The NY Times ran a great story today entitled The New Coffee Bars: Unplug, Drink, Go. There’s a trend amongst coffee shop owners to not allow computers or wi-fi. A few interesting quotes:
Name aside, this Café Grumpy is not a cafe. It is, unmistakably, a coffee bar.
“I don’t think I’d ever do a bigger space with tables and chairs again,” Ms. Bell said. “I appreciate the idea of when you go someplace and it feels like a home away from home, but I don’t think it should be a home office away from home.”
Hers is one of a growing number of coffee bars that have opened recently around the country, particularly in New York. Instead of idling at a chair, customers at these establishments stand or perch on a stool to down a cappuccino or an iced coffee at the counter. By doing away with the comfy seats, roomy tables and working outlets that many customers now seem to believe are included in the price of a macchiato, the new coffee bars challenge the archetypal American cafe.
Earlier this summer, the Bluebird Coffee Shop in the East Village replaced half its tables and most of the chairs with two counters and a few stools.
“A coffee shop should be a place to meet your friends and hold conversations and cultivate ideas instead of — I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, so I have to be careful — instead of sticking your head in a laptop,” said Mark Connell (who owns Bluebird with his wife, Jessica), before adding that computers are always welcome at the few remaining LP-size tables.
I’ve noticed this trend myself – about a year ago one of my favorite local coffee shops, Uncommon Grounds, (that also has great salads and sandwiches), decided to ditch wi-fi during lunch hours after the owner noticed that there weren’t enough tables available for patrons coming in for lunch. As much as I love Uncommon Grounds, I haven’t been back there since because I don’t feel completely welcome walking in and working for a few hours, even if it’s not during lunch and I spend $10 or $15 on food and drink.
Interestingly enough, Starbucks is going in the opposite direction. They’re now offering free wi-fi all day long in hopes of encouraging people to sit there all day and buy lots of food and drink.
I’m not sure where I come out on this. On one side, I completely understand where the business owners are coming from and respect their right to mold and shape their business however they want. However, as more and more people work remotely, there’s also clearly a need for somewhere for people to go where they can work, hold small meetings, and get something to drink/eat. I think the problems discussed in the article all come down to expectations – Starbucks has led us to expect that every coffee shop be a secondary office, and that’s not fair. Still, those of us who don’t work from an office sometimes need somewhere other than home to work.
Coffee shops have played a big role in my life the past few years. I can’t even begin to tabulate how much of our productive work as a company has been done while at a coffee shop, particularly our collaborative projects and our meetings. I definitely work remotely less now, but that’s because I’ve got a nice big quiet office in my apartment. When I lived with my parents after I left my job, or at my next apartment where I only had a small bedroom, that wasn’t the case. I probably would have gone insane if I didn’t have coffee shops to escape to and throw my headphones on and zone in to my work. Obviously I’m not alone when it comes to this. There are all sorts of students and professionals who get their best work done remotely. I’d hate to see that taken away from them, especially those in difficult living situations that really rely on the escape to be productive.
With that said, it seems to me like there’s a huge opportunity here. As much as I love Starbucks, they’re all kind of small and over-crowded and there aren’t many outlets available. There needs to be something that’s a blend between co-working spaces, the coffee shop, and the library. My partners and I have discussed over and over again how big of an opportunity this could be, and with the trend of coffee shops going the way it seems to be going, and the ever-increasing number of people telecommuting, the opportunity is just getting bigger.