We've all seen "coffee shop campers" in their natural habitat: laptop open on the table (meant for four people), phone plugged into the wall, various detritus spread out to deter interlopers and one small cup of cold coffee which was bought several hours earlier.

Well, it seems that the coffee shops have decided it's time to clamp down on these WiFi freeloaders and table squatters.

My interest in the matter was aroused by an online article I read in the Straits Times, Singapore. A studious young lady was asked to leave a Starbucks because she had occupied a table for around an hour and was still draining the dregs of her tepid cappuccino whilst working away on their free WiFi.

In a fit of pique she took to the Starbucks Facebook page and expressed her outrage at being ousted from the establishment. I presume she was seeking validation (and maybe a little sympathy) from fellow Starbucks users, so she might have been somewhat perturbed to witness an overwhelming backlash.

Of the nearly 900 comments posted around 800 of them ripped into her for being so "selfish" and "entitled." This post epitomizes the general consensus:

"Why don't you do us customers a favour and go to a magical place called The Library? Have you heard of it? Yea it's a place for people who want to S.T.U.D.Y"

Broadband Magpies

At Costa Coffee in the U.K., they have clearly become weary of these parasitic purloiners of bandwidth and have started trialing a simple method of deterring the broadband magpies. When you purchase a beverage you will be provided with a password on your receipt.

The nifty bit is that the code is only valid for 30 minutes -- if you wish to reconnect, you need to make another purchase. Basic but effective.

An alternative strategy has been employed by a series of independent coffee shops. Their deal is that you don't actually pay for your coffee. You pay for the time that you stay in the shop -- your coffee is included in that price. More like an internet cafe with free drinks, then.

And I totally get where these businesses are coming from. Just like a restaurant, they have to turn covers. If people are spending money then they are welcome to stay. If not, it's time for them to move on.

Lets put it another way. Airlines are increasingly offering free WiFi, but I don't think any of them would let you stay in your seat once the plane has landed just so that you can complete the research for your latest PowerPoint presentation.

4 Self-Imposed Coffee Shop Rules

Of course, a significant part of the responsibility is down to us as consumers. If we demonstrated a modicum of courtesy to the coffee shop owner and our fellow patrons, it would prove to be more harmonious for everyone concerned.

To that end, I have four self-imposed rules when I pop in for my tall skinny decaf latte and decide to catch up on some emails:

  • Aim to have 1 drink or maybe a snack every 30 minutes or so.
  • If you are on your own, take a single table or seat -- don't hog a table of four.
  • Don't turn the place into your own personal lounge space with all your paraphernalia laid out.
  • Always clear up after yourself.

So what do you think? Are the coffee shop campers becoming a nuisance to the rest of us by taking up valuable space and sucking up the bandwidth whilst not paying their way? Or do you think that we're entitled to stay as long as we like after we've made an initial purchase? As ever, I'm keen to hear your views.

Published on: Sep 13, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.