Why You Freeloaders Don't Deserve Free Wi-Fi at Coffee Shops
I first noticed the techno-entitlement while picking up a small coffee on a Tuesday evening. A man -- claiming to be a lawyer with a company-issued Dell in hand -- could not comprehend a coffee shop without Wi-Fi. He was expressing his displeasure with a couple well-placed profanities accented by specks of spittle, which landed on the glasses of the deer-in-the-headlights barista delivering the news. The owners of the cafe, DTUT in New York's Upper East Side, turn the Wi-Fi off after 5pm, and for the entirety of the weekend.
This is not a novel concept. They are not alone. And the outrage is almost universal.
As the owner of the Wi-Fi-less Cuvée Coffee in Austin, Texas, Mike McKim has seen the entitled masses of keyboard jockeys and iPad idlers. He's calmly watched as people yelled, cursed, demanded refunds, and often stormed out of his coffee shop to furiously set their MacBooks afire with vitriolic Yelp tirades. He's had to talk down people who simply couldn't comprehend a coffee shop not offering Wi-Fi, and he's had to train his staff to do the same. It happens almost daily.
And those people are straight-up idiots. Demanding, childish, naive, entitled morons. They're pretty much the main reason why the New York Times keeps writing about how much millennials suck.
Do you realize what you people are doing?
Understand this: Wi-Fi is not a right at your coffee shop. Coffee shops existed before Wi-Fi. They will exist after Wi-Fi too, barring an apocalypse that spares espresso machines but kills off broadband connectivity. Shop owners literally owe you nothing… I mean, except coffee (as long as you pay for it, obviously).
"People think its constitutional right to have Wi-Fi in their coffee shop," said McKim. "People have seriously left Yelp reviews complaining that we are personally disadvantaging people who don't have hotspots. Like... seriously? We live in a city that literally has free Wi-Fi in the streets."
"I have gotten so many messages from coffee shop owners around the country just being like, 'Man, I wish I had the balls to do what you did,'" McKim said.
Well, if my words mean anything -- grow those balls. Ban the Wi-Fi. And take your coffee shops back from the sea of virtual office-seekers camping at the tables, ordering minimal drinks, and serving as the bane of coffee shop owners (and patrons!) everywhere.
Not every coffee shop needs to be an office, or a breeding ground for seniors to camp out and watch Longmire for eight hours on their iPad Minis. Some can simply exist without pro-bono tethers to the interweb… and that should be OK.
This is America, right? Home of the assumed free network connections, and land of the brave cafe owners saying, "Fuck your free network connections, you guys are going to have to start talking to each other again."
What is a coffee shop supposed to be, anyway?
In 17th-century England and throughout most of Europe, coffee shops used to be places for deep thinkers to gather, exchange ideas, inspire revolutions, and develop great works of art. They were like bars' slightly classier, sober sisters: gathering places for people who genuinely wanted to spend time with one another in conversation.
And this tradition lasted all the way up to the point in the mid-aughts, when everyone suddenly had a screen glued to their fucking palm. What were once gathering places for socializing are now like big offices with a hipster making the coffee instead of a Keurig.
Remember Friends? That show ended just before Wi-Fi in coffee shops became an expected amenity. Said friends spent all their time in a coffee shop, talking about Phoebe's boyfriends, joking, and wearing weirdly synchronous cashmere sweaters. None of that would have happened if Central Perk was beaming Wi-Fi across the counter. The show would have been called Acquaintances Who Sit Next to Each Other on Their Laptops. It would have sucked even more than it already did.
Coffee shops should be filled with the sounds of conversation. Laughter. People. Maybe some smooth jazz or acoustic crooning over the speakers. Not an empty hull of clicking keyboards, muddled headphones, and pretentious nerds working on screenplays about a steampunk retelling of The Canterbury Tales and expecting the sanctity of a silent library.
This is what coffee shops of today are missing. And that's the vibe that people like McKim are trying to resurrect... much to the discomfort of dickheads who think the world owes them four full high-speed bars wherever their penny loafers lead them.
McKim isn't a Luddite. In fact, he stocks his bar with USB plugs and outlets. He doesn't give a shit about people charging phones or using laptops. But he does feel like the traditional ethos of "the coffee shop" -- a communal gathering place, essentially -- is sorely lacking from the coffee shops of today. And in his mind, the only way to accomplish this is to cut the cord. Cold turkey. While a controversial move, not all of the attention McKim receives is negative.
"After the initial shock, a lot of our customers end up liking the lack of Wi-Fi," he said. "We've really carved a niche for ourselves in Austin's coffee shop scene, which is fairly crowded. People are now coming to us specifically because we don't have Wi-Fi."
What do people like about the McKim's Wi-Fi-less system? Let's take a look at the pros and cons, based on insight from McKim's customers, and my own hopefully useful insight:
- An atmosphere that does not make you feel like you're an SAT proctor
- The ability to talk out loud without getting shushed or stink-eyed
- An environment that facilitates group gatherings, conversation, and overall social interactions
- You can't go on the internet without your data plan
- So if you need to go on the internet, you need to go somewhere else. Like home. Or the library. Or fucking Burger King.
So really, the only downside here is not having immediate free access to the internet. And is that like… something we can just demand now? McKim said people have met their spouses in his shop -- is being able to stream Stranger Things in public more important than lifelong love?
Obviously there's certainly a space for Wi-Fi in coffee shops, BUT NOT ALL COFFEE SHOPS NEED Wi-Fi.
That's the problem. Showing up and demanding an amenity is the epitome of how to be a shitty customer to service workers and restaurant owners. It's like getting pissed that every restaurant in the world doesn't have French fries just because McDonald's has them and there are hundreds of thousands of McDonald's locations. It doesn't add up. It's spoiled.
And it's illogical -- a perfect encapsulation of when the customer is in fact, not right. It's making cafe owners scared to not offer Wi-Fi. Is that the kind of economic landscape we want to live in? Where business owners can't even choose to run their shops they way they wish? It's not like they are cutting off the lights and leaving you sipping your java in pitch black. You don't need your coffee shop to serve Wi-Fi any more than you need it to serve cheeseburgers.
There should also be cafes where people don't shush you if you laugh too loudly. Places where every latte-sipper isn't paired with a glowing box. Spots where delusional singer-songwriters can perform their concept albums about Madame Tussauds' wax-museum celebrities becoming sentient and having a cocktail party.
Another night, I saw the same lawyer (without his laptop this time) casually sipping coffee with a group of friends at DTUT. He was happily enjoying life without Wi-Fi. Conversing. Laughing. Not checking his email. And if he wanted Wi-Fi, he could have walked down the street to Starbucks, or to one of the other thousand independently owned coffee shops in New York City. Or a fucking subway car (they have Wi-Fi now).
"I think the point is that people expect Wi-Fi now at coffee shops, they feel like it's just an assumption... a right even." McKim said. "It's not like that. At first, my workers were begging me, pleading me to open up our internet to the public. But I held out. And now we are known as the place without Wi-Fi for our customers. It's a selling point. It's something people actually love about us."
"Well, most people at least. Some people still hate our guts. It's very confusing."
And those are the people who should be reading this article. If you are reading it in a coffee shop, make sure you have a data plan to go along with your inflated sense of entitlement. You might be needing it soon enough.
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