Wireless options

Since I just posted something regarding an interruption of wireless service this weekend, I want to get your thoughts regarding our current policy.
We get so many comments and complaints every day from other non-laptop users - customers who have been visiting this space for 10+ years - about how computers take up most of our tables throughout the day. Of course, it is unquestionable that computers have become ubiquitous inside most coffeehouses. In fact, I believe that they have become inseparable and that in order for a business like ours to be viable and attract customers, this service has to be provided.
So, my question is this: is it possible to create a good balance between our different demographics? What makes this space so amazing and great and comfortable is the fact that there is much history, a strong community, and the people who come here are usually aware, participating, and in dialogue with a larger world outside of these walls and this city. It's a shame that some folks feel that they are being pushed out by a new technology - one, that, honestly, I'm still coming to terms with myself. I understand that this sentiment is partly derived from a slight fear of the new and perhaps a manifestation of an increasing generational gap, but, nonetheless, it is a valid concern that creates conflict, worry, much argument and division. I must also note that many laptop users - writers, students, those working from "home"- here are aware of our spatial (and economic) limitations and try their best to share tables and purchase something every hour or so.
I guess the spectrum of possibilities range from not offering wireless at all, limiting it to certain times of the day or days of the week, limiting it to certain tables, charging an hourly fee (!), plugging up all the electrical outlets and have people rely on their batteries, to not changing anything at all. I don't want you - laptop users - to feel that we are waging a war against you, but want you to understand this ongoing concern of ours and that we want you to be part of shaping our new policy in this ever-changing landscape and environment. If you'd rather not comment on the blog, you can always reach me at javier@moderntimescoffeehouse.com

a recent NPR story on the subject

CNN on tech etiquette (from 2005)

Lastly, a poem from A Brief Description of the Excellent Vertues of that Sober and wholesome Drink, called Coffee, and its Incomparable Effects in Preventing or Curing Most Diseases incident to Humane Bodies (London: Paul Greenwod, 1674):

The RULES and ORDERS of the Coffee-House
Enter Sirs freely, But first if you please,
Peruse our Civil-Orders, which are these.
First, Gentry, Tradesmen, all are welcome hither,
And may without Affront sit down Together:
Pre-eminence of Place, none here should Mind,
But take the next fit Seat that he can find:
Nor need any, if Finer Persons come,
Rise up for to assigne to them his Room;
To limit mens expence, we think not fair,
But let him forfeit Twelve-pence that shall Swear:
He that shall any Quarrel here begin,
Shall give each Man a Dish t’Atone the Sin;
And so shall He, whose Complements extend
So far to drink in COFFEE to his friend;
Let Noise of loud Disputes be quite forborn,
No Maudlin Lovers here in Corners Mourn,
But all be Brisk, and Talk, but not too much
On Sacred things, Let none Presume to touch,
Nor profane Scripture, or sawcily wrong
Affairs of State with an Irreverent Tongue:
Let Mirth be Innocent, and each Man see,
That all his Jests without Reflection be;
To keep the House more Quiet, and from Blame,
We Banish hence Cards, Dice, and every game:
Nor can allow of Wagers, that Exceed
Five shillings, which oft-times much Trouble Breed;
Let all that’s lost, or forfeited, be spent
In such Good Liquour as the House does vent,
And Customers endeavour to their Powers,
For to observe still seasonable Howers.
Lastly let each Man what he calls for Pay,
And so you’re welcome to come every day.


  1. Sitting in Modern Times right now on my laptop as I sip one of your lovely espresso drinks. Actually, your wireless access plus cozy, non-corporate-coffee-chain atmosphere was what first attracted me to come to Politics & Prose (I know that sounds heretical given the amazing bookstore!). This is only my 3rd time here, but I have bought books and lots of food/drink during those three times (conscious of the value of my seat). Actually, the reason I came was because I was working on a research paper for work and I can't get any writing done at the office. The energy here helps me motivate, and the cappucinos are divine. Now I know this is also a great place to just hang out.
    However, I appreciate the honesty of your post, as I've wondered myself about this issue of limited seating and atmosphere. I'm sure your veteran customers have stronger opinions about this. I feel torn. I've grown to love both Politics & Prose, and Moderns Times in my short patronage... but I also understand the desire to create a more social atmosphere. Sadly, there are not many places in the city you can go for wireless access combined with an intellectually stimulating environment and excellent grub. So I would be sad to see you shut down your wireless service. However, as a resident of this neighborhood I would like to see you stay in business -- and thrive. So whatever you need to do to achieve that, you have my support.

  2. I lived in the area for many years and loving the store - both the bookstore and Modern Times - and am now moving back after a few years in Cambridge MA. As you might imagine, with all the students in the Cambridge, Boston, Somerville areas, the coffee shops with internet get lots of low-income "squatters." While the corporate places (i.e. St*rb+cks) don't seem to care, the independent bookstores deal with this by being friendly, asking people if they want another cup of coffee if they are sitting there with an empty cup, putting up signs saying people (even those with laptops) should be willing to share tables when it is crowded/busy, and some places turn off the internet during lunch hours, e.g. 11:30-1:30 - except when it is not crowded. Now that I'm moving back to the upper NW area, and trying to finish my book, I'm looking forward to visiting and writing in Modern Times, so I hope you remain laptop friendly/accommodating since I think it does add an intellectual spark with people not only reading and talking, but also writing and researching, etc. Thanks, Mike M.

  3. I am a customer who never brings my laptop to Modern Times, and who often laments the lack of empty seats. But surely you must continue to offer wireless access because so many of your customers like it. In return for this gift from you, laptops users need to remember that Modern Times is a business, not a public park, and buy something! What really annoys me is the sight of a laptop user sprawled over a three- or four-seat table, with nary a coffee cup or plate in sight. We all need a prosperous Modern Times!

  4. I agree with other posters that it's important to provide wireless service. Right now I use Modern Times as a way of getting away from my laptop, but I understand why people might want to write there. What I think could help would be to foster a norm of table-sharing: that any empty chair should be available to someone who wants to sit down, not just the chairs in the big shared tables. Because it is disappointing to come in there wanting a nice coffee and a couple minutes to read the new book you just purchased and have every table taken up by people squatting there with laptops.

    But like Katie said above, whatever you need to do to thrive is fine with me. Politics and Prose/Modern Times is one of those excellent places that you think of when you think of what's good about a city. I try to make time every weekend to spend some time there - your classic cappuccinos are lovely, and you always seem to be playing music that I like. So, like Katie says: whatever it takes is cool with me.

  5. Hi All,

    I'm one of the complainers about lack of space for short term food & drink customers. A couple of times I've come for lunch with a friend and found no place to sit. How about a structural change? Why not put counters and barstools along the walls and insist that laptoppers use the counters, leaving tables in the middle for non-web-based customers? You're also losing precious space by having the pile of free publications near the back door which could probably be used better by customers.

  6. Another Washingto-Cantabridgian here, seconding option to turn off wireless during set, peak hours. Somehow this is much less dispiriting than a fee-based wireless service. (Not to mention, introducing a fee as a means of freeing tables is the method that would most exclude the least affluent members of the community, which I can't imagine P&P/Modern Times would want if it can possibly be avoided!) I also think 'going dark' during peak hours is preferable to having a no-laptops section; I would much rather know definitively when I won't be able to use my laptop, rather than wonder whether any of the three or four laptop-tables will happen to be open when I arrive.

    Meanwhile, thanks so much for taking suggestions on this! I know there will be many opinions, and have no doubt that whatever you decide will be for the best. Long live Modern Times and P&P! Kate

  7. Hi:

    I have been coming to Politics and Prose for some time and enjoying an exceptionally well organized up close and personal book store experience. I have also spent time in the coffee house. I would like to continue this experience and if doing so requires the adoption of setting aside a limited number of tables/space to be used by those using lap top computers, I would support this. I have come to appreciate through observation the careful use of space in book selection and in the addition of attractions that is necessary to maintain this wonderful space. I do not go along with the notion that a space used for the consumption of food must of necesity also be a personal work area. I look to Politics and Prose as a wonderful experience with books and ideas not a home away from home for work.

    The Economist

  8. I'm a laptop user. I encourage other users to buy both food and drink and tip heavily - i.e., pay for your seat. Also, I would like to see signs on each table that say "Please, Share My Table. I Don't Need the Whole Thing." This would encourage sharing, since not every person knows how to make the "please share my table" faces and gestures. Laptop users and others should conscientiously move their belongings to take up only their space, not the whole table. A table is for two or four, not for one. :-)

  9. I have visited the MODERN TIMES three times in a week recently and had hoped to have a bite to eat and/or a warm drink. Twice I had out of town guests with me. There were no tables available on any of these visits. Those on computers had their heads down and were not approachable, and the tables did not have any surface space available anyway. It poses a dilemma for me.

  10. My husband and I are non-laptop users at Politics & Prose (although we use our laptops extensively at work and at home). The last couple of times we stopped in to Modern Times for a sandwich and cappucino, there were no tables or chairs available. We ended up going home or to another restaurant, which was disappointing as we really enjoyed the atmosphere and food at Modern Times and P&P. I like the idea that someone mentioned above of having seats at the counter and maybe one or two other tables be designated as space for laptop users. It just seems to me that laptop users tend to squat for hours, much longer than normal customers. You would have more turnovers for tables that are designated as non-laptop spaces as most of these customers don't tend to hang around for hours on end.

  11. We have been coming to P and P since it opened across the street, and our children have worked there on and off during the years. Many many times I have come for a hot cuppa or lunch, only to find no seats available with most of the tables occupied by single laptoppers taking over an entire table with all their detritus. I was there today, having spent over $100 on books and having been out in the cold with a volunteer job most of the morning - nary a seat available at about 2 PM with the glow of screens lighting up the entire place. I support having a few laptop tables available at all times and no laptop use at all during peak hours - i.e., perhaps 11 AM to 2 PM. Give the rest of us a break. We come there to get away from our computers and to have a life for a bit. Look up, smile, talk, be friendly, lighten up. There are many other places to park yourselves with your laptops - public libraries, other coffee shops, community centers, museums, hotel lobbies, etc.
    Thanks so much for asking for our opinions. We reatl appreciate it. Here's hoping that you all can soon find a balance that will allow those of us who buy your books and want to purchase your food and drink to be able to do so.
    all the best.

  12. I appreciate all the comments. I understand people's frustrations but don't want this thread to become a forum for complaining about people on laptops. I really just want to find a good way of accomodating everyone. If you have any complaints or suggestions and would not like to post on the blog please email me at javier@moderntimescoffeehouse.com
    Thanks again for all the positive comments and responses!

  13. Reading these comments, and based on my own observations what strikes me is that that almost all of the laptop users I observe are working alone and not interacting, sometimes sharing a table, and appearing like parallel play among 2 year olds who aren't yet developed enough to engage with each other. The people who have written comments often come in with a friend or group and want to eat and drink in the coffee house to socialize - not cut themselves off from their environment. Obviously I probably wouldn't be posting a comment if I weren't tech savvy/comfortable. I don't know how businesses will be able to survive if there is no restriction on laptop use. I have stopped patronizing a number of businesses because they have been taken over by laptop users leaving no place to eat or even meet people.

  14. Yes, laptops are here to stay. And they are necessary. However, please remember that a coffeehouse is not your classroom, your library, your study hall or your bedroom. It is a place meant for food, drink, and possibly conversation / perusal of books just bought.

    A couple of points missed so far, I think. Laptoppers seem to feel that as long as they "pay for the seat" by purchasing food and drink, they are legitimate. However, even though that may work for the coffeehouse profit margin, it does not work for other potential users who are no closer to getting a seat. Computer users should limit their time out of a voluntary sense of communal responsiblity. (As should readers, of course.)

    Also, there was an amusing comment upthread that the writers provide an "intellectual spark" to the place. Um, what? Lively conversation with your tablemates provides intellectual spark. Writers with their heads down are merely there. No one knows if you are working on the great American novel or emailing your cousin about the family reunion.

    Bottom line: moderation in all things, and a sense of respect for others will keep things working.

  15. I cant count the number of times I have come into Modern Times, and bought tons of food and cant find ONE seat due to some laptop users parked in a spot with all their stuff spread out all over for a long time? All I want is maybe 20 minutes to eat and drink some tea! Something has to be done about this, put one or teo tables laptop, or make it at the counter. These people have to understand this is NOT your private house and you need to go elsewhere(i.e. library, your OWN home, hotel, etc) to park your arse for an extended period of time. As Benjamin Franklin said"Common sense is not so common my friend".

  16. Again, this doesn't need to turn into "I think people with laptops are rude" thread. I was more hoping for suggestions on how to best balance our diverse clienteles. It seems that most posts mention an "internet-free" time during peak hours so I'm leaning toward that solution. Limiting it to some tables might be a bit difficult but I would appreciate it if people were to gravitate toward the communal tables or sit at the counter. Once we have the counter remodel complete, there should be more space for people to share at the bar.

    Thanks again and please keep the negative comments to a minimum. I think I made it sufficiently clear that this is a divisive and frustrating issue and we need to remember that not all laptop users are at fault. It is just a matter of making a few people aware and creating an environment more conducive to mindfulness and community.

  17. The problem is not laptop user - if half the customers showed up with Ouija boards and spread themselves across the tables the discussion would be the same. You want turnover, customers want your ambiance, goods, and services. Consider: posting prominent, friendly, and simple rules: don't take up more than one space, share tables, move if asked, buy something, etc. Limiting use during certain hours does not necessarily work - Tryst is network-free on weekends but is always filled with people working on their laptops. No matter what you do, your own success in creating a comfortable environment means there will be a shortage during peak hours. Ouija-enthusiasts, or not.

  18. I choose to write on a lap top at Politics and Prose/Modern Times. I also choose to purchase food, drink, and books while I am there. I have been a customer for several years. I believe whole heartedly that any decision that is made with respect to changing policy should be made on the basis of information, not on who is willing to speak loudest. Whether by collecting qualitative data, like this blog, or looking at quantitative data, which might be done if receipts and/or observational information was gathered to give management an idea of just how much money lap top users and others spend, for example, there is information that can inform this discussion. Tracking the receipts for even a week, would provide a benchmark from which to know the bottom line/financial implications of any policy.

    As many people point out, and Javier sensitively underscores, continuing to foster the Modern Times community is a primary consideration. I deeply value Modern Times and hope whatever decisions are made acknowledge the contribution of the entire community to making Modern Times the success that these "problems" seem to indicate.

  19. Perhaps, as suggested above, reminders could be posted on each table that sharing chairs and space not only benefits fellow customers but the coffehouse. And then, we non-laptop-in-the-coffeehouse customers could (politely but firmly, if necessary) sit down at a cluttered table or move chairs to a rare, unoccupied space. Of course, this approach places the onus on us non-laptop customers!

  20. I think that the tension between lingering and leaving is age-old and has little to do with the equipment. I believe that a few changes to the layout of Modern Times would assist greatly in easing the apparent conflict. Higher, thin tables along the wall could be encouraged for laptop users. Even making a little counter-area near the back entrance would help. While broad, flat tables for two or more customers could be situated near the couch area. Most people on laptops are not usually trying to interact socially. In fact, it may be a bit of a distraction to interact, so change the layout a bit, see how it works, if you can maximize the comfort level of all those involved-so be it.

  21. Why is it so difficult for people to write on paper?

  22. Why not limit the peak hour time to an hour for wifi? I've been other places with systems that do that - I know the Caribou coffee on 14th Street used to. You could also require a minimum $ purchase for peak hours to go along with the time limit. I don't think it's unreasonable to be using a laptop at peak hours if you're eating lunch.

    Frankly, sitting at a table with a laptop is no different than sitting there reading a book or writing in a notebook - all of them involve a single person taking up a space. It's a generational gap perception that somehow the evil machine is taking over.

    You should get those French style cafe tables - you know, the really small ones. You could fit a lot more tables in there. (I know the amount of money I spent there today could pay for one!)

    Definitely move that place with the publications if you can - and why not put a few tables outside when the weather is good?

    Why not hold a cross generational discussion about it sometime? Get the community upstairs to talk about it? I think there is a misperception on both sides - older folks not understanding why it's so lovely to sip coffee and type away and younger folks who've never been taught that lingering is rude?

    Also, you know what would be great? You know that space back by the travel books? What about some couches there or some funky chairs or even beanbags and allow folks to drink coffee only, no food? Or someplace else in the store?

    Just some thoughts.

  23. Complaints about coffee shop laptop users are inherently classist. For many students and others who do not have their own office or perhaps cannot afford to subscribe to home internet access, coffee shops and other restaurants are increasingly places where a person can get access for a few dollars just to get something done.