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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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  • Coffee culture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:22AM (#33187274) Journal

    I have not been too keen to spend my day hanging out in the coffee shop just to browse the internet. It always has seemed like an odd fit to me, similar to fishing and collating.

    Now if they had someone playing light jazz and maybe a collection of weird art books that would be really cool.

  • I can only agree... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geogob ( 569250 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:29AM (#33187316)

    Going to a coffee shop to find every place being used all evening by single persons with their laptop and a cup of coffee (that's most likely cold by then) is really frustrating. It's probably even more frustrating to the owner who sees is investment monopolized by clients that bring only little income to the place.

    But I think the summary went totally off track by associating wireless network access in coffee shops with global city-wide wireless network access. Once you have global wireless networks, the need for local public networks is obviously much reduced. Furthermore, having a global city-wide network may even limit the problem forcing coffee shops to removed their local wireless network. On the other hand, it may then affect establishments the willingly refused to have wireless network access. In the end, it's really difficult to state that one is a counter-trend to the other.

  • by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:34AM (#33187350)

    I wonder why they just don't put some custom software in the router to block a specific MAC after X amount of time? Give people their cake and eat it too so to speak...

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:41AM (#33187402) Journal
    I imagine that that would be too blunt to distinguish between "scammy freeloader with his small coffee, it has been two hours" and "friend and regular, snackin' and hackin', for two hours". Plus, any "mysterious" failure is going to get the poor counter guy a torrent of whiny demands for tech support.

    You could go with some sort of captive-portal system, which just starts redirecting all your traffic to a login page, which you could escape by typing in a code printed on your order printout, good for X time after the order was logged. Not frictionless; but would prevent freeloading.

    "Atmosphere" is another matter; but that probably has to be solved socially, not technologically.
  • by Nevynxxx ( 932175 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:46AM (#33187440)

    Or instead of the "you have x minutes left" counters that get displayed in a web page on some hotspots, have a "more coffee" button, that places your order at the till to be delivered to you at your table. I like this idea.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:49AM (#33187456) Journal
    I suspect that there are two problems with this granular, technically sound solution:

    1. BK is a major chain corporation, economies of scale and whatnot. Per retail establishment, the cost was probably near peanuts to integrate the code printing into the POS software, and the code verification into the captive portal on the wifi, and so forth. For Jimmy's Indie Brewz, locations 1, the wifi is probably just some router on a DSL line. Integrating a code system would either mean forking over $$$$ to his POS vendor, if they even offer that, or hoping that his cousin is one of those "linux hackers".

    2. Indie coffee shops obviously aren't immune to economics, and need to make sales to survive; but part of their appeal is "atmosphere". Any system that mires the customers in codes and makes explicit the subsidy of the wifi by the coffee has the potential to degrade the perceived atmosphere. What they really want is for freeloaders to feel social pressure, from disapproving patrons that surround them, and move along. Unfortunately for them, either the freeloaders don't care about nasty looks, or the availability of an open AP creates a critical mass of freeloaders that impose their own social norms, rendering them immune to other customers. BK isn't aiming to give you the warm and fuzzies, they just want you in, eating, and out, so they needn't be as concerned.
  • by RMH101 ( 636144 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:55AM (#33187488)
    D-link used to sell a product that was ADSL router, small till-roll printer and embedded software that managed printing out each user a unique access code, and a no-cat-auth style login web page for access. Cost was under 200 dollars as I recall.
    I'd imagine as well as the points in the rest of this thread another reason for wifi decline is a) the economy means that any business cost that doesn't bring in a profit gets squeezed, and also the risk of an unidentified customer doing something naughty with the internet connection and the coffee shop being prosecuted for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @08:59AM (#33187514)

    Who the hell goes to a noisy distraction filled coffee shop to "work"? I mean seriously.

    I also find it funny that they want and expect people to hang out and work for hours on end but then get mad when people do it. You can't have it both ways idiots.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @09:10AM (#33187588) Homepage

    If all you added was a Linksys wifi AP then you deserve to have a freeloader there in your store. Quit being a cheap bastard and buy a Real captive portal setup that when the customer buy's their Double caf-decaf soy latte they get a code on the receipt that gives them 1 hour. That's more than enough time. Now your freeloaders have to buy something once an hour to stay online.

    Problem is most of these coffee shop owners are cheap bastards that balk at the cost of a proper setup that would work fine for the next 5 years. If they cant cheap out with a $59.00 toy and have cousin timmy who is handy with 'puters do it for free, they dont want it.

    They will discover what many here have... Drop the wifi they lose a lot of customers.

  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @09:30AM (#33187786) Homepage Journal

    I think this is a fair compromise.

    Another solution I had once considered was having times when you could use wi-fi freely and others when there are more customers you have to chip in either by buying a coffee or paying for the connection. It may work, but some people I have spoken too worry that this may end up being too confusing to actually work.

    On the subject of PIN based wireless internet, with time limitations, are there any solutions out there that are either available off the shelf or via something like OpenWRT?

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:14AM (#33188282) Homepage Journal

    They have wifi at Felber's, a neighborhood redneck bar in the ghetto (Springfield is wierd), and I take my netbook there all the time. Talk about distraction, drunk construction workers can get pretty loud. But the biggest distraction is people seeing me use the computer. "You can get on the internet with that? How do you do it? Do you have to have internet at home? That's the smallest computer I ever saw. What did you pay for that? Hey, can you get pictures of naked women?"

    This isn't much of a coffee-shop town, especially my neighborhood. TFS looked like the coffee shop owners said the computers were distracting... I don't see how unless they're not using headphones and have the volume turned all the way up on youtube.

  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:21AM (#33188386) Homepage

    Every time I see a restaurant cut Wi-Fi, they go out of business in six to eight months. Most often it's because the owners are delusional about how many turns a WiFi camper is preventing. By delusional, I mean 10-15 turns (which amounts to about $150-250 in revenue) instead of 1-2 turns (which is about $10-$20). The rest of the time, it's because something else has gone incredibly wrong, and the hired help is blaming WiFi instead of their toxic customer service and/or bad kitchen management.

    So instead of focusing on why traffic is down, the owner attacks the WiFi using regulars, who never come back, and never bring their friends, and never will say anything good about you. WiFi campers are regulars, so it's a lot like tossing Norm, Fraiser and Cliff out of Cheers because they aren't drinking enough. Regulars are important because they bring in others.

    Also, where camping is a real problem, all that is required is a manager willing to have a polite conversation with the customer: "Would you mind coming back when we're not as busy? I've got six groups waiting for a seat, and well, I hate to ask... but we really need your table so we can get the line down. Would you mind?" The answer is nearly always, "Sure, and I really appreciate you having WiFi."

  • by Webcommando ( 755831 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:35AM (#33188596) Homepage Journal

    I'm not going to care, as a business owner, if ultra cheapass wants to mooch wifi. I don't care about the wifi. I care about the sloth who isn't making me any money taking up a chair or a sofa or a table for hours on end.

    I'm not a business owner, but a very regular customer for a local Starbucks in my town. I use to go there after my daughter's violin lessons and have a treat, coffee, and some nice father-daughter time while we ate.

    This was before a group of scrap-bookers decided that Starbucks was their personal workshop. They take up almost the entire store and parking lot, bring in all their equipment, and (from what I've seen) buy only a few drinks between the group.

    I've stopped going to the store and take my girls someplace else. So your moral is true: it isn't wifi, it is the free loaders who have no consideration for other patrons that cost the business owner. At least if I have to have a coffee, there's the drive through...something the little shops probably don't have.

  • by macbeth66 ( 204889 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:45AM (#33188744)

    Every time I see a restaurant cut Wi-Fi, they go out of business in six to eight months

    I have never seen such a thing happen.

    I have ONLY seen the opposite happen here in NYC. As a matter of fact, many customers are so happy that it is gone, they started talking again.

  • by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:29AM (#33189456) Journal

    Have less comfortable chairs. The place I go to I can stay about 2 hours at the max, before I lose all feeling to my legs.

    McDonalds do this pretty well, between the sharp plastic furniture and the food, I generally last about five minutes before seeking fresh air or the toilets.

  • by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <(VortexCortex) ( ...> on Monday August 09, 2010 @12:23PM (#33190386)

    'People come here because we don't offer it. They know they can get their work done and not get distracted.'

    This is something that I suspect will be lost on about 95% of the slashdot-reading population -- net access isn't necessarily critical to everyone's ability to do their work.

    Some people don't need the coffee shop's wireless Internet because they bring their own Internet connection.
    Unless they start jamming cellular signals I could care less about their wireless offerings.

    It's time to face the facts: Soon the Internet will be accessible everywhere, all the time.
    Enjoy your semi-Internet-free zones while you can.

  • by mariox19 ( 632969 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @01:20PM (#33191484)

    In the Barnes & Noble I used to work at, it was the nursing students that were the most egregious offenders. They would grab all of the review books off the shelves, buy one cup of coffee (some individuals seemed not to bother even with this), plop themselves down in the cafe, and spend the entire Sunday afternoon studying for their exams. When they were done, they just left all of the review books they had spent the afternoon paging through on the table. Heaven forbid they purchase one.

    Once, when we had a performer invited to play the cafe (acoustic guitar and drum machine, or something), one of these clowns actually had the audacity to ask the manager how in the world he was supposed to be able to study with the music blaring.

    People can be absolutely shameless.

  • 3G broadband (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MattBD ( 1157291 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @03:11PM (#33193428) Homepage
    Most coffee shops I've been in offer access to a commercial wi-fi operator's services - I had an account with BT Openzone for several years that I used, that cost me about £12 a month. It wasn't worth it, so I've switched to using a prepaid 3G mobile broadband stick - reception's not always great but it means I only pay for what I use. The truth is, public wi-fi just hasn't worked out the way people thought it would - in Norwich where I work they set up a municipal wi-fi network but it was never that great. Mobile broadband's generally cheaper and more flexible - means I have more options on where to sit with my Dell Mini.
  • by lowrydr310 ( 830514 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @03:45PM (#33193946)
    The problem in NYC is that if a restaurant cuts their free wifi, the chances of you finding another open access point from within the restaurant are pretty good. One of my favorite coffee shops (which sadly is no longer in business) never had free wifi; when I asked about it, their response was, "We don't offer free wifi here, but there are at least 5 open access points from our neighbors that you could connect to."

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker