Business and Industry

Cafes Tire of Customers Using Their Spaces as Offices

It's all about the WiFi

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Are today's coffee shops meant to be the new office space for America's disconnected workers? Many establishments, especially the big chains like Starbucks (SBUX), offer free, unlimited Wi-Fi service for their patrons—presumably to let people linger and add to the ambiance. "We want to provide you with a great digital experience to go with your great cup of coffee," the coffee chain's website says.

But Starbucks and small, independent coffeehouses alike now have growing concerns about the large number of customers who camp out for hours at their tables. These "laptop hobos" are working, surfing the Web, using the shop's outlets as an unlimited power supply for their wireless devices and occasionally getting downright territorial with other customers over space.

Some shops say they've had enough. They're either laying down customer rules for Wi-Fi use or eliminating it at certain hours—or even altogether—while blocking their wall outlets.