No computers, or no loitering?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New York Times tech blogger Nick Bilton was told that he couldn't use a Kindle in a Manhattan coffee shop because of their no computers policy. “This isn’t a computer, it’s an e-book reader," he replied, which amazingly didn't endear him to the clerk. He ran into a similar objection at a sandwich shop in Brooklyn when he pulled out an iPad.

Cafes have long struggled with how to handle patrons who order one latte then camp out for four hours, milking the free Wi-Fi and work space. Free Wi-Fi draws in customers, but too many computer users can drive away folks who just want to grab a drink, sit for a few minutes, and leave. Customer loyalty is good, but high turnover is better. Some shops have taken to blocking power outlets, some have dropped Wi-Fi altogether. Bilton's argument is that a Kindle is no different than a paperback book, which presumably would have been acceptable under that cafe's rules.

The LA Times' Carolyn Kellogg agrees with Bilton, and adds:

[I]t seems that someone who's got his nose buried in the 1,088-page "Under the Dome" in paperback is as likely to stay put reading as the person who becomes absorbed by  Stephen King on a Kindle.  If computer use is the problem, I can see why the iPad, with its other features, might set off alarms. But why the zero-tolerance for the Kindle?

Like Kellogg, I'm guilty of parking in a cafe for hours too. I felt guilty, but I always made a point of ordering multiple drinks, cookies, lunch, etc. But if turnover is the issue, shouldn't they kick out anyone who overstays their welcome no matter what they're doing/reading? Is a coffee shop any different than a McDonald's that posts "No Loitering" signs?