Newspaper article The Canadian Press

How Coffee Shop Redesigns Address Laptop Loitering and Wi-Fi Hogs

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

How Coffee Shop Redesigns Address Laptop Loitering and Wi-Fi Hogs

Article excerpt

How cafe redesigns address laptop loitering


TORONTO - When a partial laptop ban at his Halifax cafe led to miffed patrons and headaches for staff, owner Sean Gallagher decided to do something more drastic to enforce his no-screen rule: a restaurant redesign.

Gallagher says he shut down Lion & Bright for a week to put more emphasis on its food and wine service, and less on its ability to meet the needs of laptop-toting freelancers.

Computers are now only allowed at the espresso bar, where remote workers can either stand and type at the taller counter on weekdays, or sit on hard bar stools. They'll also have to contend with louder music and dimmed lights.

"We literally had to close for a week, change, and renovate to make it so cut-and-dry that (my staff) wouldn't have to deal with people feeling entitled and giving them a hard time," says Gallagher, who also trained his staff on how to enforce the new limits.

Across the country, the ongoing battle against wi-fi hogs is pushing some business owners to reimagine their spaces in ways that may end up being less comfortable for some, or at least less conducive to laptop loitering.

Vancouver interior designer Morgan Thomas says comfy arm chairs and cosy alcoves are being eliminated in favour of wide-open spaces and communal tables where private conversation is harder to come by.

These days, she's detecting client preference for design choices that celebrate the analog pleasures of lively conversation, meeting your neighbours and screen-free distractions.

"It's more (about) the type of seating and creating more communal tables -- large spaces where multiple people can sit, versus one individual club chair by a fireplace which makes people feel like they can kind of have their own little nook," says Thomas, of the firm Cutler.

"It's about taking away those nooks and creating more communal, collaborative types of seating and stations."

Claiming slow table turnovers, surreptitious downloaders, and just a dull, library vibe, some entrepreneurs have been restricting when and where visitors can use their laptop, or are denying wi-fi access altogether.

Free wi-fi and bountiful electrical outlets at the Green Beanery in Toronto lasted just one year, notes Patricia Adams, executive director of the charitable cafe's parent, Probe International.

It immediately proved popular, keeping the cafe full when it first opened in 2008 in the heart of the Annex, a downtown neighbourhood popular with students, academics, young professionals and tourists.

But it also led to an unexpected consequence -- deathly silence in the cafe.

"We had electrical outlets all over the place so people could really fire up their computers and it was just dead. So we ripped them all out," says Adams. "There was no talking, it was not a good environment. …

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