Some coffee shops are rejecting universally available Wi-Fi in favor of forcing their patrons to talk to each other face-to-face.
The New York Times reports that the president of a Wi-Fi free coffee shop in Toronto called HotBlack named Jimson Bienenstock traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America to find out how consumers view shops that don’t provide complimentary internet. He found that customers most commonly assume Wi-Fi is a given at coffee shops in North America, where many people are accustomed to setting up a temporary work space at their tables.
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He also recalled that when his own cafe first opened customers were aghast to find out that they wouldn't be getting free Wi-Fi along with their drinks.
Bienenstock says that the loud chatter in his shop discourages people from using HotBlack as an alternative office, but other cafes are taking more extreme measures to keep their spaces technology free, and to stop people from lingering with their laptops: Getting rid of comfortable furniture and proving narrow counters with room enough for a coffee cup alone.
Although the owners of these shops might think they are encouraging people to be more social, Alex Susskind, an associate professor at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University told the Times that they might actually be alienating customers.
“That kind of bucks the trend of what most people go to coffeehouses for,” he said.
These tactics often don't work, though. A lack of Wi-Fi often doesn't stop people from bringing in their laptops, Jordan Michelman, a founder of Sprudge Media Network, which reports on coffee culture, said. He postulates that plenty of people don’t even need the shop’s wifi because they use the unlimited data plans on their phones to work or scroll their social media feeds.
Indeed, places like HotBlack are in the minority. Mega-successful cafes like Starbucks – the go-to spot for most people; the average Starbucks café serves about 500 customers per day – still provides Wi-Fi.
According to Michelman, many coffee shops still think of Wi-Fi as a luxury, so next time you’re settling into your favorite spot at your regular café and the barista blesses you with the Wi-Fi password, consider yourself lucky.