, using it as an opportunity to sell-in other services such as shared workspace. I like that idea too and it seems to be a growing trend. It offers an opportunity, not just for communications consultants, but for anyone who wants to collaborate with other professionals, that may sit outside their normal sphere of business.
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