Coffee Shop Owners Kicking out Laptop Nation is Short-sighted

When I lived on the Upper East Side about five years ago, I used to frequent DTUT, a cool coffee shop that was supposedly the model for Central Perk on Friends.  It was a favorite spot for laptop users because they gave away their wifi. 

It started with some signs that said you had to buy one item per hour.  Then, they started shutting the wifi off if they thought that people hadn't bought anything.  Eventually, they shut it off altogether, driving some of their most frequent customers out.

And yes, we were actually customers.  Not only did we get hungry and thirsty, ever so often ordering something--but we often came back with friends when we weren't working.  You see, more and more, DTUT became the go to spot.  I went there so often when I was just working on my laptop only drinking a cheap green tea, that when my friends wanted to place to go, that was my default recommendation.  So, while it might have been true that my laptop sessions weren't well monetized, the staff there wasn't realizing that I was coming back for food and drink at other times without my laptop.  When they chased me out for being a "laptop moocher", they were also chasing me out as a better paying customer other times.

So when I read today's piece in the WSJ about the end of free WIFI and power at coffee shops, I feel like it's a serious strategy failure on behalf of retail shops.  If you have something that is pulling regular customers into your shop, and you can't monetize them better, kicking them out is not the answer--especially when this is the uber connected social network influencer crowd that often affects your overall recommendation more than you'd like.