Should Coffeeshops Ban Wifi?

There’s always a risk to taking something away from customers.

August 9, 2010

Coffeeshop customers camping out.

Last Friday afternoon, I found myself at one of those tiny two-tops at Oddfellows, eating some chicken soup and drinking a Mexican Coke. “In the back near the cold case,” I emailed—via iphone—the stranger I was meeting. “I’m between two laptops.”

As I waited, I looked around the cafe. I saw a table of what I guessed were old friends, cheerfully forgoing the five-pm rule and ordering up a round of beers. I saw people engaged in business meetings like the one I was about to have, and a thin poety man seated alone, scribbling into his moleskine. And I saw lots of people typing into laptops—Coke bottles, coffee cups, and cookie crumb-sprinkled napkins pushed to the side as they sent messages into space.

And it occurred to me that Oddfellows had achieved what so many cafes set out to do; it is at once a neighborhood hub and a makeshift office—a place where you can eat a meal alone without feeling awkward while, on either side of you, an alt-weekly editor blogs about bestiality and a match-up shakes hands for the first time. You could say that these sorts of things happen at all coffeeshops and you’d be correct. But what makes Oddfellows different, to my mind, is that there is a certain breeziness to the whole thing, a certain natural feeling of…whatever.

No one looks at you askance if you order alcohol at any time of day, but you could equally complete a thesis proposal here. And despite the fact that people seem to feel welcome to do as they like, tables turn over like crazy.

Perhaps the coffeeshops featured in this LA Times story should pay Oddfellows a visit. Admittedly, the media jumps on the “trend” of blocking wifi every few months—Victrola on 15th went wifi-free on weekends a few years back (and received New York Times coverage as a result), then brought the wifi back, then re-banned it. But there is always a risk to taking something away from customers that they have become accustomed to. And since many of us peck out email messages and peruse the web on GSM-enabled smart phones these days, it’s no longer an effective solution to antisocial lingering anyway. What I like about Oddfellows is that it inspires its guests to use the cafe space in a variety of ways, rather than preventing them from using it in one particular way. It seems like there is a lesson there for cafe owners who struggle to turn over tables.

Filed under
Show Comments