Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that some New York coffee shops were pulling the plug on customers that park themselves at tables, open their laptops, and hang out for hours, buying perhaps only a single latte as their cafe rental fee.
While independent coffee shops that are struggling to make ends meet may see the need to flush out the low-revenue laptop users, the major chains are not so strapped. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, in fact, was a big proponent of building a comfortable third place for people to work and socialize. (The first two places being home and the traditional office.) It's part of the company's mission.
Starbucks' official response to this movement: "We strive to create a welcoming environment for all of our customers. We do not have any time limits for being in our stores, and continue to focus on making the Third Place experience for every Starbucks customer."
Starbucks' Wi-Fi is even free--although not infinitely. Customers (with Starbucks cash cards) get two hours for nothing, after which they have to pay. But if you have free access to Starbucks' AT&T Wi-Fi via another avenue, such as your DSL account, they won't eject you.
Ironically, it strikes me that the move by independent coffee shops to evict third place workers may just drive those people over to Starbucks and the other chains. Sure, all businesses need paying customers and not just window dressing, but my guess is that after turning away those people who have become freelancers and consultants by circumstance and not by choice, they won't come back when their fortunes recover.