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Writing about Coffeehouses and Electronic Devices

Should Coffeehouses Ban Laptops?

Should Coffeehouses Ban Laptops?

Coffeehouses in California are apparently banning computers and e-readers, according to this post I read recently.

Where I live in Kuala lumpur, coffee-houses provide free wi-fi, and from experience, I can say they are very nice to customers like me who want to take their work/entertainment/ reading outside the home. E-readers are picking up, though one does not see all that many in public as yet. But that is changing, rapidly.

The said coffeehouses in California have set themselves up as gatekeepers of “culture”:

The coffeehouse owners interviewed in the LA Times article about the new rules all spoke of the need to preserve the culture of their café as a place of meeting and exchanging ideas. This culture does not have room for laptops and e-readers, but print books and newspapers are still “embraced” by owners and are part of the culture these coffeehouses are hoping to regain. In defining their values and the values of their customers, owners working to remove electronic devices from their cafés have drawn a definite distinction -– print books are cultured, electronic books are not.

Personally, I make sure I order enough for the restaurant or cafe where I’m writing to not resent me, and I can understand the frustration of popular coffee houses with patrons who order one cup of tea and sit around for hours after the drink is finished, without ordering anything else.

But if the place is relatively empty, I don’t see what business it is of theirs  if people sit around, not buying much, reading whatever they like: books, laptops, iPads. They just might become regulars and eventually order more, right? A  sense of community might develop, where the regulars get to know the people at the coffeehouse and vice-versa, which I feel is a nice thing.

Not just that, I don’t see why a shop should ban laptops and e-readers on principle. Who gave them the right to decide what is “cultural” also beats me.

I have seen packed coffee-places in Hong Kong, especially those in the big malls, and students hanging out for hours, studying. I admit it got somewhat annoying when I arranged to meet someone at a coffee place and couldn’t find a vacant seat because earphone wearing, made-up, weird-haired students had grabbed all the places and refused to budge. But in Hong kong, people don’t mind sharing tables with strangers, and though that takes some getting used to, in the end everyone is happy.

So yes, there has to be a balance so business does not suffer and there are enough seats for all. To this end, I have seen signs in cafes and fast-food chain outlets in Singapore saying ‘no studying at such and such hours’, usually the peak hours. These places are only trying to ensure their business does not suffer and that is understandable.

The customers who love free Wi-fi ought to make sure they order a decent amount, and the restaurants need to understand that some/ most of their clients are attracted by the free Wi-fi, and be tolerant of them, within reason.

As long as a customer orders enough to justify the time spent at the table, I do not see why laptops etc should be banned by coffee-houses.

What do you think?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Damyanti says:

    I see where you’re coming from, Gladys.

    I’m not advocating for internet etc for all sorts of food outlets, just wondering if paying customers should be banned from a restaurant merely because they’re using an e-reader.

  • I have thought about this a lot. One coffee place we visit has free connection for lap tops etc. Not many use it though. Another place we visit has nothing but food and drink to offer. Another one has a plug in station which has been in use when we have been there.
    So we have no problem here. But then, not everyone has lap tops etc. We only have a plain mobile phone to use when on holiday and a lot of people of our generation are the same. Same with computers. The local library is the place to go to study and use computers as they are set up for it. They have a coffee machine too.
    We have been to the supermarket cafe where some folk will use a lap top etc and certainly their phones. But not a lot.
    Most cafes are for social interaction or simple relaxation. That is why a lot of people use them. Somewhere to relax with a good cup of coffee (or meal) and get away from electronic gadgets and the rush and tumble of life.
    Running a cafe in this country is very expensive (rent, rates, wages etc as well as food). The owners have to work hard to make it pay. I expect if, in this town, it paid to have open house to gadget users someone would have filled the market by now. The situation could be quite different in cities, I would not know about that.

  • Huh. For me it boils down to what ever the business owner wants to establish for their business. Nothing more or less, really. If I want/need wi-fi or something else then I’ll simply find a place that offers it. I like the idea of encouraging person to person interaction, the notion of having a book in print format instead of an e-reader…. Then again, I am kind of a luddite. 😉

    If people don’t like it then they can go to another business and those non-electronic minded businesses will get the not so subtle message that they need to let people plug in to be successful.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Kimberly.

      I agree with you, though outright banning of electronic devices does sound a bit draconian…a little balance in everything, I say 🙂

  • DarcKnyt says:

    Wow. Things are pretty arbitrary when decisions about what’s cultural are capriciously made like this. What moron would think Shakespeare less literature for being in electronic format? This is stupidity on display.

    But that’s my not-so-humble opinion. 😉

    • Damyanti says:

      “Not-so-humble” is right, Darc 😀

      I have expressed my humble opinion in the post, though I’m not sure how many people would agree with that.

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