When It Comes To Laptops In Cafes, How Much Is Too Much?

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laptop computer and coffee
If you’ve been to Qathra or Milk & Honey recently, you’ve probably noticed signs displaying their new policy: no laptops on weekends. After neighbor Colin Fitzpatrick tweeted about the policy last weekend, fellow Ditmas Parkers had a number of responses ranging from enthusiastic approval, to proposing maybe one weekend day was enough, all the way to expressing the policy made them want to take their business elsewhere.

We have our own history of mixed feelings on the topic of laptops in cafes. The first time we ever visited the neighborhood and people were actually talking to each other at Vox Pop with no computers in sight was when we figured we should probably move here, but then we thought the condescending note about startups and novels that former Cafe Madeline owner Alexander Hall posted in his establishment a few years back was a bit much. (If you don’t remember the note, you might remember he told us upon selling Madeline, “Of course we had some great customers, but way too many treated the cafe as their lounge rooms, sitting for hours in the air conditioning, using the internet and sipping on one coffee.”)

Nowadays we work from cafes all the time, although not on weekends, so we haven’t lost any love for Qathra and Milk & Honey over their new policy. More relevant and confusing to us Monday through Friday-ers was Gothamist recently dubbing Windor Terrace’s Steeplechase a great “coffice,” since we can barely ever get a table there that’s not marked a no-laptop zone–and if the issue is folks sitting around for a long time without buying much, we wonder why tablets, books, newspapers, and other reading materials aren’t banned.

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We’d like to think we’re considerate when we do work from cafes, buying once every hour or so–but hey, we’re human, and we very well may be failing our fellow coffee shoppers in other ways. What are your rules for cafe/laptop etiquette, and would a ban on computers (even if only a few days a week) convince you to frequent a different establishment?

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41 COMMENTS

  1. I work freelance, but the only time I can work is on the weekends because I also have a day job. So if a cafe puts in a laptop-free policy for weekends only, I stop going there. But I’m also of the variety that buys something every hour if I stay long so that I’m not just mooching space. The Hungry Ghost does an interesting thing–they have laptop-designated sections so they’re not overrun and so part of the cafe still has a communal feel.

  2. 1. Get internet.
    3. Get coffee (preferably of decent quality)
    4. Bring back to home.
    5. Work, sip coffee.
    6. Now you have your very OWN cafe!

  3. The last time I was at Steeplechase they did have a no-tablet policy to go with their no-laptop policy. Considering I wanted to read a book on my tablet I found it pretty annoying, left without making a purchase, and decided I didn’t ever really want to go there again.
    Overall I have pretty mixed feelings about it. I hate when I go to places and it’s all laptops all the time. Or when someone has a laptop in a place like Sycamore. But then sometimes I just want to have a coffee and read a book, that happens to be located on a tablet, and I can’t find a seat because of laptops and mommy meetups. What else should we tell people they can’t do?

  4. If you can’t have brunch without “keys tapping” annoying you, you don’t belong in public. The inane chatter of weekend brunch guests is far worse! The ban is to create faster table turnover, which if fine – these establishments have a business to run. But I wish the policy extended to everyone who dawdles too long during busy hours.

  5. I do wonder how much great literature would not have been written had Parisian cafes kicked out all those writers who hung about the cafes writing their greta novels. On the other hand, the proliferation of laptops at cafes is pretty annoying. A reserved section for no laptops makes the most sense like at Steeplechase.

  6. I stopped going to cafe Madeline and qathra because I can never get a seat. I’m not angry about it; I just want a place where I can leisurely enjoy a quiet meal alone. If I can’t find a place to sit, I’ll get a cookie or muffin and leave. But what I would do if I could sit and eat is order a main entree, drink and dessert and possibly a side. I figure I’ll be there for 45-60 minutes to enjoy that. If the cafe is making more money off the laptop loungers then off me, I totally understand. But yeah, I’m still looking for a spot to casually dine in comfort, and Cortelyou doesn’t really have that–then again, with this new rule, maybe….

  7. I take the Italian approach.

    I order a macchiato, take a few minutes to savor it then move on.
    The people who use coffee shops as leisure pastimes or work stations raise
    the price of coffee beyond the worth.
    Time is money.

  8. I don’t go to cafes to work, and If I wanted to sit down with a cup of coffee and a bite to eat and all the tables were full of people with laptops, I’d be pretty annoyed. But both my (adult) kids use them to do work, so for their sakes I’d vote for a compromise–maybe a time limit.

  9. “I figure I’ll be there for 45-60 minutes to enjoy that”

    How can a coffee be good for that long? Drink the coffee while its hot and move on or order another.

  10. I just want to know when the idea of a 90’s “Internet cafe” turned into the ONLY kind of cafe in 2014.

    I went into Milk N Honey this weekend to find EVERY table taken up by a SINGLE person with their laptop & an empty mug. This was on my only day off & I had no place to sit & enjoy my lunch. Bummer!

    I don’t think there should necessarily be a full-on ban, but I WOULD love to see some limitations. I like the idea of specified sections! I have no problem with the “tapping” or the laptops…but I WOULD love the opportunity to go into a cafe, either by myself or with a friend, to enjoy the coffee, food and atmosphere…without the dirty looks from those who are “trying to work.”

    That being said, I am ALSO a paying customer…so if you are just sitting there, taking up a prime seat for 3 hours or more on one cup of Joe, you should probably either buy a few more cups or invest in a bag of good beans, a French-Press & some wifi.

    This IS, after all, a public space…NOT your personal office.

  11. Y’know, those people won’t bite you if you ask to share the table with them. At least I wouldn’t.

  12. I wouldn’t either, and have shared my table with strangers (with or without a laptop) many times.

  13. I’m happy about this. I went to Madeline’s with my husband and two kids a few months ago for a quick sandwich. Luckily, we did find space in the back, but it was eerily quiet for a Sunday and we felt like we were making too much noise just having regular conversation. We were getting looks from people as though we were crashing their workspace. I promise my kids were behaving, and everything! I think the idea of sections would work to keep the laptop users to a reasonable limit.

  14. Is laptop use is the new smoking? What if I read a book?

    Honestly I would rather see people in the local shops with laptops than going to a huge chain where it’s more accepted to do this kind of thing.

    That being said, sections sound like a nice compromise. Also, maybe make the non-laptop section more comfortable. Big cushy chairs, or no laptops in the back patio, that kind of thing. Some sort of mild benefit for not hunkering down behind a screen.

  15. On more than one occasion i’ve tried to go into 3 “cafe’s” in the area on a saturday to enjoy some grub with a friend and every table had one person sitting @ a two seater with a cup of coffee.. just annoying. Didn’t see the “internet cafe” sign up when I walked into madeline.

    We have a library with internet access……………

  16. Ditto…

    1. Get internet.
    3. Get coffee (preferably of decent quality)
    4. Bring back to home.
    5. Work, sip coffee.
    6. Now you have your very OWN cafe!

  17. Folks, A magazine or a book has a limited amount of pages….. please keep your 8 hour work day at home!
    and really? stay home? if I am there to socialize and have brunch, and I cannot stand 8 other tables surrounding me are pounding away?
    I think the establishment was meant for me to come and socialize , drink coffee , have a bite to eat with friends, and get the hell out in an hour.
    NOT for you to turn it into your tech center for 8 hours buying a cup of coffee and taking up a table for two. Pack it up and move it the hell along folks- have you no common sense? and the gall that you would questions this.
    Yes protest that you won’t go back and “patronize” this establishment, and that others should do the same and it will go out of business… but not likely, if you thankfully stay true to your word, we will all enjoy our time there, and these establishments will NOT go out of business because you do not come anymore.
    Get a clue, PLEASE

  18. For a lot of freelancers/grad students/etc., a cafe with wireless is a good way to get out of the apartment and be around, you know, people. As an occasional member of the laptop mafia myself, I know that solitude gets boring and cabin fever sets in. HOWEVER, there’s basic etiquette: don’t take up more than one space, tip nicely, go during off-hours if you’re planning to stay awhile (ie weekday mornings or early afternoons), and buy enough to justify your presence. This shouldn’t be that hard, on both sides of the issue.

  19. Another possibility: walk down the street a couple of blocks, to the Cortelyou Library (or go to any BPL or NYPL branch, for that matter). There you can set up your laptop, get free wi-fi, and be there as long as you need, in an area that’s supposed to be quiet. Why not?

  20. With the number of comments here, you’d think someone was proposing a bike lane on Cortelyou!

  21. You’re missing the point, though. It’s not actually about the free wireless, and it’s definitely not about “quiet.” We’ve all got internet access in our homes now – we’re not working in cafes because we don’t have internet. It’s the atmosphere – the ability to sit in a pleasant environment with a beverage, food, and bathrooms nearby. The Cortelyou Library is NOT conducive for working. Some of the larger branches are, but you can’t have food or drink. And once I went to the main Brooklyn branch in summer to work only to find that most of it is not air conditioned and it was so packed there was nowhere for me to sit and it was too hot to think.

  22. Interestingly, a cafe in Italy (or anywhere in Europe) is very unlikely to ever kick anybody out for staying too long. Of course, in Europe, this culture of hanging out all day in a cafe working on a laptop really doesn’t exist, and, besides, they have internet cafes for that type of thing, so I guess if it became like Cortelyou Rd over there they’d have the same debate and eventually make rules about laptop use too.

  23. No, I don’t think I’m missing the point at all. The Cortelyou Library is fully a/c, well-lit, has bathrooms, and is rather quiet during the day, before the kids get out of school. I’ve worked there, and it’s fine. No you can’t have coffee. But is it fair to the business owner that a laptoper takes up a table for hours, buying a cup of coffee? Would laptopers be willing to give the owner a check for part of the rent and utilities (not to mention the cost to clean the bathrooms) to make up for lost business? Wouldn’t that be fair?

  24. I sat at Milk & Honey for an hour yesterday afternoon with my laptop and a $2.50 coffee. At no point was I driving any customer away – there were *plenty* of seats available at all times I was there. If the place was crowded I would have left or ordered something more to justify my presence. So many people assume that all laptop users are in cafes for eight hours, only ordering one coffee, and that every seat is taken all the time, which just isn’t the case.

    I really find it interesting that commenters presume to tell their neighbors where to use their laptops, what atmosphere they should prefer to work in, and even how fast and at what temperature they should drink their coffee. Furthermore they presume to know what business practices attract the most customers to coffee shops – something tells me that free wifi wouldn’t be a thing in cafes across America if it didn’t bring in a profit. Sorry to go all Jaguar on you, but what a bunch of busybodies!

  25. If a customer has their own connection ok, If not, then thirty minute time limit on using free internet at cafes Even the Public Library has a time limit for usage on their computers.

  26. Yes, you clearly are missing my point that people like to work in cafes because of the pleasant atmosphere. The Cortelyou branch library does not have it, and I don’t expect it to have it – it rightly has other priorities.

    Businesses want customers. If they need to institute table time limits, they will. They can also simply not provide wireless to customers. They can ban laptops. This isn’t something that *you* need to police because you have some weird prejudice against people who like to work on their computer outside the home.

  27. I feel that business owners should install software to control the amount of time a customer has on the wifi network each time they buy an item. For example, buy something every 30 minutes and you get a new access code on your receipt. I’ve seen this done in some cafes around the world. If you want to play, you’ve got to pay.

  28. A peak hour time limit is fine. I freelance and I get the need to get out of the house, and I have taken a laptop into a coffee shop on numerous occasions. But I also work in the service business and understand table turnover is important, too. I’ve gone into Qathra more than once as part of a couple looking to buy a full lunch each and have not been able to sit down. So, you spend $10 all day to drink coffee and I want to spend an hour and probably a total of $25 to have lunch but I’m the one who can’t be accommodated? It’s a common sense thing: If I’ve been there over a certain length of time and the place starts to get busy, I’m not going to continue to hold a table for 3 more hours by myself when I know they place could make 5x more on 3 couples in the same time frame. Besides common sense, it’s also a consideration issue. You gotta be able to look past your own needs. If more people did, the ban wouldn’t have needed to be enacted.

  29. I absolutely agree, but unfortunately common sense is not so common on either side of this debate.

    For the most part, though, one can find multiple empty tables at our neighborhood’s coffee shops on most weekday hours. Too many people here seem to be think everyone with a laptop stays for several hours in one place, which just isn’t the case. And there seems to be an overload of rather delicate commenters in this thread who are offended by the sight of someone working on a laptop in a cafe. It’s amazing that such easily-annoyed folks manage to survive in NYC.

  30. I love Milk & Honey, but I found their rule quite irritating. They claim that their weekend customers prefer it this way — but my girlfriend and I are weekend customers, and we respectfully disagree! And so do a few other couples who walked in and saw the sign while we were there. Further, the place was sparsely populated on midday Saturday. It’s hard to imagine our fellow customers would have been offended. I should also mention that we try very hard to play by the rules — we’ve spent a lot of money there over the past few days.

    As we were leaving on Friday, before we’d seen any of the signs, we even remarked to each other that Milk & Honey’s unspoken laptop policy is really great — free wifi, but virtually no outlets, so moochers are forced to forfeit their seats after a few hours!

    Is this weekend policy really necessary?

  31. As I said, I’ve been a laptop person in a cafe and don’t consider myself easily offended. Weekday hours are not part of the ban in question – it’s the weekend hours that are. We had stopped going to Qathra on weekends because we couldn’t get a seat to have lunch or breakfast more than once. If the weekend is their prime time for making more money and that depends on table turnover, then it’s in Qathra’s best interest to remain a viable business and set that rule. That weekend table turnover may even enable them to weather increasing costs of goods, utilities, rent and the like, effectively subsidizing the weekday slower times when laptop folks are welcome. I think the point is that we’d all like small business to succeed in this neighborhood. I doubt sincerely that the rule would’ve been enacted if there was no problem. I know that I will now probably try an occasional weekend meal there now, knowing there’s a shot at a seat.

  32. I guess this thread illustrates what is important to people who read this blog. The shooting at Beverly and Flatbush will probably get about ten comments . . . .

  33. Right, because there are so many people supportive of shooting innocent 13 year olds to stir up vigorous discussion with those of us who think it’s terrible.

  34. As a mother with two children that needed to eat breakfast before getting back on the road, I was really annoyed to find that everyone in my local Starbucks were on their laptops and taking up every single table. It look like I was in an office except we were just missing the cubicles. There were tables meant to fit 4 people with only one person and all their work spread out. Everyone had their noses in their laptops and only a few still had a drink with them. It was completely ridiculous. There I was with my two kids holding three breakfast sandwiches, a drink and nowhere to sit. I might as well just stood at the bar where people pick up their drinks because there was literally no tables left. We have library’s in our town, we have more than one! People need to take their work somewhere else that does not involve using tables meant to eat and drink at. My children and I ended up eating in the car.

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