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Free Wi-Fi With Your Coffee, Sir?

The digital age of mobility has created a new social phenomenon, the hoggers of tables in cafes!

These are people (not exactly freetards, because they will buy at least something) who find the cafe’s offer of free wi-fi and generally unlimited time allowed on the premises irresistible. They fill the places up and make them look successful and busy.

However, often these are customers who ‘nurse a single cup of coffee’ for hours while they use laptops, backpacks/briefcases, phones, bags, coats, keys and newspapers to lay territorial claim to their given area.

Third Place Areas

Indeed, according to an article in the Journal of Service Research which cites a survey called Dibs! Customer Territorial Behaviours, ‘a single customer can turn a four-person table into a makeshift office’.

The psychology comes in that such people send signals to others, that ‘intrusion is not welcome’. Before digital, some cafes would offer a range of free newspapers to customers which would have something like the same effect.

The ability to do more than read, to communicate by text/email/sms/browse means that such practice is encouraged. Starbucks , McDonalds and Little Chef are just three chains that offer free wi-fi in their outlets. Costa Coffee announced (May 2012) that they’d done a deal with O2 to provide a free half hour net access to all customers, unlimited  for their loyalty card holders.

Some even advertise what is known as ‘third place’ areas, halfway between home and a public place.

Much like a home from the office, an office from home. Sounds fine, until it is realised that some places have experienced physical violence between customers and companies have experienced loss of income because of it.

The survey written by Professor Melvyn Griffiths from University of North Carolina and Professor Mary Gilly of University of California said: ‘changing work habits have created a new class of teleworkers for whom the office is wherever they can access a wireless signal’.

Hot Spots Generate Income

Charles Arthur wrote about the way especially food outlets are offering the incentive, last December in The Guardian. High speed connections free to customers was appealing to ‘small restaurants and eateries’, according to Arthur, and it was equivalent to the ‘never ending coffee cup’, but doesn’t use many resources.

He used figures from Informa Telecoms & Media that showed British wi-fi spots grew last year, and so did the percentage available free (45%), to argue that ‘the hotspots themselves generate revenue using alternative business models, such as by increasing footfall/customer numbers, keeping customers in-store longer, increasing customer satisfaction, location-based advertising’.

Arthur also pointed out the ‘counter culture’ to compete with the new culture of keeping the customer connected ‘who has a need to stay connected’. Some establishments boast of NO wi-fi, just as some pubs entice customers in with NO PREMIER FOOTBALL. Some may do the same this summer, with NO OLYMPIC GAMES HERE.

Such places may well stay ‘niche’, as the trend for greater smartphone connectivity out and about day and night grows. For those on a data allowance from their providers, the opportunity to download at the cafe’s expense is a draw.

London and the Olympics

The market in public wi-fi is still young and evolving. What is clear that people will pay a tad more for coffee and a cake and not to connect to the net. The hot-spot opportunities will increase. London Mayor Bris Johnson promised two years ago that London would have city-wide wi-fi for the Olympics. People may struggle with creaking networks groaning under the weight of countless sports events downloads, but it was a clever bit of Johnson-marketing.

He said nothing about pricing, of course. The whole question of how much access to the net should be and how much should be as free as the NHS or schooling, say, has yet to be debated.

Until it is, people will grab whatever they can wherever it’s available. Some years ago, a London taxi driver complained in the press that he’d picked up a fare of a ‘young male yuppie and his bird’, who climbed in his cab eating takeaway, When they’d finished that, they both made long calls on their phones, followed by some rigorous necking which ended only when their destination was reached.

The cabbie’s complaint was that they’d used his cab as ‘a kitchen, an office and a bedroom and all for a tenner!’

Read On:

The Guardian, Charles Arthur, Free Wi-Fi with that coffee?, December 2011.

A Hard Day at the Office

Image: Julius Schorzman