Coffee shops look to oust 'laptop hobos'

As more workers treat the local cafe as an office, more owners are limiting their ability to hang out all day.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 9, 2013 8:45AM

Man with laptop and coffee cup (© Ken Seet/SuperStock)Are today's coffee shops meant to be the new office space for America's disconnected workers? Many establishments, especially the big chains like Starbucks (SBUX), offer free, unlimited Wi-Fi service for their patrons -- presumably to let people linger and add to the ambiance. "We want to provide you with a great digital experience to go with your great cup of coffee," the coffee chain's website says.

But Starbucks and small, independent coffeehouses alike now have growing concerns about the large number of customers who camp out for hours at their tables. These "laptop hobos" are working, surfing the Web, using the shop's outlets as an unlimited power supply for their wireless devices and occasionally getting downright territorial with other customers over space.

Some shops say they've had enough. They're either laying down customer rules for Wi-Fi use or eliminating it at certain hours -- or even altogether -- while blocking their wall outlets.

"It got to the point where we had customers watching YouTube videos and blasting them at full volume," Jason Burgett, a co-owner of the Wooden Spoon in Denver, told the Denver Post. Last year, Burgett's coffee shop disabled its Wi-Fi and banned laptops and tablets.

"We're a small shop with only 16 seats," he added. "We prefer that our customers have the opportunity for social interaction."

Even the big restaurant and coffee chains seem to be aware of the issue. Panera Bread (PNRA) now has a 30-minute Wi-Fi limit between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. "This time limit helps us service more customers at our peak business hours and frees up more tables," Panera spokeswoman Missy Robinson told the Post.

As for Starbucks, a spokewoman told the newspaper individual shops can make their own decisions when it comes to customers and Wi-Fi use. But Reuters earlier reported some New York City Starbucks stores have blocked their electrical outlets to discourage laptop users from staying too long.

For centuries cafes have been places where people go to meet, trade gossip, network and otherwise come together informally, and some coffee shops are trying to encourage that social interaction again by taking action against the laptop hobos.

In Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood last year, Eleazar Delgado decided to limit Wi-Fi access at his Cafe Jumping Bean during peak weekday lunch hours and to turn it off on weekends.

Delgago told the Chicago Tribune he made the decision after his lunchtime regulars complained they were being crowded out by laptop users. He originally worried his decision would kill business, but he found his revenue went up about 30%.

"I was amazed," Delgado said. "The weekend policy worked like a charm. . . . People were hanging out. Now we have space for people to eat."

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Jul 9, 2013 10:51AM
All they have to do is put access codes on receipts and expire after 1 hour.  If you want more time then buy another cup of coffee.  Just like hotels that offer wifi you need there access codes that expire after 24 hours...
It is logical that if you let pigs eat at the trough, you will only have pigs eating at the trough.
Jul 9, 2013 10:36AM
It's just like any other "cool" thing that is offered...the few "hoggers" ruin it for the many.  I've seen it happen time and again.
Jul 9, 2013 10:42AM

Great idea getting rid of the Wi-Fi.  Now wouldn't it be nice if they could get all the cell phones shut off too!!  For those of us going to these places to enjoy coffee and conversation,  this idea is


Jul 9, 2013 11:11AM
Even worst are those who hog a table for 4 for hours without buying a drink and/or food.
Jul 9, 2013 10:32AM
Nothing but a bunch of self-absorbed narcissistic individuals further disconnecting themselves from the reality they can't face. I say boot 'em all out.
Jul 9, 2013 10:35AM
Same thing is happening with the bookstores. No wonder they are all being forced out of business. Leeches spending hours lounging for free and using them as a library, while sucking up more of the free wi-fi benefits, too. I've noticed a lot of bookstores have replaced the soft, comfy lounge chairs with hard wooden straight-back chairs to discourage this.
Jul 9, 2013 10:41AM
They are all a bunch of cheap MOOCHERS! Kick them all out after 30 minutes. Put a limit on their time & then cut them off.
Jul 9, 2013 10:17AM

I've wondered about this for a long,long time....How did/do they make money off these people??


Had a couple meetings in (near College) Sports type bar...Varying clientele.

Informal, having a few drinks maybe a sandwich, about 7 of us on a Re-union committee.

In a side nook of bar area, kicking back and kickin' ideas around.


In the same same nook area, 3 others on laptops....They bought 4 beers between them in 2 hours.

Out of here, go home to Mom's basement !!

You are right Delmar !.... Build it and they will come a oinkin'.

Jul 9, 2013 11:46AM
Next if we can lose "social networking" which kills social interaction, the world will be getting close to right again.
Jul 9, 2013 11:13AM

""It got to the point where we had customers watching YouTube videos and blasting them at full volume," Jason Burgett, a co-owner of the Wooden Spoon in Denver.."


It's typically a small group of self-absorbed, inconsiderate people who ruin public privilege for everyone else. Free Wi-Fi was a gift that coffee shops didn't need to provide but offered it with the idea that it could improve repeat business. They did not invite the vain losers to plant themselves at a table for hours at a time, and the idea of disruptive volume (Denver example) simply adds insult to the example. To noisy people - what is WRONG with you..? Get headphones, doofus.


Goodbye, Wi-Fi. Back to where you belong. People who pay for their own mobile service are still OK, it's only the freeloading "customers" who will be unhappy by this.

Jul 9, 2013 1:00PM

"Today's Progress is Tomorrow's Folly."


"I fear the day when Technology surpasses human interconnection;

We'll have a Generation of Idiots".


Albert Einstein

Jul 9, 2013 11:19AM
  A few months ago I ran into a similar thing at a Panera - I lady basically set up shop there and tied up a large table for her laptop and business material.  I could not understand why they did not kick her out.
  We also have a Dunn Bros Coffee in town, and they have a back area that they seem to keep the 'laptoppers' in.  I like the idea of a 1 hour access code on your receipt...
Jul 9, 2013 11:37AM
I've walked in, about faced, and walked out on several coffee shops because there was no accommodate a sit down breakfast...because of the 'empty coffee cup' surfers.  Don't return either -- if that's the general policy of the business.  Would like to be able to calculate how much business they lose because of this.
Jul 9, 2013 12:00PM
I try to avoid to many of these places because of these tragically hip people who feel they are at work while there. Or they are blogging about useless stuff quit blogging and live your life no one else cares about what you find interesting.
Jul 9, 2013 11:55AM
it's sad when a business tries to do something nice for it's patrons, there are those that want to abuse the service and make it so the rest of the patrons are provided with a lesser experience because of their selfishness and inconsideration.
Jul 9, 2013 10:50AM
Yeah, people suck bad.  Some will always ruin it for everyone.  The thing is we as a community have it within us to police behavior and correct that which is not in line with civil society.  Say something when someone is acting like an ****.  Don't always take the easy way out and say nothing.  When someone gets mouthy with you or others at the shop because they want to hog all the space.  Just give them a piece of your mind.  It likely won't help in the moment, but you empower others to say something as well, and eventually things start to change.  If that does not work, just kick them in the crotch.
Jul 9, 2013 11:28AM
They should just have the Wi-Fi reboot every half an hour. kicks everyone off while rebooting in a few min 
Jul 9, 2013 12:27PM
I have enjoyed Panero Bread in the past, but no longer, due to all the laptop filled tables, at one store.
Jul 9, 2013 9:36AM
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