Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
A tip for an enterprising barista.

So, the good Doc Searls recently observed the following:

I'm back at the same Starbucks, getting my hour's worth of wi-fi for ten minutes actual use. I can blog and get email, for some reason; but I can't browse, because I get redirected every time to an F-Mobile sign-up page.

Earth to Starbucks: Get another provider and give away the wi-fi for free, like milk and sugar. You're gonna be doing it eventually anyway.

Wi-fi is just another utility provided by businesses and municipalities as a civic grace, like toilets and light. Customers and citizens are already on the case. Follow the market. Take the loss and lead with it.

So there's this kick-ass coffeehouse here in the DC area, which offers free wi-fi access. I love this place. I love their people. I love everything about this place, except for one thing. See, guys like me are constantly coming into this place and setting up our little mobile offices to hang out and work using their wireless connection. This is great, except that one latte only goes so far. After about half an hour, you're left with an empty glass, a guilty feeling, a fear of leaving your seat in case somebody decided to steal it (or worse, your laptop) and a jonesing for another latte.

So, riddle me this: why don't the baristas come around every so often and offer you another drink?

I understand that most guys like me would rather be left alone than bugged by some hipster equivalent of a Denny's waitress. So, I propose the following: a tiny kiosk, no bigger than an iPod, on each table. I sit down, cruise to what I want on the menu on said kiosk, and place my order. The doohickey has a credit-card swiper built into it for either my VISA or my frequent-customer card (which is, dangerously enough, tied to my checking account). The doohickey sends my order to the kitchen, a couple minutes later a cute waitress brings my drink around, I tip her generously (or have already done so via the kiosk), and wham! I am happily strung along onto my next caffeine high, and the coffeehouse just made another four bucks.

If you assume there are twenty hard-core guys like me in there on a Sunday afternoon, and each guy spends an average of three hours at a table and orders another $4 coffee beverage every forty-five minutes, that's twenty people spending sixteen dollars apiece, or $320 in the till. If you assume those same people only order two $4 coffee beverages because they're dragging their feet or don't want to move, the coffeehouse just lost $160. Worse, if each of those twenty guys only orders one drink and nurses it for three hours (which happens a lot, mind you), the coffeehouse only makes $80 in an afternoon. That's a difference of $240. Oh, sure, the free wi-fi would cost you, what, $60, $150 a month? Chump change. You're milking these twenty caffeine-riddled Internet junkies for $1280 a month, for one weekly three-hour period alone.

Imagine the Starbucks of 2005, where every one offers free high-speed Internet access and a kiosk like this at every table. I'd leave twenty bucks poorer every time, but I'd be more than happy to come back tomorrow.

Anybody want to join a young entrepreneur on a little project?

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