Lord, we love our local coffee shops! Whether grabbing some java coffee for the commute, meeting a friend to catch up, or cozying in with a good book, our favorite coffee joint can be a haven from the daily grind.
If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that many patrons now use these cafes as a personal satellite office. Step into any coffee shop in your neighborhood, and you’re sure to see more than one person working away on their laptop. And why not? The vast majority of cafes these days offer free Wi-Fi. Couple that with the endless supply of caffeine and most would consider these working conditions a win-win. But not everyone feels the same way.
Personally, I hate walking into a coffee shop where everyone is staring intently at a computer, wearing headphones and a serious work-face. It makes me feel like I’m in the library or have accidently stepped into a tech firm’s offices. It’s just not relaxing, especially when I catch a dirty look from one of these migrant workers who is upset that my friend and I would have the nerve to actually talk out loud to each other.
SO, I was glad to hear that some coffee shop owners in New York City are trying something new – pulling the plug on Wi-Fi. It’s a risky move. People have come to expect that they can sit down with their latte and laptop and get some work done. Sure, it’s great for customers. But it’s not so great for the cafes.
Think about it. Sure, we may be willing to shell out upwards of three dollars for a cup of artisan coffee, but this doesn’t keep the lights on. Coffee shop owners often rely on food sales to generate a real profit. So when people camp out at cafe tables with their laptops, it can put a damper on business. Folks coming in for a quick breakfast or lunch may find all the seats claimed. In essence, these Wi-Fi squatters are taking primo real estate, sometimes for hours at a time.
Then there’s the issue of ambiance. Local coffee shop owners in NYC were tired of a vibe filled with loud typing and one-sided cellphone business calls. Call them crazy, but they were hoping that by ditching the Wi-Fi, customers would actually talk to one another. Turns out, they were right.
Take Birch Coffee for example. This eight-store mini-chain in NYC cut out Wi-Fi about a year ago after yet another complaint from a customer that connectivity was too slow. The result? It wasn’t as bad as the owners thought. While some patrons may have found the change off-putting, the decision hasn’t hurt business. Sales for the stores are up and tables are turning over faster. And get this – people are talking to each other.
To promote conversation in their cafes, Birch decided to go a step further and offer people “icebreakers.” The owners created conversation-starter cards that patrons can place on their table to invite encounters with strangers. Cards contain messages like, “Tell me about the one life-changing book I should read,” and “Tell me about your favorite superhero when you were little.”
Birch’s owners find the atmosphere in the shops more fun, more interactive, and more like New York City. While a few customers still hold tight to their laptops, most have relaxed into the new groove. Patrons come in to chat with a friend, or they end up talking with someone new. So the next time you decide to hit your local coffee shop, forget about Internet connection. Focus your attention on human connection instead. You’ll be glad you did.
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