Coffee Shop Squatters Get Their Eviction Notice

What’s a graduate student (or freelancer or blogger) to do?
Coffee shops are cracking down on table squatters who make themselves a little too much at home.

You know the ones. For the price of a small coffee they’ll monopolize a café table for hours on end. They put their phones in chargers, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of that same cup of coffee for the better part of the day.

The squatters monopolize precious seating space, commandeer electrical outlets, and remain at the table for cell phone calls, and the coffee shops—chain and independents alike—are fed up. Some urban coffee shop operators have resorted to covering electrical outlets with padlocked plugs to limit your session to the duration of your battery life. Others have shrunk the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals, or have removed tables entirely, replacing them with European-style stand up coffee bars.

The draconian strategies have outraged some long-time customers, and once you leave the high-traffic high-rent cities, these tactics simply don’t cut it. Suburban coffee drinkers are not there to escape a cramped city apartment. A welcoming atmosphere is the stock in trade for a local café.

Coffee shops are now looking to strike a gentler balance. In the Chicago area, Panera bakery-cafés request that WiFi usage be limited to 30 minutes during the lunch rush, while nearby Cafe Jumping Bean forgoes the self-policing and just powers down the wireless router at lunchtime. Others like San Francisco’s Café Abir hope to bypass freeloaders by only handing out the WiFi access password with purchases, and changing it every few hours to discourage lingering. Everyone in the business is waiting on Sony which is currently developing an electrical outlet that can read a user’s identity and set time limits on electricity use.

What’s fair and reasonable? Here’s a look at some different perspectives and opinions:

According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair, poll 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free WiFi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.


3 Responses to Coffee Shop Squatters Get Their Eviction Notice

  1. Mayang says:

    I’m a squatter and I think I serve good promotion for the coffee shop by squatting there for hours. Not only I can finnish my work faster there, but having a view of filled chair with a customer look comfy with a computer open and enjoying their drinks bring good ambiance for other customer. That’s also so much better than empty coffee shop in business hours. Oh, most of us also like to take our meetings at the coffee shop. An extra customer or two won’t hurt them right?
    The important thing is to be polite and bring my own cable extensions so other people can utilize the power too. If the coffee shop had rational mind, they won’t mind the squatters. Just give us sets of rules to comply with, don’t jus banned us.
    Starbucks always said they want to be the third place after office and home. Besides that, when I buy a glass of frappuccinno or a cup of cappucinno that I can replicate the similar at home, I pay for the atmosphere and facilities from the coffee shop.
    So, not all squatters are bad for business. The world only need more polite and considerate coffee shop’s squatters.


  2. Janice says:

    You can’t really fault the coffee shops for wanting to place limits on the behavior, but it sure makes for bad PR for them.

  3. Karen says:

    a Panera Bread just closed here and I wondered if it was because of all the sitting by computer people not spending more then one cup of coffee’s worth of time. You can’t make money in the restaurant business having these kind of customers. Too bad, as it was a great neighborhood place to gather and eat lunch.

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