Everybody knows that when you're unemployed, you go sit in the coffee shop with your laptop all day. That's your new job, at least for the first few months, until you realize it's way cheaper to make your own coffee at home.
But these days, with the U.S. Unemployment rate approaching 10%, cafes are less happy about their status as informal E.D.D. offices and more happy when paying customers, who have to grab a $7 cup of coffee and run, come in on their way to work.
A story in the Wall Street Journal today with the headline "No More Perks" grabbed my attention today, because it's so unlike the business model that coffeehouses built themselves on. It's about a small neighborhood coffee shop in Brooklyn that has pulled the plug on laptops at peak hours -- unless the person is multitasking (eat and type, type and eat:)
Amid the economic downturn, there are fewer places in New York to plug in computers. As idle workers fill coffee-shop tables -- nursing a single cup, if that, and surfing the Web for hours -- and as shop owners struggle to stay in business, a decade-old love affair between coffee shops and laptop-wielding customers is fading. In some places, customers just get cold looks, but in a growing number of small coffee shops, firm restrictions on laptop use have been imposed and electric outlets have been locked. The laptop backlash may predate the recession, but the recession clearly has accelerated it.
The owner of Naidre's coffee shop says she loves technology and hates to limit its use, and also calls the coffee shop/laptop combo "a wonderful tradition, but "when she realized that people with laptops were taking up seats and driving away the more lucrative lunch crowd, she put up the sign. Last fall, she covered up some of the outlets, describing that as a "cost-cutting measure" to save electricity."
One commenter on the WSJ story says "As a cost cutting measure, limited electricity use for laptops will have a really limited impact. Laptops generally use around 20 watts and the average commercial electricity cost in New York are $.14 per kilowatt hour. Thus, an hour of browsing the web will cost the coffee shop about $.00248/hour, or about 7 cents per 24 hours..."
Another made me smile with the comment, "Next time I take my laptop to a coffee shop I'm going to take my own electrical outlet and my own wind generator."
Yes, it's a little ridiculous. Some people are all for it, though:
"Hey coffee shop loafers," writes Gordon Arnold, "get up and move out! That skinny latte you have been nursing all morning doesn't begin to pay for the space and bandwidth you are taking up! And to all you entreprenuers out there: If you want to start a business, find some other place to conduct your job interviews and board meetings! The 90's are over... "
Yes, this does seem contrary to the business model Starbucks embraced and thrived with in the roarin' 90s. They always encouraged people to hang around, because it makes the place look busy and popular, and that brings more people in. Ever windowshop at a shoe store and see a pair you like, but peer through the door and see two salespeople just standing there ready to pounce on you? Me, I move on and wonder how much they cost and if they have my size because, well, I'm not THAT invested to want to deal with all that focused attention.
Most coffee houses understand that, and even embrace the laptop users. In fact, some Starbucks customers will tell you they're more addicted to the wireless internet habit than they are to the coffee. And, if you're a regular, the barista at your Starbucks will bring your coffee to your table if you're on a laptop and don't want to let it out of your sight once your drink is ready.
But that may be changing, too. This week Starbucks is in the news for sending this "lean team" around to its stores, to try to streamline operations behind the coffee counter. The guy in charge of this team is a student of the Toyota production system, and it's a very Japanese, efficient approach to what had been a sort of anti-production line, more relaxed european experience in the past. From the Wall Street Journal:
"Motion and work are two different things. Thirty percent of the partners' time is motion; the walking, reaching, bending," he says. He wants to lower that.
If Starbucks can reduce the time each employee spends making a drink, he says, the company could make more drinks with the same number of workers or have fewer workers.
This guy is actually going from store to store with these Mr. Potato heads, and having the managers put them all together and in a box in 45 seconds.
As long as Starbucks doesn't kick us out. Where else would we hold our post-editorial meeting editorial meetings?
I just hope the lean-team doesn't mean the end of the personal touch, either. I sure hope my Starbuck's guy will still write my name on the outside of my cup. He always says "Hi Jennifer," but then writes my fake Starbucks name on there.
(It's Susan, by the way.)