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Wi-Fi Table Hogs?

At Virtual Coffee,
Let Them Eat Wi-Fi
by Steven Krolak,

Since he had begun offering free wi-fi, he said, the cafe had become a magnet for a whole new customer base. That was the good news. The bad news was that these customers tended to like wi-fi and table space more than coffee and panini. The result was what I had witnessed the previous day: a cafe full of campers, many of whom had been nursing a single coffee drink through several e-chats. The owner told me of one customer who had stayed in the cafe for six hours. During that entire sojourn, he had only ordered one beverage.
I work at Starbucks, using the wi-fi. I usually buy a half-caf Americano (sometimes a venti half-caf soy atte), refill it with decaf coffee, maybe twoce. I ALWAYS tip really well when I am there to work. But I can be at a table for two hours, and I'm concentrating so I don't always notice if the tables have filled up. And I'm paying $30 a month for the T-Mobile wi-fi.

Am I a table hog? What's the solution?


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Wow, what a timely post. I was just asking myself the same question. http://it.extension.org/kevin/2006/01/27/coffee-shop-etiquette/

I'll be anxious to see the responses.

I work at Starbucks . . .

There's your problem.

Starbucks isn't your office. I know you said it was, in your first post, but I'm sure that if you checked with the owner or any employee of the local Starbucks you inhabit for hours at a time doing your work on their property, they would confirm that it is not, in fact, your office, but a coffee shop.

So, the question is, what is a fair exchange for you to be able to treat their coffee shop as your office? Hmmm . . .

Just ballparking here:

Assume "your" local Starbucks has seating for 50, and it's 60% full on average throughout the day, and the average customer buys $7.50 worth of Starbuckiana and spends 1/2 hour consuming it. Then, on average, there are 30 customers in Starbucks at a time, spending $15 per hour - which is to say those green-gowned goons are Starbuckin' to the tune of $450 clams per clock cycle. But there are 50 seats, so each seat is worth $9/hr on average. BUT - many people (especially those who consider it their "office") take up the equivalent of several chairs. (If you're occupying an entire cafe table to yourself, you're taking up at least two of the fire-department-calculated maximum seats in the room.) So a chair costs $9 per hour, but a small table costs $18/hr, and proportionately more for larger tables. Presumably there should also be a premium for the comfy chairs by the window.

To put that another way, when they're full and you're staking out a table to yourself but not buying anything, you're blocking access for multiple paying customers who would each be expected to spend about $15 every 60 minutes; when they're not full and there are tables vacant, you're not blocking anybody. So on average over the course of a day, staking out a private office at their expense costs them - considering both rush and dead periods - about $9 per seat, and $18 or more per table, per hour.

SO: the fair "rent" for a Starbucks office table would be at least $18 per hour. If you're there 5 hours in a day (which would certainly include a rush period), you ought to reimburse them at least 90 bucks. (If you're only there for an hour or two when there are other tables vacant, you still have to reimburse them the proportional amount - remember that the figure above is an average of both busy and dull periods.)

If you work 8 hours a day at Starbucks, 20 days a month, you'd owe them office rent of $2,880 - which is not unreasonable for a spacious business office with hourly delivery of free coffee products and snacks (your "rent" is the cost of the products they're not selling to people other than you, so you are entitled to the food goods you're paying for - you're just not entitled to not eat and then claim you don't have to pay). Of course, there are some drawbacks: your "office" is noisy, you have to ask permission to use the bathroom, and the place is filled with a constant stream of total strangers, some of whom try to sit at your "desk" and eat while you're working. But still, not every office has a full-time staff of professional coffeemakers on standby.

Another drawback is that you don't have the other amenities that a real office has - like a photocopier and printer. Of course, you could just bring in your own machines, leave them there (with a sign on them saying "If You're Not Dave, Don't Even Think About Making A Copy"), and pay the equivalent full-time rent for the floorspace they are occupying. (If the copier and printer each take up one table's space, all day every day, and Starbucks is open 12 hours per day, your rent for that space would be: $18/hr x 12 hrs/day x 31days/month = $6,696/month. Remember to add in the $2,880 you're paying to actually come in 8 hours per working day and use the machines.)

So, for only $9,576 per month you can have your own private office at Starbucks, with one reserved table for yourself 8 hours per day every working day, and two permanently reserved tables' spaces for your office shit, plus an hourly flow of coffee and pastries not to exceed $15 in value on average. If you can dispense with the copier and such, you can simply rent a table on an hourly basis, at the rate of $18 per two-seat table per hour, which may be more reasonable for start-up entrepreneurs with limited cashflow.

Remember that all figures above are based on rough guesses. Actually per-hour retail volume at your local Officebucks may vary. One thing is clear, however: taking the above into account, "leaving a big tip" doesn't quite cut it.

If anyone is standing there glaring at you because you've been sitting at the same table for three hours and the place is overflowing, you're probably a table hog. The tradition here generally is that it's hard to get a waiter to pay any attention to you if you want to order something because they don't want to bother you or intrude on your conversation or concentration, depending on what you're doing. I think you have to go by the conventions in the place you're in. It's not that hard to figure out.

Kevin T. Keith misses one important point in his comment. Some people in the blogsphere are celebs and actually attract customers to the coffee shop. People come to the shop just to see the famous bloggers crafting their words.

In these instances, the bloggers should get free wi-fi (no having to subscribe to T-Mobile) and access to the employees' private bathroom.

AND free coffee. And a massage, on request.

Kevin K -

Starbucks provides the tables and the environment in order to attract PEOPLE LIKE ME to come in and work. (They charge for the the wi-fi.) I used to drink latte anfter latte while I worked, but have to cut back the calories. So after my first drink I just get decaf coffee, and leave a dollar or two tip each time.

You're almost saying that Starbucks is like Peet's and doesn't WANT people to come in and sit down.

My experience with Starbuck's is they tend to rent/lease small spaces. Of the 4 local starbucks I know, only one is a decently sized establishment. If I was a starbucks manager I might suggest walking out once in a while and asking if any of the campers would like anything. I mean, you get your laptop setup and you probably don't want it sitting there while you go buy another coffee (bye bye laptop!) or tearing it down just for another coffee.

If they have WiFi, they want people to come in a and use it. In the case of Starbucks, they get a payment from T-Mobile, so your place is paid for.

Not your issue to worry about.

FWIW, there's a local cafe with free WiFi here in Seattle that turns it off on weekends because they want people officing during the week and socializing over the weekend.

As noted above: wifi at Starbuck's isn't free, you are paying t-mobile for the privilege of using it. Starbucks gets a cut of that income. It doesn't help the individual store's bottom line, but it does help overall company profitability.

That's a different scenario from the single-shop proprietor who offers free wifi -- he has no way to recoup the costs except by selling more product to his customers. I've seen SF one coffee shop that requires you to buy at least $5 worth of food/drink before you're allowed to plug your laptop into their electical outlets. That seems reasonably fair.

I wonder if there is a market for something that is equivalant to rent-an-office coffeeshop?

The thing is, I *do* think your being a table hog. While you are there, maybe buying one drink an hour (I'm guessing) you are driving *down* potential revenue from people who would be there for faster turnover. Its the same with restuarants, sure they want people to come in, but they don't really want them to linger. They need turnover for profits.

I hate to say it but you kind of *are* using the Starbucks for a job it wasn't meant to be used for. Sort of like renting a storage locker and then sleeping in it.

But I have wondered if there could be some kind of hybrid coffee shop that is deliberately *willing* to be used as an office, but would merely charge a higher dollar-per-hour rate? Maybe $18 per hour but two free coffees and free local faxing?

Would any office business man/woman be willing to shell out the extra dough? Would they cognitively *want* to avoid going to a place that seems like a real office? (Hey, I think some of the hanging out in coffee shops to work is precisely so one doesn't feel as if they are really "at work.") I'm just wondering if such a hybrid could attract enough people to justify its use of space?

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