Some of the coffee giant’s New York City stores pull the plug on squatters, and fuel debate about customer expectations
So it seems a few rotten New York City coffee beans are spoiling it for the rest of the burlap sack.
When I first read Shawna’s tweet (pictured right) a few days ago, I had a multitude of reactions, none of which felt great – after all, what’s a guy who’s building a community of coffee-shop based workers to think when he reads something like that?
Read the article and/or watch the video at the end: http://cbsloc.al/StarbucksPowergate
For those of you who don’t want to head over to the CBS New York report, the gist of it is this:
It seems there’s an inconsiderate contingent of coffee shop squatters – “Starbucks squatters” as they’re called in the report – who are taking up space in several NYC-based Starbucks locations for hours on end and making it difficult for other customers to sit down to enjoy their purchases.
So the reported solution by these Starbucks is to plug up the power outlets in an effort to deter these individuals from sitting for longer than the charge of their laptop battery. For me, that would be about 2-3 hours on a full charge.
In case you were wondering, this drastic, power-blocking tactic by NYC Starbucks stores was confirmed not only by the company’s New York Metro leadership team, but also by a spokesperson who said the Big Apple’s team wasn’t enforcing this action – they were, in fact, against it. Yet they chose to leave these decisions up to each store – a judgment call, in other words.
As for its customers, Starbucks Corporation does not officially ask anyone to limit their stay. On the contrary, they make it easier and desirable. According to the company’s website, “We offer many of the comforts you’d find at home – delicious drinks, tasty snacks, cozy seating. So is it any surprise we offer free internet access too? It’s just part of being neighborly, which comes as naturally to us as making a fantastic cup of coffee.” Sounds pretty inviting and unlimited to me!
In the near 500 comments this article received, those who spoke directly to the issue (instead of those readers using the space for their personal political soapboxes) tended to talk about the financial logic in offering unlimited wifi, and what customers should be able to expect when paying for product. Opinions were varied. They’re worth reading (if you have the patience to sift through them).
I strongly suspect Starbucks Corporation did its due diligence when they were crunching numbers and making a business case for the provision of free and unlimited wifi to its customers. There’s also a pretty good chance an increase in the use of their power – as well as their napkins, toilet paper, drinking water, cups, etc. – was factored in there as well.
It would be narrow-minded and erroneous if the notion of “squatter” was applied only to those possessing laptops. There are many loyal, laptop-less customers who can spend the better part of a day in Starbucks talking to their friends, holding long meetings, feeding their babies, reading books and newspapers, doing crosswords and Sudoku, writing in their notebooks, or simply exercising their corporate-granted liberty to watch the ice melt in their cups. So how do you limit their stay? Take away chairs? Charge for empty cups? Lock the bathrooms?
I can recall one trip to a Manhattan Starbucks where the line-up for the bathroom was longer than the one for coffee. I’ve also seen many a customer, laptop plugged in, wifi symbols ablaze, with movies and TV shows streaming, slowing up Internet speeds considerably! I’ve also seen other customers with laptops playing video games…sometimes for hours.
If pulling the plug is where it starts, where does it end? Certainly, it would have to be with a vastly different vision than what Starbucks’ corporate messaging currently indicates. I can’t even fathom walking into a Starbucks and seeing a “seating time limited” sign. I, and countless others, would simply look for coffee elsewhere. No doubt, other coffee establishments would see the opportunity this would create to attract a new customer base and move quickly to fill the hole in the market for a place with free wifi and self-determined seating times.
While I may not agree with this solution to Starbucks’ “squatter” problem, I can certainly understand wanting to strike a balance between their different customer segments. But as someone who does use Starbucks as a regular Coffice – often from Monday to Friday – I believe there’s a better solution than cutting off valued services because of those abusing them.
And as Chief Executive Cofficer I am particularly focused on ensuring those of us using Starbucks (or any coffee shop) for our work distinguish ourselves from these “squatters” by virtue of the conduct we display with the benefits of purchase.
There’s a specialized type of etiquette that we as Cofficers need to maintain. Not only for the sake of Cofficer/non-Cofficer relations, but also to build positive community relationships with the Coffice locations themselves and their hardworking people.
I would like to propose that all Cofficers who read this blog, follow on Twitter, keep up on the Facebook Page, and those who haven’t connected yet (<~ Spread the word people!), proactively offer the empty chair at your table to other customers and Cofficers.
Do you really need the whole table? Could you put your bag on the floor instead or hang it off your chair? Laptops aren’t THAT big these days. I’ve certainly offered my extra chair or half of my table when they weren’t in high supply. You could do the same. And if peak hours suggest it isn’t sufficient to offer a chair, then maybe consider packing up for awhile and taking your coffee break during the store’s rush hour.
Using free and unlimited wifi and plugging in a laptop at your local coffee shop all day or all week doesn’t make you a Cofficer – especially if you aren’t working to maintain a Coffice culture of mutual respect. The squatters described in this article are not Cofficers. As Starbucks in New York City demonstrated, spending time in a coffee shop is not an inalienable right – no matter how unlimited the supplies and services.
If you think about it, the electricity coming from your Coffice plug is nothing compared to the power contained in a welcoming hand gesture towards the chair across from you, and ultimately the part you play in building a larger community of people who understand, respect and support the Coffice culture.
What’s it like in your Coffice? Do people share space? Are they courteous? What do you think of this move by those Starbucks stores?