Is it acceptable to freeload coffee shop wi-fi?

Cafes with free internet access have undoubtedly been one of the great boons of our modern age.

Picture: Wikimedia

Being able to buy a cappuccino and send your emails at the same time is something that many appreciate. But the bubble of digital coffee bliss could be about to burst.

The problem with free WiFi

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Cafes with WiFi initially conceived the service as an additional perk for customers, something extra to complement their thirst for caffeine.

However, coffee shop owners are increasingly noting a trend for customers to simply come in and use the WiFi without any actual interest in supporting the cafe element of the business.

Venues offering free WiFi are increasingly losing out on revenue while accruing the extra costs of offering the service. Some cafe owners have even reported customers unplugging lamps to plug in their laptops.

WiFi freeloaders who aren’t contributing to the atmosphere of the cafe, and take up space, can also impact on the experience of other customers.

A deadly quiet cafe filled with the click-clack of keyboards may not seem overly inviting to those looking for a social environment.

For some cafe owners, it has become a difficult balancing act between offering a service and maintaining their business.

Freeloading: a case for the defence

Cafes with WiFi are an invaluable resource for young workers like Dan Stevenson, an artist manager from Glasgow.

“I run a business from an iPhone and a MacBook, so I need consistent contact with my acts, promoters and bookers,” he explains.

“As sad as it sounds, I need to schedule my time offline so I don’t miss important information.”

Stevenson also finds the atmosphere in cafes where he’s working can have a positive impact on his productivity, especially if the work involves meeting other people.

“If I’m in a quiet cafe with other people focused on working, I can’t help but do the same.

“If I’m going to a cafe to catch up with someone, I like a more socially ergonomic surrounding, but the same goes for work.

“If I’m there to work I want the area suited to that.”

Stevenson often finds that working remotely is as effective as working from an office, with cafes offering such great service that there’s very little practical limitations to using them.

For 21st century freelancers, often working remotely, cafes with WiFi are an invaluable resource.

A solution?

Cafe owners simply cannot abandon technology for fear of losing vital business.

But the answer could be an arrangement that allows establishments to offer a free internet service without draining their finances.

Scottish tech company Collectiv Works are working on a possible solution in Glasgow with their KILTR platform.

“We help our clients by offering a marketing tool that can be used to show their customers daily specials, new menus, forthcoming events or sponsored ads before they access the internet,” explains sales director Paul Crawford.

“Some of our clients are now monetising their WiFi networks from sponsored ads.

“They simply swipe past content cards, or digital flyers as we like to call them. They can engage if they want or continue to swipe to access the internet.

“Within seconds they can access robust WiFi and have a great experience without having to give away their data or flounder about with passwords.”