Coffee Shops Enforce Restrictions to Discourage Remote Workers From Camping Out

July 10, 2013

On any given day, you can walk into a Starbucks and find many people working the day away at one of the tables. With telecommuting now an option for many workers, coffee shops have become the new office. Some owners, however, want to limit the number of customers who camp out for hours at their cafes.

Last month, The New York Times reported that researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that ambient noise such as a busy coffee shop helps people think more creatively. Researchers conducted a series of experiments in which participants came up with ideas for new products while being exposed to different levels of background noise. According to lead researcher Ravi Mehta, the team's results showed that extreme quiet sharpens one's focus, which can limit or restrict abstract thinking. Conversely, too much noise such as a blender or garbage disposal was too much of a distraction. The ideal level is moderate noise -- at about 70 decibels -- as it is just enough to help one think broadly.

"It helps you think outside the box," Mehta said in The New York Times.

With this in mind, it is no wonder so many workers tend to spend entire workdays at coffee shops when not working in the office.

Some coffee shop owners and customers, however, are growing annoyed with these "laptop hobos" who camp out for hours to do work, reported moneyNOW. These workers set up shop, hogging tables and outlets and sometimes even get territorial with other customers over space. As a result, many coffeehouses are making changes to limit or discourage patrons from hanging out all day.

According to The Denver Post, Panera Bread, for example, now enforces a 30-minute time limit on Wi-Fi use from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

"This time limit helps us service more customers at our peak business hours and frees up more tables," explained Panera spokesperson Missy Robinson in The Denver Post. Robinson added that most of the complaints that the cafe received was about table availability.

Some coffeehouses have gone even farther by completely disabling Wi-Fi and banning laptops and tablets or removing electrical outlets so that customers cannot power up and camp out for an extended amount of time.

Jason Burgett, co-owner of Wooden Spoon, a neighborhood coffee shop in Denver, commented, "We're a small shop with only 16 seats. We prefer that our customers have the opportunity for social interaction." Burgett noted that in addition to treating the cafe as an office, some patrons were just inconsiderate, watching YouTube videos with the volume turned all the way up.

While coffee shops can be a great place to work, ZDNet recommended that remote workers be respectful of shop owners and other customers by abiding by a few simple rules. For example, people who work at coffee shops should step outside to take or make any and all phone calls. If you're listening to music or streaming something for work, always use headphones. Lastly, if you set up shop at one particular cafe, befriend the baristas and tip the workers well. Workers typically do not mind when customers hang out if they are friendly, and tipping helps support the business, especially if you are just getting one cup of coffee, but using a table for many hours.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Coffee shops look to oust 'laptop hobos',", July 9, 2013, Bruce Kennedy

"Coffee shop work etiquette,", July 2, 2013, James Kendrick

"Colorado coffee shops putting limits on power, Wi-Fi use,", July 7, 2013, Steve Raabe

"How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity,", June 21, 2013, Anahad O'Connor

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