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Local diners banning laptops

Saw this today in boston.com:

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  1. Interesting article! I'm torn on this issue, partly because I do some work out of coffeehouses, etc., on my laptop, but I'll never spend the entire day nursing a small tea while doing it. I'm sure that kind of stuff goes on all the time, and when it's keeping others from being able to grab a table, I can see how the owners or managers would get fed up with it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hiddenboston

      I've never really been one to multitask while eating (sometimes I'll listen to an iPod or something), so typically have been on the 'annoyed' side of the equation ('that jerk! he's not even eating anymore, but taking up a seat when the place is full!') ... otoh, it seems weird to me to specifically target laptops. How are laptops all that different than books? I know at my local diner there always seems to be a few folks slowly munching on their breakfast & reading a book, the newspaper, etc.

    2. Good for them! I really think hooking up to the internet while in a public eating/drinking establishment is the height of conceit and bad manners. Basically, you're sending a message to everybody in the place, staff and patrons alike: "You are all so boring I'd rather work on my computer."

      12 Replies
      1. re: jmckee

        If one is by themselves though, it really doesn't matter how engaging the other people are, unless one is a weirdo who talks to random other patrons.

        1. re: jgg13

          Interesting take. Being a "weirdo" used to be called being "friendly."

          1. re: jmckee

            but your implication, or at least what i'm inferring, is that you think there is something wrong with wanting your time to be your own, to work, to read, to not interact with others - that there is no other reason for not wanting to spend your lunch time in conversation with strangers than you find them boring. which is patently nonsense.

            if i wish to be left alone to read or work while i eat then the "height of conceit and bad manners" would be insisting on inserting yourself in my space.

            1. re: jmckee

              or "annoying".

              When I was young, my mom once told me that I shouldn't disturb our dog when it was eating. That advice goes for humans as well, I've found.

              1. re: jgg13

                Wow. Just wow. Remind me to invite you to my next party. You must be a scintillating dinner conversationalist. Do you growl when somebody gets too close to your plate?

                I disagree with jmckee - there's nothing wrong with working (or reading, or just wanting to be alone) if you're solo in public. But calling anybody who doesn't want that a "weirdo"? Hello, and welcome to Friendlyville.

                Some people will engage with strangers in a public setting, some want to be left alone. In the olden days, there was no stigma attached to either group, and people used something called "social skills" to distinguish between them. But I like it better now that we can just disparage each other.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  "Hello, and welcome to Friendlyville"

                  You'll find that Bostonians aren't as keen on strangers coming up and talking to them as in other parts of the country. It is a common topic on various sites (e.g. boston yelp, where some visitor or newcomer will post the age old 'why are you all so unfriendly?' post pretty regularly).

                  And yes, usually when people I don't know strike up a conversation with me (granted I live in Boston and I just said it isn't as common as in other parts of the country), I'd say that 9 out of 10 times they end up being shifty, crazy, trying to rip me off, or some combination of those.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    Lived in the Boston area from '83 to '89. Didn't care for it much. But I still got into plenty of conversations with strangers.

                    Again, it's the whole social skills thing. Although people in any given area may tilt one way or the other, there are people in every city who will engage with strangers, and others who'd prefer not to. Those who try to carry on conversations with an unwilling participant probably fit in one of the categories you mentioned. But when Buckner let the ball roll between his feet, everybody in the bar commiserated together.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      "But when Buckner let the ball roll between his feet, everybody in the bar commiserated together."

                      Key word being bar ;) Everyone knows your name and all of that jazz ... :)

                      Rereading my post, for fairness' sake, I should add "people not from here" to the list of shifty, crazy & trying to rip me off (but combinations are still available, I've talked to my share of crazy out of towners!)

          2. re: jmckee

            i think he's doing it for business reasons, not because he thinks it's the "height of conceit and bad manners." I don't think people should "milk" anything other than cows, and that should be done quickly.

            ETA: you can milk other animals too....you know what I'm saying...

            1. re: jmckee

              Remember when we use to go out to lunch to get away from the office & the phones? Heck now a days you can't even get away from the phones in the bathrooms!

              I think its great places like this are saying no to the roaming office.

              1. re: anniemax

                I read an article in the Washington Post a few years ago about how some people are using WiFi cafes as their office to reduce costs. That might be part of the backlash.

                1. re: anniemax

                  No lie: My boss and I went to an industry event a couple years ago at a nice hotel. It was full of other IT types.

                  At break, I went to the gent's room, and in one of the stalls a guy was audibly taptaptapping away at his laptop and talking on his cell hands free. And in that room, hands free takes on a whole 'nother dimension.

                1. Bravo. That the obvilious narcissistic cheapskate tap-tappers think the world owes them a comfortable seat in a warm room for a 35 cent tip on a cup of coffee for a few hours is ludicrous. Go sit on a sidewalk with the pigeons and the rain, or go home. They brought this predictable emerging policy upon themselves.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Veggo

                    I agree. The people reading books seem to do it while having their coffee and the computer users seem to drink coffee while using their computer. Coming from different directions.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Interesting point regarding the book readers. Not sure I agree with it, but that would make sense.

                      On another "why laptops are worse than books" point, it seems that more often than not when I see a laptop person, they're much more spread out than someone should be. They've got their 15" laptop, sometimes a mouse, sometimes some papers, plus whatever it is they're at teh establishment for in the first place.

                      1. re: jgg13

                        Oh absolutely. And they therefore need a table for four just because they can't bring themselves to go half an hour without checking their email.

                        1. re: jmckee

                          bull. on every level.

                          don;t give them a table for 4. give them whatever you would give any other single customer. If a non-laptop user spreads his newspaper that far, or just a lone patron is given a 4 top is that any different for the other customers in the place?

                          and some of us work hard, with other people around all the time, and we value these quiet moments here we can catch up on email, or check the online newspaper, or work on our poem or novel or love letter.

                          not all lives are your life, whatever that life might be like.

                          1. re: thew

                            I was more picturing counter/bar space when I said that. I don't really care what someone does at their own table.

                            OTOH, it isn't specific to laptop users, etc. The other day I was having lunch and was squashed in at the counter, as were everyone there but 2 guys. Those 2 guys were talking to each other and both were taking up about 2-3 'spaces', if that makes sense.

                  2. Some places want the laptop users (why else would some places put a sign up saying they have free wireless?) and others don't (for very good reason). Nothing to be torn about or upset about - just go to the establishment that suits your need or desire.

                    I can totally appreciate why small places that depend on table turnover during a very short period of the day would not want digital campers in their midst.

                    One thing I don't understand is why people who would never think of setting up shop with a laptop in an elegant restaurant think it's okay to do so in a casual one that shows no signs that it welcomes that behavior.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Cachetes

                      There's a fast food kind of place I go to that has free wi-fi, but they turn it off during the busy lunch hour. It's kind of funny because it's in the middle of the produce district and I rarely see anyone in there with a lap top except me.

                      1. I get where these restaurant owners are coming from, but I think there could be a more moderate solution to balance the need to turn over tables and patrons' needs to enjoy their meals, coffee, tea, etc. and read or check e-mail or do a little work at the same time.

                        I think an all-out reading ban is extreme, and regarding laptop use, would rather see a policy that limits patrons to a set amount of time (e.g,. 1-2 hours), or if the restaurant/coffee shop has WiFi, they can shut it down at peak hours (lunch & dinner time). I know a few local businesses here in the DC area that have both of these policies. The former is difficult to enforce (although some locations of Starbucks here have come up with a smart solution. If you buy a Starbucks coffee card, you can register it online and get up to 2 hours of free WiFi each time you visit them over a month-long period. If you go over the limit, you need to buy another card. That's the theory, b/c in my case, I found that I could exceed the 2 hours (no, I didn't stay all day!).

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Gigi007

                          For coffee shop computer campers, here are some reasonable assumptions followed by some math: 2000 S.F. store, $24/S.F. gross annual occupancy cost, occupancy cost is 8% of sales, 50 seats, store open 14 hours/day, seats occupied 50% of operating hours. Tumbling the numbers, each seat should generate $4.57 in sales per hour for each hour it is occupied. Admittedly this exercise does not account for take out business., but that is highest in stores with higher occupancy cost, so the $4-5 per hour guideline is fair.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            We were in Houston airport the other night in a sports bar. I asked if they had Wi-Fi and she said no, that the airport charges $8 for a connection. Feeds into your math.

                          2. re: Gigi007

                            To fill in a little background on the place with the all-out reading ban: it's a deli with a tiny seating area (maybe six or so small tables) that serves THE best corned beef and pastrami in the entire Boston area. The owner is known for being a bit of a "soup Nazi," but like that character in Seinfeld, he can get away with it because the food is just so good. If anyplace can justify such a draconian policy it's that one.

                            Personally, I love the place but I always get my sandwich to go.

                            1. re: BobB

                              If I can add, perhaps the owner has some strict rules, but he's never been anything but pleasant with me. And their chicken salad is pretty damn good.

                              1. re: Cachetes

                                He's always been pleasant to me too, but I've seen his darker side. I have a friend who's been banned from the place (she has a non-obvious mental illness and can come across a bit oddly at times.)

                              2. re: BobB

                                Thanks for enlightening me, BobB. Even if his pastrami and corned beef are the best in the area, I still think an all-out reading ban is extreme. What's next? You can only stay 15 minutes if you're eating a sandwich, or your child isn't allowed to talk? I can understand restaurants banning things that infringe on other patrons' abilities to enjoy their meals (e.g., cell phone ban), but a "no reading policy" is just obnoxious, IMHO.

                                1. re: BobB

                                  He need to have the same kind of chairs and booths fast food restaurants like MCD's use, they're uncomfortable on purpose so people don't "lounge" around too long.

                              3. Just came across this CH article that's relevant to this discussion:

                                I agree with one of the conclusions of the article, coffee shop owners can get rid of WiFi if laptop users are hogging tables and not paying their way (although it may not be a foolproof solution as there are often ways to pick up other networks and the possibility of creating your own hotspot).

                                1. Wonder if every coffee cup (or purchase) could come with a free wifi code that is good for a certain amount of time and then shuts out. It would be the same as those 1 hour parking spots.

                                  19 Replies
                                  1. re: chowser

                                    The independent coffee bar across the street from me does this. You get a code good for three hours when you purchase something. I often take my work for school over there on quiet weekday mornings to get things done and have yet to use the entire three hours. Seems like a good compromise...

                                    1. re: ziggylu

                                      i frequent a coffee shop that does something similar. they have a password for wifi that changes regularly (hourly? daily? i dunno i've never used it). you get the password from the barista, so they can monitor if there is anyone leeching wifi who hasn't bought coffee. the place is very popular with students and the laptop crowd, and they have ample space, so it seems to work out. for another type of establishment or a teensy deli, i can *completely* understand an all-out ban. owners should be able to weigh the pros and cons and make their own policies on the laptop issue. the "roving office" phenomenon can sometimes be a problem when it's people ordering the absolute minimum, then taking up half your place for three hours or more. the owners can come off looking like jerks by banning certain activities in their establishments, but i think most folks would agree that customers were the ones to initially abuse the reasonable privileges of patronage-- if critical mass is reached, bans become necessary.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        Do you also agree with a ban on reading (newspapers, work documents, books, etc.)?

                                        1. re: Gigi007

                                          please feel free to take the following excerpt from my post:

                                          "owners should be able to weigh the pros and cons and make their own policies on the laptop issue"

                                          and feel free to replace the word "laptop" in this statement with "work document," "book," "sex-line phone call," "family dog on the patio," "unaccompanied minors"--or whatever else you wish. there is not a one-size-fits all solution for every hospitality establishment. most owners have a good grasp of what is reasonable for their own establishments--that's where house policies come from, and they vary from place to place. if customers don't feel that the policies are a good fit for themselves personally, they can find another place. *most* owners of *most* establishments would welcome book readers, but ban phone-sex line callers, and the folks with laptops and dogs would be welcome at some establishments but not others. a group of bubble-tea drinking sixteen year old girls might be fine at a family restaurant or coffee shop, but they might be banned from a bar. the owner gets to decide this, the customers do not get to dictate policy to the owners. in the article cited, the owner's proprietary rights supersede the customer's perceived god-given right to order a small coffee and camp out at a booth for four hours. if the laptop people were desirable and fantastic customers who never abused the hospitality of the establishments cited, they probably wouldn't be finding themselves banned. it's pretty simple.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Of course I'm perfectly capable of reading and understanding what you wrote in your original post and did not question your opinion about laptop use in restaurants. Based on what you expressed, I was simply curious about your thoughts on a reading ban as I don't equate it with the laptop issue. Nor do I agree with your analogy re: banning sixteen-year old girls from a bar. And with all due respect, given the range of opinions expressed in this discussion and individual thinking in our society, I don't think the issue is a simple one. My two cents, of course.

                                            1. re: Gigi007

                                              to the owner, though, it's simple. he has 6 seats, or whatever-- therefore he can't afford to have someone camping out & not generating revenue-- whether it's reading an email on a laptop, or a leatherbound volume of dickens. it's *his* policy, so if i wanted to peruse the newspaper or knock off a few chapters of "infinite jest" while sipping coffee, i'd pick another establishment or get my deli sandwich to go and eat it elsewhere.

                                              most places don't have a problem with folks reading while eating-- but they also have more than 6 seats. a place local to me is a cramped counter with 13 seats and no tables. they are open for about 6 hours a day for delicious diner-style breakfasts, but they'll split up your party of 4 into pairs, squeeze you in with a shoehorn and clear your plate while your fork is still descending after your last bite. they *need* to turn the seats over, is what i'm trying to say. there is no way people are lingering over their coffee or perusing their email at this place-- if that's what you want to do, there are plenty of other places that encourage leisurely meals and lingering, and are set up for that type of thing.

                                              a house policy, in any hospitality establishment, is there for a reason--if customers wish to patronize the place, they have to follow the house rules. if they don't find the house rules reasonable, they don't have to patronize the establishment-- but they certainly don't get to tell the owner how to run her/his own place. to me, this is about as simple as it gets.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                The sad part of all this is that it's the result of the decline of being considerate in society. People feel justified spending hours at a table, in a small place, when no seats are available and need rules to tell them to be decent. If people were more thoughtful, this would not need a rule.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  i find any argument based on a mythical golden age difficult to swallow

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    Fine, take out the first line. Maybe people have always been inconsiderate and rude. Either way, if people had some consideration not to sit and take up space when they're finished, even when people are waiting for tables, rules wouldn't be needed.

                                                2. re: soupkitten

                                                  As far as simplicity goes, it is also good and smart business to have good relations with your customers. Not everyone who reads a newspaper or uses a laptop is "camping out". And certainly, consumers have enough choices that they don't need or want to patronize a business that has policies that don't meet their needs or standards. IMHO, business owners who implement extreme policies (e.g., an all-out ban on reading) run the risk of alienating customers and damaging their bottom lines. It really does go both ways.

                                            2. re: Gigi007

                                              I don't think this is a matter of agreeing or disagreeing. It's up to owners to decide if they want to ban a certain activity that they perceive as harmful to the establishment. Customers decide if they like the policy or not, and then act accordingly. If those banned don't like it, maybe they can consider taking reading or email breaks out front with the smokers.

                                              1. re: Cachetes

                                                I don't disagree with what you're saying. Yes, owners can decide what's OK in their establishments. But at the same time, do you honestly think that someone reading a newspaper or book (or god forbid, a high school kid studying and learning something) is harmful to an establishment? I am sorry, but IMHO, that way of thinking is indeed quite extreme.

                                                1. re: Gigi007

                                                  I think you are right that it can seem extreme and unwelcoming. At the same time, one of the places mentioned in the article is very popular due to the food it serves, and is very, very small (in a high rent area to boot, so moving to a bigger place is probably cost-prohibitive). In that setting, I can kind of see why the owner does not want people 'camping', even if just for 1/2 hour. That's why I stick to the idea that if that sort of environment doesn't work for a person (i.e. if they don't like the ban), they can just head down the street to Panera or Starbucks. Those are places that are more dedicated to "food and entertainment", rather than just food.

                                                  1. re: Cachetes

                                                    Thanks for the additional info, Cachetes. Re that one particular business, if I were the owner of that establishment, I'd either have very few tables or none at all, especially if I didn't want people to sit down and enjoy their meal for as short a time as 1/2 hour (with or without reading materials, laptops, etc because 1/2 hour of table usage when purchasing food or drink items is hardly "camping"). A lot of businesses (delis, even tiny coffee shops that I've frequented in high-rent areas) do not have any seating at all and concentrate on a carry-out business. Business owners and customers alike seem to be OK with that as there is a common understanding of the kind of establishment and expectations on both sides.

                                                    1. re: Gigi007

                                                      I think sometimes the patrons of the establishment will dictate what happens as well. I used to eat in one place in central London that had very few tables and people sat themselves. Most of the tables were 4-tops, and parties with less than that would end up sharing a table. If you sat there dawdling after you finished, others waiting for tables would glare at you unpleasantly until you got up and left. The owner could have instituted a no laptop/newspaper/book rule, but there was really no need for it with the other customers intervening.

                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                        I completely agree. Earlier this evening I visited one of my favorite Chinese teahouses and asked the owner about her policy towards people using laptops, reading, etc. I myself have been there on a number of occasions with a book, magazine, and laptop. I should mention that the average cost of a pot of tea at this establishment ranges between $7-$10, and if food is ordered, it would be about $15-$20/per person. It appears that most people stay at least an hour, sometimes 2. The place is small w/ about 8-10 tables (1/2 are 2-tops and the other 1/2 are 4 tops). The owner told me that in all the years she's been in business (about 7 or 8 IIRC), there's never been a problem. She said that what usually happens is that when the place is full and new patrons walk in, people who have been there for a while or are nursing a cup of tea, etc. voluntarily get up, pay their checks, and leave. I know that I myself have done it on more than one occasion. The owner went on to say that she is grateful for the patronage of regular customers and would never think of instituting any kind of ban on laptops, reading, etc. In light of this discussion, I was encouraged by her approach and also the behavior of customers of that establishment. Not everyone is "camping out" and taking advantage or being inconsiderate.

                                                  2. re: Gigi007

                                                    so why didn't you include laptop in that list?

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      I'm not sure which list you mean. If you're referring to my question to soupkitten, she had already expressed an opion about laptop users.

                                                      1. re: Gigi007

                                                        Let me clarify what I meant. I believe that soupkitten had already expressed that she could " *completely* understand an all-out ban. owners should be able to weigh the pros and cons and make their own policies on the laptop issue." Therefore, I didn't think it was necessary to ask about that.

                                        2. there are so many options other than the nuclear option. This strikes me more of luddism than good business sense.

                                          some thoughts about some of the comments on the thread:
                                          I think the posters who point out that this is no different than reading a book are spot on.

                                          How does the intent of the customer change anything, if they take the table up for the same amount of time and spend the same amount of money? what does the "direction" they are coming from matter, if all else is the same?

                                          Likewise if someone is dining alone, how is it any different to the other customers if they sit staring into space, reading a newspaper, or working on a laptop? If reading is ok, is reading the newspaper on the laptop ok? If not how is it different from reading the paper version? Why is a laptop ruder than a book or paper or staring off into space? To think any of the actions reflects on their opinion of you is the height of self centered insecurity. I'm pretty sure the guy with laptop, and the guy w/ the newspaper would be doing the same regardless if you were there or not.

                                          they are more spread out? so what as long as they are not taking your space. perhaps that is an issue at a counter or a communal table, but if they are not taking away someone else's space, why should you care if they have a mouse and some papers out?

                                          I can understand not wanting someone camping for hours with just a cup of coffee, so an owner could impose a price per hour limit - ie if you want to camp you have to buy x amount of stuff for every y amount of time sitting there.

                                          it is not the 13th century anymore. in the long run these places that ban laptops may well be losing business, not increasing it., by turning away customers who have work to do, or things to read, that are not in paper form. I would say that you would be hard pressed to find a diner anytime in the last 50 years that did not have people working or reading at the tables. Only a luddite could think the medium that it takes place in matters.

                                          12 Replies
                                          1. re: thew

                                            As I calculated above, spend $4.57 per hour or more and you a good citizen. Spend less, and you are a wi-fi parasite. A preponderance of parasites caused this thread, and the article referenced by jgg13 and Gigi007.
                                            The medium does matter, because people on computers immerse themselves for longer periods than do readers of periodicals and books.That is a simple fact, as coffee shop owners have discovered to their horror. (Please don't tell me you read War and Peace in a single sitting at a Denny's).

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              I agree with you - I think people are much more likely to lose track of time on a computer than with a book (not always, just likely). Moreover, to say that the medium doesn't matter (as thew does) goes against everything that scholars of technology have generally found. And I can confidently say that the historians of technology that I know are no luddites. Put an automatic loom alongside a handweaving loom, and any worker will tell you immediately that the medium matters.

                                              1. re: Cachetes

                                                Too bad Marshall McLuhan isn't alive to update "The Medium is the Message".

                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                  I so agree with your re: Marshall McLuhan....someone needs to write the next chapter : Reading/learning from a book versus reading from a ccomputer. Personally I think the techies just don't want to know.

                                                  1. re: clamscasino

                                                    actually i'm a huge mcluhan fan from way back (the medium is the massage)
                                                    and have taught his work.

                                                    i just don't think he applies to whether or not my working a laptop in a diner is ruder than my reading a book

                                                2. re: Cachetes

                                                  you both seem to be confusing levels here.
                                                  the medium matters to the person using the medium. it does not make a difference to the other customers in a place if im reading a book or operating a computer, in terms of my taking up table space. nor does the medium i am using change the taste of their food.

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    I made no comment about space or food. Only time.

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      If I'm waiting for a seat, I will focus less on the person on their computer, and more on the person juggling flaming chain saws, because I know which seat will be vacant first. Readers of mags, tabloids, and books will leave somewhere in between.

                                                  2. re: Veggo

                                                    Brings to mind this guy I see all the time at a Starbucks I frequent. He's got his lap top
                                                    stuff spread out and a cup of coffee and one day I see him come back with some Asian to go food. He must have some kind of in with the employees because there's friendly conversation going on. Other days I've seen him with take out food too. Out of curiosity one day I look at what he's working on and he's playing some kind of online video game.
                                                    I figure he's camped out there for a few hours everyday.

                                                    I think the proliferation of coffee shops over the past decade have been a contributing factor to the situation.

                                                    1. re: monku

                                                      m, he sounds like part of America's 9.7% unemployed, for all the right reasons....when his unemployment benefits lapse, he'll disappear.

                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                        Or his benefits already ran out and he lives in the Starbuck's.

                                                        Or he's the owner of the Starbuck's - during these hard times.

                                                  3. re: thew

                                                    I agree completely. I don't think there's anything wrong with imposing a limit on how long you can stay with one purchase, but it should apply to everyone in the cafe, not just laptop users. I know plenty of people who go to coffee shops to study/work, often without laptops. When I lived in Japan, many people used coffee shops to give/take language tutoring for a few hours at a time. No one used laptops for that.

                                                    Most of the time I see laptop users using up space, it's no more than someone reading a newspaper. Newspapers do tend to take up more space than a book, and typically more space than a laptop. However, if the laptop user picks a 2-top, he's not using any more space than a book reader who sits at a 2-top.

                                                  4. I frequent Panera's, with my laptop, every Wednesday, while my cleaning lady is cleaning my house. Panera has a 30 minute limit on laptop use between 11 and 2, and it seems to be enforced, because my connection is disrupted after about 30 minutes, during those hours. That seems to be a fine solution, actually, to keep people from lingering too long during their peak hours.