Cafe’s Dilemma: Can You Offer Free Wi-Fi and Still Sell Lattes?

Do you ever feel the guilt-stare from a barista as you’re sitting in a cafe enjoying its free wireless? The cheapest patrons will nurse a coffee for three hours, while many will cave at the rate of roughly one beverage (or baked good) per hour.

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Rather than guilting e-freeloaders (which puts strain on customer-barista relations), some cafes ban laptops or charge for internet access. But according to one study, that’s a bad business move.

A Dutch cafe has taken a sort of middle ground. Its baristas don’t pressure patrons to spend more, and its internet is still free. But the cafe frequently changes the name of its wireless network to things like:

BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate

HaveYouTriedCoffeeCake?

BuyaLargeLatterGetBrownieForFree

Would this annoy you or perhaps make you laugh and buy another brownie?

What is proper etiquette as far as how much you should spend at a café while using its free internet?

Here’s another café-laptop dilemma: what do you do with your laptop when you have to use the restroom?

(Hat tip: Mike M.)

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  1. rob says:

    if i saw that my computer was connected to “buyanothercupyoucheapskate” i would probably laugh and then buy another cup!

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  2. Jeremy says:

    That would make me laugh and probably buy another cup. I don’t see anything wrong with a 1 item per hour minimum. I hate going into Starbucks or Panera and finding all the tables full of students studying/people on their computers that have been there for hours not buying anything.

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  3. Dennis says:

    I feel guilty sitting and taking up space, even reading a book, so I usually try not to be there with nothing in front of me. Maybe I’ll start out with a coffee, and sip it for 20-30 mins. My rule of thumb is that as long as it’s warm, I’m fine. If I’m intent on staying, I get another one pretty much as soon as the first is gone.

    Works pretty well, because if the place is dead, they likely don’t mind my being there, even if I’m drinking at a ridiculously slow pace. And if it’s hopping, I likely won’t be sticking around too long, anyway.

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  4. sean samis says:

    Suppose I sit in a coffee shop nursing a moca frap along (never mind it’s gonna melt); what marginal cost does the coffee shop incur for my use of their wifi? They have the wifi on already, costing them electricity whether anyone uses it or not; does their cost go up as use increases? Except during busy periods, all I do is occupy an otherwise unoccupied chair and table; or a spot on a couch. There is value to the coffee shop just for having me there; busy coffee shops attract more business than sleepy ones; or is that not true?

    So as a potentially free-loading wifi-er; what cost do I impose on the coffee shop? Really.

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    • barbara says:

      you take up space that could be used by a paying customer. no one should expect to go into a coffee shop/ restaurant and sit for any length of time without purchasing. if u r going to just sit there and use their wifi and not purchase anything u r taking a spot that could be used by a customer who will make a purchase. these places cannot exist without paying customers.

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  5. Matt says:

    I think that’s a great idea, leave it to the Dutch to come up with something like that.

    On a side note, I don’t understand what the draw is to studying in a coffee shop. When I was in grad school, I would hit the local coffee shop, then off to the library to study. It was much easier to concentrate at the library. Granted this was before the draw of free wifi, but I’m sure most university libraries have some sort of wifi now.

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  6. James says:

    The whole reason I find economics interesting is that you can make people want to do things, so you don’t have to guilt-trip them like this. That said, I don’t have a solution here…

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  7. Brobama says:

    Being a student myself, I can see myself spending a lot of time in the future in cafes accessing the free wireless.

    Like the others said above me, if I saw “buyanothercupyoucheapskate” I would find it hilarious and probably buy another cup

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  8. Jeff says:

    To me, it all depends on space and cost of that space.

    I wrote nearly my entire PhD thesis in a cafe with free internet next to my university. I could nurse a coffee for hours and probably only ordered 2 coffees, one bagel, 1 lunch and 1 cookie — for a total cost of maybe $10/day or only $1/hour for the 10 hours I’d stay there. However, because my department had good free coffee all day in the grad student lounge, and because there were better places for lunch around there, I would probably have spent no money at that cafe. Was it worth it for them to give up one seat at $10/hour? Probably because the place was seldom full and nobody left because of that one seat. In any case, none of the baristas ever glared at me.

    And to answer the other question — If you are spending 10 hrs/day at a cafe, you get to know all the other people who spend all day there too and you all trust each other to watch each other’s computers when you go to the bathroom.

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