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No computers in coffee shops?
April 14, 2014
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by Ivan Raconteur

Apparently, some coffee shops have recently banned the use of laptops and similar electronic devices on their premises.

The move is based not on philosophical reasons, but on survival.

It seems the owners of some of these establishments had been noticing that potential customers were walking in, seeing that no tables were available, and walking out again.

The seats were occupied, in many cases by people who were not customers, but simply came in to find a place to work and use the company’s wi-fi.

That struck me as odd, at first, since I found it difficult to imagine walking into a business and taking advantage of the proprietor’s hospitality without making at least a token purchase.

On second thought, however, I realized the problem with freeloaders probably shouldn’t surprise us too much.

It seems many people today are entirely self-absorbed.

As I pondered this trend, it made me wonder if there are other types of businesses that fall victim to people using their facilities without making purchases to contribute toward the cost of operating the business.

I suppose it is not uncommon for people to stop and avail themselves of the restroom facilities at a gas station without making a purchase, especially if the business is conveniently located along a highway.

The most outrageous example that springs to mind comes from a television program. I hesitate to admit it, but I must confess I often watched the program “Married with Children.” I can’t explain why, other than to say it must have been some bizarre fascination with the premise. It was so bad, one couldn’t help but watch to see what they would come up with next.

The episode in question involved a hot day and no air conditioning. To escape the heat, the Bundy family packed up their lawn chairs and other accessories, and established a beachhead in the produce section of the local supermarket.

Most people would never think of setting up their lawn chairs in a grocery store, but is the situation that much different than sitting in a coffee shop without at least buying a cup of coffee?

One can sympathize with the business owners. If the freeloaders are crowding out the paying customers, it is obvious that something must be done.

Nonetheless, I hope that some compromise can be reached, and that laptops and tablets will continue to be allowed in coffee shops and cafés, as long as the people using them spend some money to help keep the businesses afloat.

I have spent time writing in coffee shops and restaurants many times in the past (never without buying something, and never when doing so would prevent other paying customers from stopping), and I have appreciated the opportunity to do so.

It is pleasant to see people sitting in a coffee shop actually talking to one another, rather than having everyone in the joint hiding behind an electronic screen, but I don’t mind seeing customers working in a coffee shop once in awhile. It makes me wonder what they are working on. Are they creating the next great American novel, or are they writing a letter to their aunt Martha? The possibilities are endless.

If coffee shops and cafés never allowed people to work on their premises, we would have missed out on some of the highlights of American literature.

For example, if the proprietor of La Closerie des Lilas had booted the young Hemingway out of his establishment because he was not spending enough money in the business, we might not have had the opportunity to read the stories he created while he was young and hungry, and still good at it.

This seems like the kind of situation a dose of common sense can easily solve. If the people using coffee shops commit to spending some money in exchange for taking up space in a business, and if the owners allow the use of laptops and other devices as long as those using them are making purchases, everyone should be able to get along just fine.


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