They’re called “laptop hobos” and “Wi-Fi squatters”—a breed of coffee-shop Internet hogs, who take root in front of their laptops for hours at a time while a paltry cup of coffee cools beside them. Meanwhile, they gobble up free bandwidth, but not the croissants. Some of them even get downright territorial over table space.
Fortunately, while this bad-mannered type thrives in grand numbers in large cities across the nation, Wood River Valley residents, say local proprietors, have impeccable coffee-shop etiquette—especially those who frequent our valley’s cafés to work online.
Recent news articles by NPR, MSN and FOX news have examined how café owners deal with Wi-Fi squatters. Some owners limit usage during their busiest hours, so that patrons can find a decent table at which to snack, lunch and chat. Others have banned laptops altogether, to encourage customers to connect face to face, rather than through screens. Big-city proprietors have been happy with the results, reporting that food and beverage sales have increased.
But you won’t see valley café owners following suit anytime soon.
“I get why they are doing it,” said Carrie Morgridge, owner of Hailey Coffee Co in Hailey. “We are surrounded by so much technology; I worry about the loss of personal connection.”
“But the point of the coffee shop is twofold,” she said. “At Hailey Coffee, we sustain the traditional coffee-shop quaintness, a place for people to meet, talk and share ideas, but at the same time, with Wi-Fi access, it’s a place where people can get work done.”
Morgridge’s perspective resonates. Valley café owners encourage patrons to come and utilize their Wi-Fi for work—as long they purchase food and drinks.
“This one guy comes every Friday and stays all day,” said Morgridge. “Sometimes, he buys food for the entire day all at once; then, he eats it at regular intervals.”
Keith Perry, owner of Perry’s restaurant in Ketchum, encourages Internet users to frequent his establishment.
“We were the first to get Internet in the valley. I like to see a full restaurant,” he said. “So do our customers.”
However, if Perry’s gets packed, Perry is not shy about asking someone to move to make way for the lunch rush.
“At Christmas, we get really busy and if someone is spread out in a booth, I might ask them politely to take a smaller table,” he said. “People are really understanding.”
And this understanding operates on a grand scale.
“We had a couple who were camping while waiting to get into their new house,” said Hannah Bakken, barista at the Ketchum coffee shop Velocio. “This place was like their office, and they ate all their meals here, too.”
Not everyone is so cognizant that coffee shops are businesses, but tech-hobo sightings in the valley are rare.
“There was a lady who came here to use the Internet and didn’t purchase anything. She’s moved on now,” said Bakken. “But that’s really rare. It’s just common sense. A large percentage of our customers are holding business meetings, and working online. They always buy something.”
Given that so many café Wi-Fi users are tele-commuters—folks who work online from home—many find that the café buzz enhances their focus and concentration. And they enjoy the connection with others, even though they are at work.
“The coffee shop has become like an office,” said Morgridge. “People who work from home want to see others’ faces. That way, they can still feel like they are part of the work force, even in a job that is isolating.”
A local coffeehouse patron and web developer said, “I do a lot of work at coffee shops. Depending on what I am working on, the environment can be stimulating. When other people are working, it helps facilitate my thinking. It’s dynamic.”
This kinetic force is contagious, agrees Coffee Grinder owner Nicola Potts. The Coffee Grinder, in business in Ketchum since 1976, has been a source of innovative creativity, she said.
“When people are in here doing entrepreneurial work, they have utilized the free Wi-Fi and bounced their ideas off other customers. Coffee and intimacy makes the creative juices flow.”
Tips for using coffee-shop Wi-Fi
In an article for The Huffington Post, Robert Siciliano offers the following guidelines, modified by the Express, for those using free coffee-shop Wi-Fi:
- Nothing is for free. Remember business have to pay for the Wi-Fi you are filching. Spend at least 5 dollars per hour, and $10 at mealtimes.
- Don’t take up too much space. Limit yourself to one chair and one electrical outlet. Your bags can sit on the floor.
- Share your space. Laptop powered up? Got room at your table for another? Ask fellow patrons if they want to go halves, or quarters, on your spot if the café is packed.
- Turn the volume down. Don’t be the person who watches a Quentin Tarantino movie with no headphones on. Don’t be the person who yells into her iPhone. In fact, please turn off the ear-splitting ring tone.
- Finally, protect your data. Free Wi-Fi is not secure. Your private data might be available to anyone within 500 feet of the café. Make sure you resist making large financial transactions in these public spaces.