There’s a popular phrase in the coffee shop industry that’s whispered between transactions and glances over into the seating area—“laptop hobo.”
I don’t particularly love the phrase (I think calling someone a “hobo” is a bit classist) but it’s also one of those niche things that doesn’t really have another name. A “laptop hobo” is someone that comes into any free wifi-bearing business to (usually) do work on their laptop and makes a single purchase, and then is there for hours, the wrapper or cup of their purchase long empty.
Fortunately, a lot of patrons tend to not abuse their wifi privileges, but ensuring it’s used in good faith and not at the expense of the business is important too. Is it possible to offer free wifi and still make enough money that it doesn’t leave a dent in your budget?
Assess Who You Are and How You Are
Everyone’s a capitalist these days, but you could really be a capitalist if you take cues from businesses that charge wifi by the half hour. What the foot! I just wasted fifteen minutes trying to find the data on that (to no avail), but if you’d like to join me on my daily 7-minute journey to and from the subway when I walk to work in SoHo, you can see for yourself a lot of places do that.
Now, you could find common ground and charge for every hour or 2 hours, but before you even put a price on a first class ticket to the information superhighway, you need to take a long hard look at how your business is doing. Are profits up? Are your seats consistently filled? Does it ever get really crowded?
The behavior of your customers and the general atmosphere of your business should give the initial insight into how you should handle providing wifi. Take note of those would-be laptop hobos: how long do they stay? How often do they buy something?
Gauging the default culture of your business can help guide you into setting up the proper guidelines for wifi provision, saving you the stress of having to actively worry about it, and—maybe more importantly—having to actually enforce it.
Set the Standard and Don’t Feel Sorry
Some of the best methods of curtailing laptop-induced loitering are perhaps the most subtle: only including the wifi password at the bottom of receipts, changing the wifi password every few hours, or even some combination thereof!
If you have the room, you can also try setting designated “laptop free” zones, larger tables where at certain hours (or even all hours) are not available to laptop users. You can even altogether ban laptop use on the weekends (when it’s more likely to get crowded by patrons who probably won’t use wifi anyway).
If all else fails, being a little ruthless with a sign might be okay too:
Create the Culture You Want to Foster
If all else fails, there’s a secret method of getting your customers to behave the way you want them to behave. It’s deeply rooted in the natural behavior of a person, and it’s reflected based on you and the people you hire.
I’m talking about personality! If your cashiers are always cheery and treat your customers with the utmost level of respect, chances are, your customers will be respectful too.
You create the culture of your business. If you have free wifi, a good attitude and a good tone can influence your customers’ behavior. But secretly, you already knew this—because a good business can’t thrive unless everyone involved works hard to make it so anyway.