Banning Laptops, Making More Money

August First Bakery & Café in Vermont used to offer free Wi-Fi to customers when it opened its doors four years ago, but it has figured out a better way to make money: get rid of Wi-Fi and implement a “no screens” policy during lunch hours (smartphones are okay):

“We saw a lot of customers come in, look for a table, not be able to find one and leave,” [owner Jody] Whalen says. “It was money flowing out the door for us.”

That’s why Whalen decided there’d be no more screens. It was a gradual move. She started by shutting down the Wi-Fi two years ago. Then, the cafe banned screens during lunch.

“A lot of people were disappointed,” Whalen says. “But we actually saw our sales increase.”

What’s socially acceptable when it comes to using a laptop in public, anyway? Student Luna Colt says it’s about how much money you spend.

But according to Whalen, it’s less about how much a laptop user buys and more about how much space and time they take up.

We recently got a new office, and while I waited for it to be ready, I worked from home and tried working at a coffee shop a few times. The Wi-Fi cut in and out and I didn’t want to feel like I was wearing out my welcome, so instead, I spent the month working from my couch.

Photo: Anthony Mayfield

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I’ve always wondered by cafes and coffee shops are willing to let people linger over the same coffee and sandwich for so long while working. Offering free wi-fi might bring in customers during off hours but it can’t be profitable during peak times. I feel no such shame working in trendy hotel lobbies with unsecured wifi however.

EmilyAnomaly (#4,238)

@EvanDeSimone I always bought more coffee/pastries than I normally would out of sheer guilt whenever I went somewhere just to use the WiFi, but I am in the minority, apparently. Darn my midwestern upbringing

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@EmilyAnomaly I do that too and I share none of your midwestern sensibilities.

allreb (#502)

Years ago I worked at a business magazine, and one of our recurring topics was home offices vs coffee shops vs traditional offices. The coffee shop goes we interviewed generally all agreed: if you’re working there, please buy something at least once an hour to “rent” the space.

Meaghano (#529)

I work in coffee shops a few times a week, for like 4 hours at a time. I do make sure to put a few dollars in the tip jar, even if I just order a tea, but I never have too much guilt. I guess because there are always 30 other people there doing the same thing.

gyip (#4,192)

Yep, I’m that customer. If I pay for my coffee, I feel like I should have a chance to get off my feet (or at the VERY least, have a nice counter area to lean on, and preferably not just facing a wall). I walk out of packed places now unless I know I can find a park nearby.

umlauts (#977)

As much as I think this a good idea (particularly for a place that wants to be a lunch destination) I would NOT want to be the employee who has explain this policy to customers. I used to work in a bookstore where customers were not allowed to use the outlets and it was a nightmare.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I can’t work in coffee shops at all! I am way too easily distracted- look at all those people I can talk to! Oh, I need another scone. Maybe that third cup of coffee was a bad idea.

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