Bad Trends: Cafes Blocking Outlets

from the not-making-customers-very-happy dept

In the past, we’ve noted that with the rise of laptops and wireless access, there’s a growing interest in people to find power outlets to plug in their laptops. While some airports are retrofitting to make this possible, it appears that a number of cafes, bars and restaurants may be going in the other direction. Jeremy Wagstaff notes that he’s seeing more and more places covering up their outlets in an attempt to stop people from plugging in. The reasons usually given don’t make much sense (one guy even tells Wagstaff that he’s afraid people plugging in will “ruin the circuitry”). A typical response, of course, is that it’s “stealing” electricity or that it’s somehow costly. However, it’s really just a a few pennies — and if having available electricity brings in just a few more paying customers each day it’s likely to be more than worth it. Another complaint that I’ve heard is that these types of places don’t want people sitting around “clogging” the tables during busy periods, though many people have found that it actually helps to bring in more people during downtime and most users don’t want to stick around during the busy times anyway. That may not always be the case, but any of these places can easily put in place a policy saying people can only stay for a certain period of time if they’re not ordering more food, rather than blocking the use of electricity completely.

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Comments on “Bad Trends: Cafes Blocking Outlets”

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TheDock22 says:

Re: Re:

How about the danger of having a cord on the floor where people could trip over it.

That’s a pretty fair argument. The store could be liable for anyone who injures themselves while on the property.

Of course these place could be cool about it and setup a counter next to all the outlets and leave the tables open to people just stopping in for quick coffee.

RJurden says:

Re: Re:

How about most places that plan to have people plug in put an outlet under every table so there is no cord to trip on in the floor.

How about you stop being a senseless loser and get with the program. It’s almost 2008.

Cheapskates look for value, and pennies of electricity versus dollars of profit on an order seem to be worth it. I think the question is, can’t the cheapskate owners & managers sacrifice a few pennies of profit for a few extra dollars of profit?

In business it’s called incremental profit. Profit you would not have gotten had you not spent a little extra to get that person in the door.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Cheapskates look for value, and pennies of electricity versus dollars of profit on an order seem to be worth it. I think the question is, can’t the cheapskate owners & managers sacrifice a few pennies of profit for a few extra dollars of profit?

In business it’s called incremental profit. Profit you would not have gotten had you not spent a little extra to get that person in the door.

i think we have firmly established here that most businesses are not interested in spending money to make money, only in making money regardless of how you mistreat your customers.

the dominant business model right now is the “i want to sit on my fat ass and have people give me money without taking any risks or doing much of anything.” which is somehow more righteous than the evil consumer’s desire to get something for nothing.

so, spending a dollar to make three is not the way it’s done anymore… unless you’re spending money on a lawsuit.

moe says:

Re: Re:

Can’t you cheapskates pay for anything?

I have to admit – I laughed at that. And I had the same reaction when I read, “A typical response, of course, is that it’s “stealing” electricity or that it’s somehow costly. However, it’s really just a a few pennies

The bottom line is, it’s their electricity and if they would rather not have people using it then it’s their perogative. Short-sighted? Probably, but it really depends on the situation.

matt says:

Re: Squatters buy too

I think you forgot that overall if you fail to cater to a service = less business
I agree people shouldn’t go excessive. But what if you sit at a cafe for 3 hours and have 2-3 coffees?

Every tuesday before my orchestra practice I do exactly that. I have between 3 and 4 hours between work and my music group’s getogether, which is 5 minutes from my work or an hour from my house. Does that make me a squatter to use the laptop at the cafe like that if I buy 3 chai teas during that period?

The problem is any definition of squatters is subjective. The 1 guy who drinks 5 coffees while he uses the net versus the 2 guys that drink 1 coffee in the same period, none of them would be there if the service is not provided.

Susabelle (user link) says:

Outlet Vulture

I’m a dedicated outlet vulture. I know which cafes/bookstores have decent power offerings and which don’t. I agree, these stores should not begrudge us the few cents of power we use, when we spend money in their stores while we are there. I know I don’t go to Panera Bread and use their free wireless without buying coffee and pastries, sometimes a chicken salad sandwich or soup or their new Crispini pizzas. They are certainly making their money back on me, and I do not feel like I’m abusing them by using a power outlet for an hour or so when I’ve spent $20 or more there.

It’s very stingy and short-sighted for these cafes and bookstores to not offer power outlets.

Overcast says:

Can’t you cheapskates pay for anything?

Is that a question for the business or consumer?

If they advertise that they have ‘Wi-Fi’ it would only make sense to provide power as well. Perhaps they could set up ‘bar’ style seating around the wall edge and put power cords up there on the counter, keeping them off the floor.

If I’m wanting to have a coffee, etc – while I wait on whatever, and I have two places to choose from: One that lets me plug up the laptop and get a bit of work done and one that doesn’t…. well, should be obvious which one I’ll choose. I’ve done that a number of times in the past at the Airport.

Brian says:

Re: Re:

Well, the point of ‘Wi-Fi’ is to be untethered. I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to remain untethered. Why not just make it a wired internet-then and you can hook up an ethernet cable as well as a power cord? I think being wired invites too many people to linger too long. 2-3 hours battery time should be sufficient, right? You guys say I buy a coffee every hour? Maybe they shuffle 4 people per hour through that same spot you’re taking up each of whom buys a coffee. 4 vs. 1? No contest.

Max Powers (user link) says:

Smart Business Decision

Redesigning your business to attract more laptop users is a great idea in the long run. Electricity is cheap, outlets can be safely added, and idiots could be dealt with the same way that the deadbeats are dealt with today. You know, the ones that sit reading the paper for hours.

My local bowling alley has counters with outlets to sit at while you watch bowlers and are allowed to use your laptop.

Don’t forget the homeless use the library and many in my city use the free computers or bring their laptops with them. And yes, they clean up in the bathroom each morning and change their clothes. We have homeless people that care about their hygiene.

dorpus says:

Re: Smart Business Decision

Don’t forget the homeless use the library and many in my city use the free computers or bring their laptops with them. And yes, they clean up in the bathroom each morning and change their clothes. We have homeless people that care about their hygiene.

You haven’t been to California. There is a subculture of homeless who are dirty, smelly, rude, and enjoy offending others.

suckerpunch-tm says:

re: Bad Trends: Cafes Blocking Outlets

I could be wrong here, but if circumstances were changed to exclude laptop users from being able to frequent the coffee shops & cafes of America, wouldn’t like 75% of them have to close?
Nothing in US history has done more for getting people to actually go OUT to purchase their coffee drinks than the ability to use their laptop while doing so.

Just another short-sighted “fix” to a problem that isn’t eally a problem to begin with.

JB says:


How many laptops get ruined by spilled coffee, danish crumbs in the keyboard, sticky donuts, etc.? I think people shouldn’t eat and use their laptop at the same time. (Much better to read a printed newspaper!)

Our local Buffalo Wild Wings offers free wifi. When your fingers are covered with barbecue sauce I guess you have to type with your elbows.

Danny says:


I love Panera for coffeehouse wireless. I noticed at Thanksgiving break (spent time there while on road visiting my parents) that they now limit wireless use to 30 minutes during the peak lunch hours of 11:30-1:30.

I can live with that; it seems fair. They did fill up every seat in the joint during lunch, but were mostly empty otherwise. And, while I might be able to spoof their network to stay connected, it seems respectful to honor their rules. So I ran other errands for the 90 minutes I couldn’t be online.

I’ve noticed that the newer Panera’s seem to have more outlets than the older ones – so they seem to be supportive of plugging in. The only thing they could do better would be floor outlets.

NoPottiesInBoston says:

just like the John

As I wandered around downtown Boston this weekend, an area notoriously toilet free, I discovered that I had to pee! So I headed into a pub that I knew had a restroom. Having taken care of business, I bought a beer and a sammich, despite having plans at another place later on. Wouldn’t have given them my business without the john being available. Same deal – folks can figure it out. Motto: don’t be a jerk. Applies to business managers/owners and customers equally 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

McDonalds wating to happen

This is going to turn out just like the McDonalds coffee lawsuit. Someone will plug in a laptop or other device and not pay attention or pour coffee on the outlet and get electrocuted and bring a lawsuit agents the cafe. The reasoning that the cafe did not tell them that they could get shocked from using electricity. With the average stupidity of the people that believe that its not there responsibility to to think for themselves.

Dave Reed (profile) says:

Short Sighted = Out Of Business

It’s not a problem. Not in the long term, anyway. The business that treat customers like an inconvenience will soon find that they have no problem.

No customers, no inconvenience.

Don’t let me stop you from railing and ranting, though. Cafe owners need to know WHY everyone is at the coffee shop across the street.

Teilo says:

Re: Short Sighted = Out Of Business

Suggestion: Take your receipts from the shop down the street, mail them to the manager of the outlet stingy shop, and include a note telling him that you would love to spend that money at his shop, but won’t because you don’t feel welcome there. Then let the market do it’s work.

I saw this in action at a local Irish pub in town. We musicians (open session night) were suddenly being treated like crap by the management, so we went away for a while. So did their customers who came for the music. The management begged us to return, and have provided free food and first drink free for musicians ever since.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Proposal for the business owners

Even better… start a business that sells individually switched outlets, network gateways, and interfaces with common POS system (both very do-able with netcat, x10 outlets, etc).

Print a code on each receipt good for X mins of use. People can then a) continue to buy items to stay longer or b) pay a fee for wireless/power use.

Now shops not only force people to not net/power squat for hours without purchase, but can get money for those who want to stay. Just don’t force people to pay monthly fees, or bulk time, or charge $15/hr for network access…thats what makes people hate cafes.

Inquisition (profile) says:

RE: McDonalds....

I hate it when the McDonalds lawsuit gets referenced as the best example of frivolous lawsuits! If anyone cared to actually look at the facts of that case, they would find out that McDonalds was indeed at fault. They admit that the coffee machine was malfunctioning and making the coffee too hot. They admit that the employee at the drive through window didn’t secure the lid of the cup. The woman that got spilled on did suffer serious burns. The original lawsuit was just for medical expense, but ONLY after McDonald’s refused, did she sue for punitive damages.
As far as a potential lawsuit for tripping over a cord, I doubt it. MOST laptop users that need to plug in won’t sit in the middle of the room, and string the cord across the floor. That’s why the seating along the walls is at a premium, and the subject of the article.

gee says:

Re: RE: McDonalds....

You are pretty much the only other person I have ever heard talk about the actual facts of the McDonalds lawsuit. The whole thing was twisted around by the insurance companies to make the lady and her lawyer look bad. She didn’t ask for much, and McDonald’s deserved to be ripped apart for the way they treated her.

Inquisition (profile) says:

I actually spend quite a bit of time at the local coffee house. I haven’t ever seen anyone plugged in from the middle of the room where I frequent. But take notice, I did say MOST, not all.
Instead of blocking the outlets, why not post a rule that you can’t plug in unless seated in designated power available seating? That would all but eliminate the outlet vultures that are too stupid to keep their cord out of the way of others.

dave says:

block mac address

instead of blocking outlets couldn’t they just have the router temporary block the mac address after x minutes of use.

And its ridiculous that airports are blocking them. What they hell do they care. Im not sitting in the airport for fun, its because I can’t leave yet. I just spend a whole day at the airport and if I didnt have electricity to watch movies like vanishing point on my laptop I might have lost it.

mojo says:

Frak off squaters

I admit, it does annoy me every time I walk into a coffee shop and can’t get a seat because it’s filled with kids and their laptops doing their homework. And I don’t believe for a second that they are actually spending enough money to make it worth the time the spend there. I’d bet anything outlet blocking started because some coffee shop owner was sick of the guy who sat there every day, all day, playing with his laptop.

unknowledgable geek says:

Power Surge

So, I see a lot of points here to tell the managers to be accepting of change, in the fact that they should allow people to plug in at their shops. But, we are also forgetting that this is the “days of lawsuits”. What happens when someone fries their laptop because they a something faulty. But, they blame your plug and therefore it is your fault and now they take you to court.

Shun says:

Potential sources of liability

I can see why businesses would want to restrict electricity use in their establishments. I don’t know if it will improve or reduce foot traffic. Depends on the business. Customers, if they are offended could sue for breach of contract. “Hey, you promised me WiFi, but I can’t plug in anywhere, what gives?”

Good luck with that. Wifi does not imply electrical outlets. Sure, in this modern age, we all assume that, but really, does that make sense? Can I recharge my iPod, car battery, and cell phone at your expense? Can I bring in my own electrical appliances and run them from the countertop, next to my laptop? What if I bring in a USB powered toaster? Would that be OK? Obviously, a business should have the right to restrict customers in what they are doing, vis-a-vis electricity use. How will that affect business? That depends. If you find yourself losing regulars because all of your customers are power leeches, you might get more foot traffic because now the leeches are elsewhere.

If the majority of your customers are laptop wireheads, oops. So, the business has to balance potential loss of customers with loss of money due to electricity and space. Business owners have to make these kinds of decisions all the time. If you don’t like it, go elsewhere. The portable generator idea was the best. Mine runs on anti-matter. I’m hoping to upgrade to quarkium (John Ringo references).

Oh, and how could a business possibly sue a customer? If you ask your customer to leave, for whatever reason, and the customer refuses, then the customer is trespassing. Tough luck for the customer, but you don’t have to come in again. That business has to stay in that location, unless rents are low all around the city, and the business has a huge pile of cash to move and start up somewhere else. So, chances are, a business will do everything it can before asking customers to leave. Yeah, lots of ideas here, but the core function of a business is to make the owner money, so they’re constantly playing these balancing games.

If they make a bad business decision, they’re punished in the market. No need to rant, unless you just want to give a business owner free advice.

Paul says:

It is simple math

If I go into a cafe with my laptop I am going to order a drink/muffin and sit down with my laptop while I eat/drink.
I am probably going to nurse the drink/food since my primary objective is getting work done on my laptop.

This is bad for the cafe since I am taking up space compared to someone who just orders a drink and leaves. If I have a power outlet then I am not limited by my laptops battery and I am likely to stay longer without ordering additional food/drinks which from a business standpoint is EXTREMELY annoying to employees and management (they run a cafe, not a halfway house)

The reason cafe’s allow this kind of thing at all is because they have to stand out from the cafe next door, and if having comfy couches and letting you sit in there for an hour means they will get your $5 then that is what they will do. In college towns the competition for a study cafe is insane. This does not change the fact that you sitting there, not ordering anything additional, has zero benefit to them other than the limited word of mouth business you may provide.

Many years ago I worked at a pizza place where in the afternoons we would have a customer come in every now and then, order the cheapest thing we had, then go sit in the back corner of the restaurant’s where a power outlet was, and where he was in reach of the nearby coffee shops free wifi. He would sit there for 2-3 hours, often unnoticed since it was in the back corner. After a few times we finally had to tell him that he was no longer welcome in our restaurant because he was ABUSING our hospitality.

He was not causing us to lose money but buying the cheapest thing on the menu and then using our restaurant as a library is disrespectful at best.

Inquisition (profile) says:

Re: It is simple math

First of all, the point of offering wireless internet at a cafe is NOT just to be “untethered” it is for sheer convenience that they don’t offer wired internet access. Not to mention that it is fairly inexpensive when the increase in customer traffic is taken in to consideration.

As I said before, cafe owners can give someone the boot any time they like. You are right in saying that it is a balancing act, but it still can be done.

Consider that the cafe is still paying an ISP for the internet access that they CHOOSE to offer for free. The negligible cost of a tiny trickle of electricity that my laptop consumes can also be seen as part of the service that they CHOOSE to offer.

I never said that they must do this or else, but if I get ticked off by a particular cafe, I can always walk across the street to the next cafe.

And you were right for kicking the guy out of the pizza place. In that case your restaurant wasn’t even offering any kind of service that would seem to invite someone to sit and relax whilst surfing with his laptop.

Erik says:

It has nothing to do with the cost of the electricity. They don’t want people spending $1.67 on a small coffee and taking up a table for 3 hours.

I imagine if people sitting at tables were actually spending money at the establishment in proportion to the time they were taking up space the blocked outlet policy would never have come into effect.

Clueby4 says:

Extra Battery? Too difficult for the crybabies?

Squirt some more tears why don’t you, and how presumptuous of you to assume that you should be allowed to use the electricity.

Bring an extra battery, failing that try recharging it while in a full bathtub. I mean seriously, WTF are you retarded, you can’t be bothered with carry an extra battery(S) and it becomes world’s responsible to provide an electric nipple for you to suckle.

To anyone even with a little sympathy towards the “I too stupid/lazy to carry extra batteries” individuals I say:


Anonymous Coward says:

Rather than the “All businesses are bastards!” scenario, perhaps looking for a solution that pleases the business and the customer would be the go. I have vague memories of a coffeeshop offering free wireless and being quite happy with you staying as long as you want, but charging you for a regular coffee every [fixed period of time] whether you actually wanted it or not. If you wanted it, you went to the counter and got it. There are obviously practical issues involved in this (how do you seperate the laptop customers from the non-laptop customers, how do you track the time, et cetera), but the idea seemed to have some merit for both parties, without it having to be a win-lose situation.

The customer can sit there as long as they want, using the wifi & electricity but getting charged for it (with free coffee thrown in) or getting charged for coffee every half hour (with free wifi & electricity thrown in) – whatever concept floats your boat. The coffeeshop has people sitting at tables for hours, but they’re selling coffees to them all the time (that is, if they’ve an expectation of a table as having a half-hour “turnover”, they can use “half hour” as their charge period).

cuppaJoe says:

I used to work @ cafe who decided to do this. They even made employees lie and tell people we used European outlets (it was a french cafe), so their laptops wouldn’t fit the outlets. Hell, the city even offer free wi-fi to them and they still turned it down. I cannot tell you how many people used to come in and ask if they had wi-fi. What a waste.

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