Bye-bye to WiFi?

Earlier this summer, the Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley discontinued its free WiFi Internet service and there are lots of people not happy about it. On sites such as Yelp.com, Coffee Cat customers are venting, the following blurb being more or less typical of the general outrage.

I am very concerned with the huge mistake this establishment has made. It totally insults me as a costumer and many of my friends. They wont be getting any word of mouth advertising from me, or my friends.

The coffeehouse’s management responded with a carefully worded but perfectly rational letter than read, in part:

We are first and foremost a coffee merchant. Unfortunately, what started as a quirky amenity for a few customers in 1994 has turned into something that has consumed our time and energy out of all proportion to its value to us.

I love free WiFi as much as the next guy. But are coffee merchants obligated to offer a free Internet hook-up with your cup ‘o joe? What exactly is the morality of using free WiFi at a coffee shop? Should you always buy something, even if you just want to check your e-mail and aren’t interested in brewed liquid stimulants? Is there a time limit that you should observe? What’s a businessman supposed to do with a shop full of people taking up tables and nursing cold cups of coffee for hours on end?

There was a time not too long ago when you could plop down just about anywhere in downtown Santa Cruz and find a live WiFi connection, whether it’s offered by a business, or an unsecured private line. Those days appear to be over.

Will technology make WiFi obsolete anyway? Are merchants pulling out the rug from under loyal customers? Or, are too many people muscling in on a free deal and hurting the businesses they claim to be supporting?

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9 thoughts on “Bye-bye to WiFi?

  1. Ah, but the coffee merchant is right. If the service costs more than it returns, get rid of it.

    Some places (such as Peets) give out an access code with purchase. The code is good for 2 hours, more than enough to do things.

    A problem with some places is that the layout is intended for groups of customers who are chatting with each other, not for solo visitors who are not looking up from their computers. On the other hand, some places also play background music so loud that it is difficult to converse without shouting.

  2. “We are first and foremost a coffee merchant. Unfortunately, what started as a quirky amenity for a few customers in 1994 has turned into something that has consumed our time and energy out of all proportion to its value to us.”

    Manthre IS an arrogant little prick who ‘wowwed’ the city supervisors into leasing him a HISTORIC BUILDING, the ‘Octagon’ for a g-damn coffee shop while the city relegated a FIVE STAR restaurant Oswalds, displaced by an empty hole the city dug to build MORE exorbitantly priced ‘luxury’ (with ONE parking space, laughable as well) housing, to a frigging parking garage installation.

    He musts wowwed the rubes at city hall with his family’s corporate jet and refurbished MG.

    They ARE easily led… Too bad his business model… pandering to tourists and the booshie (who are busy figuring out if they can still afford their mortgage no less that flat latte) is failing… dramatically, as anyone who saw the empty seats @ Lulu’s on Saturday last week during the blues performance can testify to.

  3. Wallace,

    the days of free everything on the WEB are numbered — the free Internet was a way of attracting customers for a relatively low cost. I understand that a lot of spots are now turning off the WIFI during busy lunch hours so that their tables are available for those actually eating.

    There are always a few abusers of any system that eventually spoil the commons for everyone else.

  4. While I understand the reason they did it, I must confess I no longer go to Coffee Cat because of that reason. I was not a person to hang out in coffee shops for hours — maybe one. But I won’t go there any more. It’s a bummer. I’m curious to know if their business went down because of it.

  5. I can’t say that I blame them. I dont go to the CoffeeCat so i don’t know how big it is, but when you have a limited number of seats and you have folks that hog spaces for hours after buying one cup of coffee, it isnt good for business when other customers cannot find a place to sit. its a decision for the owners of the business to make.

  6. Of course Coffee Cat and other merchants have no obligation to offer free wifi. But Coffee Cat and it’s sister shops, Lulu Carpenter’s, have some of the most expensive coffee in town. With an espresso bar on every corner, it’s very easy to choose another place that still lets me work while I sip, and offers less expensive brew as well. I predict Manthree will bring the free wifi back in a hurry when he sees his business fall off precipitously.

  7. Hi Wallace. I wondered when this was going to attract attention outside our four walls. A couple of points, if I may.

    I have been taken aback at the venom that has been directed at us since we’ve made this decision. As an ex-Crackberry and current iPhone user, I understand wanting or even “needing” connectivity at all times. I also understand making your coffee purchasing decision based in part or in sum upon the coffeehouse making this available, either for free or at a price. What I don’t understand is the anger we’ve had to deal with. I have tried to make it very clear that we respect folks’ purchasing decisions, whatever they may be. We in turn also have a clear idea of who we want to be (we never have been, and we never will be, an “Internet” or “WiFi” cafe) and all we ask is that folks respect that. If we don’t fit into your plans, move on. No need to get insulting about it. And no, we don’t mean to be snobbish. It’s very difficult to have to realign our business with our objectives, especially at this time. We take no pleasure in removing services that so many folks enjoy. It costs us sales, a very hard and bitter pill to swallow in these extremely meager times. We’re doing this because it’s that important to the long-term health of our business. We need to grow in the right direction, and this WiFi stuff has crowded everything else out. So, in the spirit of breaking a few eggs to make an omelette, we are moving on.

    Also, we’re going to be experimenting with curtailing or eliminating the WiFi service in our stores downtown as well. Currently, we’ve removed most of the power outlets at Lulu’s on Pacific. I was shocked last Saturday night to walk into the store and watch as folks sat no more than three feet away from that local treasure, Robert Lowery, playing his steel guitar, whilst staring at their laptops with headphones on. It made me very upset. Needless to say, I immediately had the staff unplug the router. We haven’t gotten to the Octagon yet, but we’re going to experiment with a solution that will work for us there as well.

    You might want to reference that recent front-page article in the WSJ about cafes disconnecting the WiFi for reasons similar to ours. We’re hardly alone. You’d be hard-pressed to find a coffeeshop owner who’s not at least conflicted about this. We’re just ahead of everyone in dealing with it.

    Lastly, I don’t care about Yelp. It’s a stupid website. I read it all the time, but only to stay informed on what folks say about us. So if the person whom we insulted so needs to go “costume” somewhere else, more power to him or her. There. I can get annoyed too 🙂

    And by the way, we get plenty of thank yous from folks who are pleased to have their cafe lobby back. They’d probably tell everyone about it on Yelp too, but they can’t get online to do so.

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