I remember in the early 2000’s I lived a nomadic professional career, loitering from cafe to cafe for meetings, study and business, all requiring dependable wi-fi. Mooching off of a coffee shop’s internet seemed a bit shameful back then. And if that weren’t bad enough, I had the audacity to actually plug my power chord into the establishment’s outlet. I recall looking both ways before doing so, as if committing a crime. “Is this moral?”, I would think to myself. Wi-fi was relatively new (as in non-dial up and non-chorded) back then, and people were just realizing the productivity potential of such a thing.
Twelve years later, it is this sort of cultural phenomenon that most cafes are built around. There’s no hesitation to bum someone’s wireless, plug in your three-pronged chord, and justifying yourself by paying for a $1.69 cup of coffee for 5 hours of browsing, meetings and reading. Shops have gone from hiding their outlets to peppering them everywhere. They’ve gone from limiting your connection time to making it limitless, along with your refills (thanks, Panera!).
As someone who still frequents cafes for free wifi, I want to spotlight a franchise that has come through for me every time. I remember a recent trip to Indianapolis with the intent of getting a lot of work done. I found myself in the heart of the city surrounded by a lot of empty promises. I was teased with endless non-secured signals inviting me to join only to be disappointed with no real connection. This was especially frustrating after I had already paid for my coffee and bagel. I wandered the streets of Indianapolis, using my Around Me app in search of gathering places that might have what I’m looking for.
And as I should have known, I was led to the green and white mermaid once again, her siren-voice gently calling to me to enter her realm. Yes, Starbucks, undisputabely, hands-down, has always had the most reliable and consistent wi-fi of any establishment.
How they do it right:
Starbucks are everywhere
Need an internet connection while on the road? Just wait a few moments, and she will appear to you in the distance. For me, Starbucks is a wi-fi provider, not a coffee shop.
Starbucks welcomes you
There was a time you had to pay a $5 fee for they’re wifi. Fortunately, Starbucks repented of such a sin, caving to numerous other establishments offering it free-of-charge to the satisfaction of may patrons. Today, it’s open to anyone who walks through their door. No time limits.
Starbucks uses AT&T as their administrator
Most independent places simple pay for a connection and throw a wireless router on it. Seems simple, right? But when there’s a problem you’re to at the mercy of some pimple-faced kid who might reset the router if he can even find it. And while I’ve been disappointed with the wifi of so many cafes, I’ve never experienced a failed connection at Starbucks. Their maintenance, I’m sure, is top-notch.
Panera comes at a pretty close second, but they aren’t nearly as numerous, and for months one particular Panera wifi didn’t like my computer. But, cheers to Panera for the free refills and a wide variety of food offerings. Poo on Panera for the elevator music targeted toward senior citizens. I suppose that’s the bread and butter, however.
In conclusion, no matter where you might be plugging in, might I say that there should be an innate duty within all of us to pay for the space, time and signal we take up. The loitering can be frustrating to shops, especially during the lunch rush. That’s when cafes make most of their money. You’re $1.69 coffee doesn’t justify you a seat where a $7.69 lunch patron should be sitting.
Here are some suggestions:
- Buy something as soon as you arrive. Cheap is okay.
- After two hours, buy something else. Cheap is still okay.
- Around lunch time, try buying lunch. You have to eat, anyway.
- Say “thanks” on your way out.