Cafes start banning laptops, shutting down Wi-Fi

I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about cafes in New York City turning of Wi-Fi access during lunch hours, covering electric sockets, and in some extreme cases, sending away people with laptops. The problem: customers who occupy tables for hours, nursing one cup of coffee, working away while other customers who actually buy a lot of food and drink cannot find places to sit. The economic crisis has made matters much worse because now you have two parties with opposing ends: the cafe owner, who is desperate to increase revenue and the customer with a laptop who wants to enjoy free Internet access for hours.

As chain coffee houses like Starbucks and Peets give away free Wi-Fi access, independent cafes struggle to find a balance between serving their loyal customers and sending them away to the chains. Other cafes have different reasons to ban laptops. They want to create a very different atmosphere – one that is more social than solitary.

I once had a strange experience in a cafe in San Francisco called Jumpin’ Java which is located on Noe Street (between Market and 14th). Jumpin’ Java has Wi-Fi, decent coffee and good snacks, so I decided it would be a good place to meet a friend I had not seen in a long time. When we arrived, we were shocked to see that nearly everyone in the cafe was working on a laptop, each person occupying one table. There was no conversation at all in this cafe (which accurately fits the term “zombie cafe”). It was as silent as a library. Some customers even had their headphones to increase the isolation and screen out the real world. The ones who did not have headphones gave us dirty looks because we were talking and laughing. I never went back. If I have to meet people in the Castro / Duboce Park neighborhood, I go to Cafe Flore (on Market Street at Noe). It’s fun and people actually socialize. Plus, you can sit outside in the sun.

I am not completely against using a laptop in a cafe and I have done it on certain occasions, for example, if I am meeting someone and showing her a presentation or a video on my computer. However, I never stay for hours on end. I order food and drink because I know the owner needs to make a living and when I see there is a huge crowd waiting for tables, I leave if I am not eating or drinking.


  1. in san diego calif. starbucks has started to sort of bann laptops.The haved moved all the tables so far away from the ac wall jacks that you have to use battery power which only lasts about 1 hr. If they catch you moving the tables close to ac power,they evict you from the store permanetly.All the starbucks in the downtown area are always empty and going broke because 99% of the people who spend money in the stores have a laptop.