In 1994 Toronto, Ontario reached a new milestone as they announced the opening of their first cyber café- The Binary Café. Access to the cafe’s internet was available through two computers that shared a single telephone line for their dial-up connection. Locals would comment on their appreciation for the café. “I recognized the opportunity to stop scamming time off of the U of T library systems to read my email.”
The space contained computers, 2 telephones, food and drinks, and a retail space dedicated to cyberpunk-books and magazines. Due to the ‘modern ingenuity’ of the business, the Binary Café received a lot of attention from the press.
Today, however, we find ourselves on the other end. Cafes are openly choosing not to offer Wi-Fi in their establishments. An example of which being Manic Coffee, in Toronto, Ontario. Manic Coffee decided to go against the grain and not provide free internet access.
What was the main motivation behind choosing not to offer free Wi-Fi access in your coffee shop?
The motivation behind not offering Wi-Fi to customers was simple. I wanted the space to be a place where people talked to one another, face to face, and got to know their neighbours in person. The thinking is that we’re all so tethered to our devices in all aspects of our lives now. It’s actually nice to have spaces where there’s an excuse to not be on a device.
Seeing how some establishments use the promise of internet access as a way to appeal to their customers, were you worried about losing customers due to the fact that you weren’t doing the same?
Due to the tiny size of the shop I wasn’t worried about losing out on customers. There’s honestly not much room for people to spread out and work. It’s also hard to be in the space and not get into a conversation with someone, it’s a friendly place.
How does the lack of internet change the environment of a coffee shop?
The lack of internet access gives people more opportunities to connect, to form friendships, and laugh. It’s a place to come and take a quick break from work.
Single-purchase, computer bearing-customers make it difficult for small, independent coffee shops to survive. As good as the products and service may be, it isn’t enough to have customers pay $3 and occupy a table for hours. “A coffee shop will never make enough money to pay the bills from coffee sales alone. Coffee may be the prime motivator for customers coming to the business, but they must leave with multiple sales if you are going to be successful,” advises Peter Baskerville, founder of 20 different coffee and food businesses.
The Forbes interviewee went on to state, “customers sitting on one cup of coffee for hours enjoying all these benefits won’t pay your rent. My most financially successful coffee shops had a limited number of not-so-comfortable bench & bar stools to make the coffee shop look lived in and loved, but I concentrated on building the takeaway business.”
Creating a Sustainable Business
Aside from the accessibility to endless cups of coffee, using a coffee shop has many benefits. Chris J, a writer from LinkedIn shared that, “there have been many studies done that shows that the low level of noise and casual movement of people in a Starbucks or equivalent, is actually a driver for increased productivity and creativity.”
In the same article, Chris J. talks about the amount of space and money that is saved by leaving the office for meetings. After all, a $6 latte is much less costly than the price of a rental fee for an office space.
“Clients and partners also prefer Starbucks over their very expensively designed and expensively rented offices spaces. Why? Because they feel that they are more productive.”
Going to a coffee shop gives you a change of scenery, as well as a change of distractions, mentions writer Mark Toole from Quora. “You have vastly fewer options. There’s less to choose between, so you spend less energy choosing.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that, “some New York coffee shops were pulling the plug on customers that park themselves at tables, open their laptops, and hang out for hours, buying perhaps only a single latte as their cafe rental fee.“
However, that’s not to say that people will no longer have places where they can work and enjoy a coffee made by someone else at the same time. Starbucks proudly shared, “we strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer.”
Technology will continue to advance and people will continue to look for unique work spaces. The many perceptions of a coffee shop can be beneficial for both the customer and the establishment. Businesses need to decide whether they want to accommodate laptop bearing, headphone wearing customers, and brand accordingly. Similarly, customers may need to accept higher prices if they are planning on occupying a table for long periods of time.