Starbuck’s Is Not Your Private Office

I’m pegging this as another issue in my ongoing rant about how the lowest common denominator of society actually make the rules.

When cafes and coffee shops started offering free Wifi service, we all though it was terribly novel. People flocked to the chain shops to work and hang out, some spending the entire day there, writing, emailing, nursing a coffee. Note the singular tense there. A coffee. Maybe two.

Think about all the times you’ve been at a busy restaurant waiting for a table, watching that group in the corner linger on and on… well past when their bill has been delivered and paid for, well paid multiple refills of water… Now imagine the same scenario at a coffee shop. There’s some guy with a laptop, taking up a four-seat table, with that 3-hour-old cup of coffee in front of him. And there are no seats, you’re a group of 3 and you’ve all got food. Who deserves the table more?

In theory, lingering customers are good for business – if they buy stuff. But many chain coffee shops have discovered that some customers will abuse the privilege and treat said coffee shop as their private office, while other potential customers take their business elsewhere because there are no seats/tables available.

A Boston deli owner has decided to not only ban laptops, but books as well, insisting that his place is too small to not have people eating at every table. He still allows people to read or use laptops on the patio, but inside, you sit at a table and eat your food without distractions, all old skool like.

Because we are a society with an overly-entitled attitude, many people are annoyed by these bans. Sure, the business owner could just ask the customer abusing the free Wifi to pack up because the table is needed for paying customers, but imagine the scene that would cause, especially from a self-proclaimed regular.

A restaurant is a business and the owner of that business needs to make money to survive. Compare a four-hour period where one person takes up a deuce and drinks two cups of coffee during their stay, or where that table sees a continual stream of pairs of people (each staying roughly half an hour), and each ordering at minimum a coffee and a muffin, it’s easy to calculate how much money places are losing by offering free Wifi and allowing individuals to linger.

And once we get used to something, the expectations of what the restaurant will offer for free get pushed. Recently, I saw where a local food blogger complained about the coffee shop they were in not having electrical outlets available to customers. Their laptop battery was running out and they were complaining that the place didn’t offer free hydro as well.


Do you also want a restaurant employee to come by and type stuff for you so you don’t have to be troubled by having to move your fingers?

I don’t doubt that many people are disappointed to discover that their favourite coffee place no longer offers Wifi, or bans laptops – or even books. And I don’t doubt that the large majority of people are actually courteous and conscientious with regards to “paying” for their table by regularly ordering food and drink so the business owner isn’t losing money by having them there. But there are obviously enough people abusing the generosity of restaurateurs and causing those establishments to lose business that we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised when something that was offered as a perk is taken away.

So if you find yourself in a restaurant being told that your laptop – or your book – is not permitted, don’t take it out on the restaurant staff. Remember those people who hog the tables for hours, or ask to use the restaurant’s hydro, and know that the lowest common denominator of society has again made life less fun for everybody else.

Related: Coffeeshop Laptop Etiquette