Trying to be a conscientious person while simultaneously making a living as one of those creative digital business types can be quite a conundrum.
How does one “do the right thing” – the polite, aware, nice person thing – while still working on a laptop in public? How do you financially support your local small-business coffee shop while still camping out to work there for eight hours? How many cups of guilt tea can I order? And what exactly is the proper etiquette for telling the person sitting next to you to please stop hogging all the precious wifi with their Netflix documentary binging?
Luckily, at least one San Francisco café feels your pain and actually wants to work with you. At Coffee Bar‘s flagship location in the Mission, they've recently rolled out a new premium wifi option, in addition to their free, capped public offering. $5 dollars a day or $25 a month buys you unlimited access to all the blazing fast, “business-grade” 100mbit/sec wifi internet you could want. You no longer have to worry about being a camper nuisance as you slog away on your freelance Kickstarter promo video, or whatever. In fact, with Coffee Bar's new premium Wifi policy, you're offered the rare opportunity to actually, properly, politely pay for what you're using: the real estate, and the gigs and gigs of bandwidth.
Coffee Bar is a project helmed by Luigi DiRuocco of our friends and partners at Mr. Espresso, and over the last 6 years, their Mission location has become something of a hub for tech-minded entrepreneurs. This owes much to the soaring, industrial-ish space's pairing of good coffee, food and alcohol options with ample seating and outlets.
The Coffee Bar team clearly spends a lot of time thinking about the design and experience of their spaces. Their newer Financial District space was recently named one of the 10 Best Modern Coffee Shop Designs by Architectural Digest, thanks to its beautiful all-blond-everything design. At the Mission location, they made the very smart decision to set their seating up on a mezzanine, isolating the welcoming energy of the bar's foot traffic from the more sedentary upstairs areas.
The upstairs is full of different communal and individual seating options, with one section marked off with table-stands for no laptop usage during peak times. When I spent the afternoon working there, one woman was sitting at one of those tables, using her laptop and giving aggressive glares to anyone who gave her the side-eye, but Nathan Downs, Coffee Bar's Operations Manager, says the signs have by and large been “respectfully received by patrons and definitely helpful toward the bottom line.”
Though Coffee Bar was quite full of laptops when I went, there was still plenty of interaction and conversation going on, with a steady stream of customers engaging with the baristas and keeping things lively. Mr. Downs says that they have patrons who come in for 40+ hrs a week of work, and I think the large, well-segmented space, not to mention the great front patio, allows them to accommodate that sort of extended introverted behavior while still maintaining the dynamic feel of a communal hub.
It's refreshing to see a café that doesn't look at the issue of laptops as one of how to minimize those customers, but instead an issue of how to integrate those customers' desires into the business model of the café. It's a positive approach that appears to be paying off, according to Mr. Downs: “We gladly welcome customers who want to drink tea for 6 hours and pay $5 for our premium network. They can get some serious work done and a tasty cup of tea while we surpass our margins for the restaurant business model on that individual customer.”
He explains that “restaurants typically have a 10% profit margin model, so we would need to sell $50 worth of cafe food to that individual in order to profit $5.” The numbers aren't quite as simple as that of course, but the point remains. Most importantly, Mr. Downs says “we feel like we have not alienated our customers in the process.”
I tested out both wifi options during my Coffee Bar workday. The premium wifi is indeed crazy fast, and thanks to the heavy users taking advantage of it, the free public wifi available is actually sufficient for most light emailing and Facebooking tasks. The coffee is well prepared, and the cafe's light food options are more substantial and varied than most in San Francisco. And while I sat there working on blog posts on the blazing wifi – doing my young urban creative thing – a woman sitting next to me was talking on her cell-phone about “metrics” while wearing Google Glass.
So clearly, a lot of good work is getting done.
All photos by Alex Bernson for Sprudge.com