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Wireless Networking

Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu 312

As New York is putting Wi-Fi on wheels, reader Hugh Pickens notes a counter trend in Los Angeles coffee shops. (We remarked on a similar backlash in Seattle in 2005.) "Coffee shops were the retail pioneers of Wi-Fi, but Jessica Guynn reports in the LA Times that now some owners are pulling the plug after finding that Wi-Fi freeloaders who camp out all day nursing a single cup of coffee are a drain on the bottom line. Other owners strive to preserve a friendly vibe and keep their establishments from turning into 'Matrix'-like zombie shacks where people type and don't talk. 'There is now a market niche for not having Wi-Fi,' says Bryant Simon. After Dan and Nathalie Drozdenko turned off the Wi-Fi at their Los Angeles cafe, the complaints poured in, but so did the compliments: Lots of customers appreciated a wireless cup of joe at the Downbeat Cafe, a popular lunch spot in Echo Park. 'People come here because we don't offer it. They know they can get their work done and not get distracted.'"
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Some LA Coffee Shops Are Taking Wi-Fi Off the Menu

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  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:24AM (#33187286) Journal
    Less of a problem. Bandwidth is cheap. Non-paying customers take up valuable table-space.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:28AM (#33187304)
    Everywhere else in the world they have temporary tokens (Usually just a card with a number or they just tell you a number) which lasts for a certain period of time until expiring, you get one per purchase or whatever. This shit isn't hard.
  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:32AM (#33187330)
    When a customer buys a coffee their receipt should contain a unique PIN which is good for X amount of minutes from the time of purchase. The customer would have to enter the PIN to get through the firewall. Seems like a no brainer solution, one which discourages freeloaders and still allows coffee shops (or anywhere else) to offer wifi.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:33AM (#33187336) Journal

    "The setting where Rowling penned the last of the Harry Potter series is a far cry from the Edinburgh cafes - The Elephant House and Nicholson's coffee shop - where she famously began the first of them 10 years ago as a single mother living on benefits. Then, she struggled to find an agent and was turned down by eight publishers. A decade later, she has been credited with transforming the publishing world and changing our definition of what a children's novel can be."

    Many people may not think much of her work, but since she's a billionaire I guess there must be people who like her stuff :).
  • by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:35AM (#33187352)
    Entirely agree. They should lock the wifi and your receipt comes with a code for a free 30/60 minute wifi key. They do this at the local Burger Kings in my area. Wifi is free, but you have to purchase food to get a limited amount of time to use it. The problem here is the trading/asking for receipts. I guess the local Burger King does this right too, they only print the code on the receipt if you _ask_ for it. It's sort of like asking for no pickles on your sandwich, there is no charge or deduction, just a note that you want no pickles.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:35AM (#33187360) Journal
    You can't(legally) stop 3g without an expensive retrofit(the FCC can nail you if you are jamming, they can't stop you from building walls with horrible RF propagation characteristics); but I suspect that the numbers are still such that cutting off the wifi makes a major difference.

    At least it the US, smartphones with internet access aren't at all uncommon; but(in part because of their increasing endurability as access devices) tethering them is less common, and dedicated WWAN cards for laptops seem to be largely a business thing. You should be able to cut the number of internet-connected laptops by at least 50%, maybe more like 75%, by cutting off the wifi.

    Once you shift the numbers like that, the percieved social pressure on the remainder to either eat up or get out is presumably greater.
  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:59AM (#33187508) Homepage Journal
    You can always choose to not be connected, being wifi there or not. The main problem is people staying hours there during peak hours buying only a coffee, so reading a book, working offline or browsing online is more or less the same. You have to decide if you want to have the customers there for more time (having wifi available would be the same to let them pick books or the newspaper and read them while there), or a fast rotation of them. If you get usually full without having a lot of long staying customers then the second option could be the best one.
  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @09:09AM (#33187580)

    Surf the web? Mike's Deli in Brookline has only a few tables, so they don't even let customers read while sitting and eating.

    I always get take out, because I am physically incapable of not reading while eating by myself.

  • by omglolbah ( 731566 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @09:49AM (#33187926)

    I've used such a device. It is in use at Bergen Science Center and it was insanely easy to configure and use... The printer has 3 buttons on it and you just push one to get a code printed.
    The software lets you decide on the time to link to each button. Works wonderfully.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:14AM (#33188284) Journal

    True, but you'd be surprised how unrealistic or clueless the POS vendors can be.

    One of my best friends worked for one of them for a couple years, and he was shocked to find what a little niche market they'd carved out for themselves. Basically, of all the bars, restaurants, coffee-houses and nightclubs in town, they were all supported by 1 of 4 POS vendors (ignoring the random oddball shop that might have set up their own system with a USB cash drawer, a PC and software like Quickbooks).

    Each of those 4 vendors had airtight hardware support agreements locked in for the product lines they offered. So basically, anyone buying one of their solutions had no hope of getting support (firmware updates, etc.) after the sale, if they didn't keep up their maintenance agreement with the original supplier. In the case of the vendor my friend worked for, they told customers flat-out that they had no interest in supporting their computer or network issues. They simply sold the POS systems with requirements certain network and electrical specifications were met in advance. A large number of those customers expressed at least some interest in setting up wi-fi, but his firm (stupidly, IMO) wouldn't address those needs for them.

    At least one of the other POS suppliers used very costly systems, so add-ons like wi-fi integration with the receipt printing was prohibitively expensive if you weren't a big restaurant chain.

    So when you say "Quit being a cheap bastard and do it right!", you might not realize the extent of the financial commitment some of these places have to make to do that. There's probably still a LOT of room for someone to start a competing business as a POS supplier using open-source like Linux, and offering flexible, reasonably-priced support packages. The biggest barrier to entry, really, is one of having BOTH a technical background AND a good background in restaurant accounting and economics. You'll never get far selling your solutions to these places if you can't understand their budgets, economics, profit-margins and business overall, from their perspective. These people know how to serve a good meal or run a pleasant bar or club. They're NOT usually remotely computer-savvy people.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:28AM (#33188492)

    This is why places like starbucks charge for there internet <...snip...> has to pay for out of there profit.

    Fucking hell, you moron: there =/= their.

  • I run a coffee roasting operation and do some consulting for other coffee firms so I can tell you that in a lot of cases it isn't. What are the costs here? There's the cost of Internet access, which the business would have been paying anyway because they're using it to order from some suppliers, check bank account balances, and so on. There's the cost of a wireless router, but that's a pretty cheap one time cost that amortizes to 0. There's the cost of the electricity needed to run the router, but if that's significant on a per-cup-of-coffee basis that shop has bigger problems than wifi moochers.

    The trade journals have been covering this trend for a while, but wifi is really just a convenient scapegoat for the real problem of a lack of customer engagement on the part of staff. While wifi might bring in a different demographic of moocher, this isn't really a new problem. Some years back I went into another coffee shop, ordered my single espresso, a large coffee, and some food, then found no indoor seating available at all. The seating area had been completely taken over by students. You'd see even at the largest tables, one student with their stuff spread all over it. I was later in a meeting with the owner of that shop and I told him about this. I also told him about my customers who also like to take over a big table and spread things out, but when the place gets busy, they pack up and move to a smaller table. He was impressed as his customers never thought to do that. This was a place that didn't offer wifi at the time, but it was the same problem with the same solution. Get to know your customers and when seating starts getting scarce, get out from behind the bar and suggest to the person using the largest table that he could move to a smaller table so the family of 4 that just came in can sit together, introduce customers to each other and ask if they'd mind sharing a table, things like that.

    My policy on wifi is the same as when I put it in (and customers know this policy). It's free, it's open, but if it starts causing problems I'll get rid of it. So far it's been beneficial. Customers who spend a lot of time in the shop (but keep buying things while they're there) are there longer (and buying more) because they no longer have to run home just to check email. It's brought in more customers. It's also made it easier for me to make certain workflows data-aware (for example, the computer in the roasting area communicating with a database keeps inventory figures current and makes the roasting log both more detailed and easier to use, see my homepage for more details) without running ugly cables all over the place. That said, the coffee market in many major American cities is such that some independent shops can afford to pick their customers and if your customers think you have the best coffee in town, they'll be willing to deal with the minor inconvenience of lacking access, or rather, instead of laptops, they'll be on their cell phones. Personally, I'd rather have the laptops, but then again, my customers talk to each other.

  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:05AM (#33189112) Homepage

    Basically, if coffee shops want to make more money from the WiFi hogs then they should look into something like table service, at least for people who have already been to the counter once. It gives people an easy way to spend money and the "nagging" effect of somebody asking if the hog wants to order more will make most of them either pay up or move on. It shouldn't be that much of an extra burden on staff as you need to have people going around and cleaning up tables anyway.

    One of the few things that British teashops get right and American cafés get wrong, is that in a teashop you almost always get waitress service, whereas in an American café you almost always don't. Teashops are one of the very few British places where waitress service still persists.

    I can't stand waitress service in pubs (bars), but in teashops it is required. In a bar, the beer is already brewed; just stick it in a glass, there is no need to delay. In a teashop, the tea needs to brew, there is nothing to be gained by having it arrive faster. Coffee, ditto; I don't want to be standing around waiting whilst you perform all that rigmarole; just bring it to me when it's ready - if I wanted to watch theatre, I'd go to the theatre.

    A lot of big town British teashops have converted to cafés (notably, Costa, who seem to outnumber Starbucks now), but thankfully in smaller towns the independent teashops are doing as well, if not better, than they have ever done.

    And I like the historical connection between the British teashop and computing. The world's first business computer [wikipedia.org] did stock ordering calculations for Lyons teashops.

  • by mark72005 ( 1233572 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:02PM (#33190048)
    I don't think that group is using much wifi. The issue is that they are doing their scrapbooking projects and taking up the whole store.
  • Right. I provided a breakdown in the first paragraph of what they're paying and it's mainly a one time expense that's insignificant when split among purchases (the AP, though some ISPs are starting to include that with service now) and an ongoing expense that the business would be paying if they offered the service or not (Internet access). There's nothing magical about the accounting, it just really doesn't cost that much. Now, if you start adding fancy features like receipt access codes, registration before login, and the like, the costs get larger but a shop that's just using a COTS wireless router and throwing it out there, my breakdown is accurate. Here's the real test for you. Have prices gone down at the shops that are no longer offering the service? I doubt it, just as there was generally no price bump to go along with introducing the service in the first place.

Torque is cheap.