A coffeehouse puzzle

December 1, 2008

by Sandy Ikeda

An article in “The City” section of The New York Times yesterday (30 November), “Where plugging in means paying up,” raises several interesting questions.  It’s about a café that charges customers to use its electricity, which is evidently an unusual enough practice these days to warrant a Times story.  Why don’t more places do this?  Is electricity that cheap?  Is it because the computer phenomenon is relatively new and business practice hasn’t quite caught on?

5 Responses to “A coffeehouse puzzle”

  1. Don Marti Says:

    The scarce resource isn’t the net connection, or the power. It’s tables and chairs. If a café doesn’t charge for net or power, a customer can buy one cup of coffee and tie up a table all day. It’s easiest to restrict the net, as Starbucks does. You get two hours if you use a Starbucks card, or otherwise you pay. Second easiest is charging for power. Actually locking up the tables and chairs (the thing you’re trying to sell) would be hardest.


  2. What’s the difference between “tying up” a table for hours while using a computer and doing the same while reading a book? I don’t expect charging for power/wifi to become a popular thing because it’s a pain to charge for every little thing — transaction costs and all that. I would think if electricity costs became a burden or space got scarce a cafe might ban computers altogether (some cafes do this now) or raise prices across the board.

  3. koppl Says:

    Jeremy,

    Isn’t the difference simply that lots of people linger forever with their computers, whereas not so many linger with books?


  4. […] noted in my earlier “Coffeehouse puzzle” post, some stores charge for internet connections, computers gradually displacing books as the work-tool […]


  5. I don’t know that that is an obvious rule.


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