Restrictions on using laptop in coffee shop or library?
February 20, 2007 11:32 PM   Subscribe

Hello, I was wondering what are the standard rules for taking a laptop to a coffee shop or library. My laptop battery only lasts about 45 minutes, so do they allow you to plug in? And also, what are the normal costs of wifi access, if any? Thank you.
posted by CliffDiving44 to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
I have certainly plugged mine in, in both those places. Why don't you just call and ask?
posted by mzurer at 11:38 PM on February 20, 2007

In my experience, Barnes and Noble will not allow you to plug in (they even put covers over the outlets); Borders will let you charge your laptop and offers T-mobile wireless, which is expensive; and Starbucks will let your charge your laptop and also uses T-mobile.

I've used my laptop at all of the above in several states and had the same results in each, making me think that it's corporate policy.
posted by chickletworks at 11:52 PM on February 20, 2007

Oh, and all the public libraries I frequent will let you plug in your laptop-- most even provide designated desks or tables with extra outlets for doing so. Many libraries (in my area, at least) will make you register your laptop to use the wireless service and may require you to have a library card.
posted by chickletworks at 11:55 PM on February 20, 2007

I've never encountered a coffee shop or library that had problems with its patrons plugging in; the main difficulty is usually finding an accessible outlet.

Cafe wifi access varies widely, from quite expensive (at most Starbucks outlets, for instance), to free with purchase, to just plain free. It is considered good form to keep buying drinks (or food items) if you are staying for any length of time--at least one per couple of hours.
posted by fermion at 11:56 PM on February 20, 2007

I've plugged mine, and several other members of my study group, into wall outlets in coffee shops at Borders Book Stores, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, public libraries, and various other places offering WiFi. In the past, I've used T-Mobile at Starbucks and other coffee shops, but the prevalance of free WiFi at places like Panera Bread and many, many restaurants has made me question the sense in paying for WiFi, ever, when there are so many free alternatives to be found easily. Nobody offering "free" WiFi has ever said a thing to me about plugging in a laptop, or charging a cell phone for an hour. For an hour of operation, my P4 laptop uses 2x the power of a 60 watt light bulb, maximum. At prevailing electrical rates in the southeastern U.S., that's about 2 cents worth of juice. I take care with how I route the power cord, so as not to present a trip hazard to other patrons, and if I'm meeting other people who will be plugging in, I take along an outlet strip we can all plug into, so that we only need 1 of the available wall outlets.

And I usually wind up buying $5 to $8 worth of coffee and goodies per visit. So, I'm pretty sure I'm a good deal for such establishments.
posted by paulsc at 11:59 PM on February 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've never had trouble plugging in at any libraries where WiFi was being offered. IMO, any place offering internet access ought to expect that people are going to at least inquire about plugging in for AC. It comes with the territory.

Overall, just use common sense and don't be obnoxious. If there's an outlet available, sit next to it, so your cord isn't dragging along the floor. I suspect that most places will get mad at you for creating a safety hazard because of your cords, long before they'll care about the cost of the power you're using. (One trip-and-fall lawsuit pays for a whole bunch of kWh...)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:28 AM on February 21, 2007

Near my apartment there's a "Coffee People" shop which has free WiFi and doesn't mind people plugging in. However, the "Coffee People" chain was just acquired by Starbucks, which has a deal with for-pay "T Mobile", so it may not last much longer.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:48 AM on February 21, 2007

I've also never been given grief for plugging in at a coffee house. As others have said, the real issue is finding a free outlet. Sometimes there are free outlets but they are located far from the only free table, so it is good to bring an AC adapter with a long cord. Then you may have to deal with the potential social awkwardness of stringing cable across the coffee house. At some places you might run into lots of workers, though, and thus the awkwardness will be diminished by others having already done so.

The closest thing to a general rule I've found is that big chains, such as Borders and Starbucks, tend to charge for wifi and independent coffee houses quite often do not. The dessert place down the street just switched from free to pay, though.
posted by epugachev at 2:21 AM on February 21, 2007

OP, where do you live?

I live in the US and when I go to a non-chain coffee shop, I expect free wifi and ample plugs. I think paying for wifi somewhere is stupid - the establishment probably already has internet access so a wireless router is very cheap, plus they should be using it as a marketing tool to draw customers, not price-gouging them.

That said, I'd ask people in your area what good places are to go for free wifi. A library will probably have the most plugs, but I've been to plenty of coffee shops that have outlets lining the walls.

On another note, depending on the laptop you have, it probably wouldn't be that expensive to buy a new battery. They tend to not hold a charge after a couple of years.
posted by radioamy at 6:11 AM on February 21, 2007

Where I live, only chain coffee shops (ahem, Starbucks) charge for wifi. It's free pretty much anywhere independent, and plugging in the computer is OK in most places.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:40 AM on February 21, 2007

As has been stated pretty much already. The library I sometimes work at (the main branch of the system) literally has outlets everywhere for just such a purpose, including at the study carrels and tables. We also have free wifi service which does not require any sort of access code or library card (though I think this is not so common). Easiest thing to do would be to give the largest public library system you have access to a quick phone call.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 7:16 AM on February 21, 2007

I worked at a Barnes and Noble for several years and we were never told to not let people plug in. As long as you're not egregious about it (running your cord in places people could trip), you'll usually be fine.

Depending on where you're looking to use the service (downtown vs. suburb), you might be able to glom onto a free signal somewhere (usually easier in a city than a suburb).
posted by drezdn at 7:43 AM on February 21, 2007

Panera is the best, in my opinion. The wireless is free and fast, outlets are plentiful, bathrooms are clean, and they are usually not too crowded so you don't feel like a schmuck occupying a table for hours. Also, you can get a decent lunch there, not just coffee and pastries.

As far as the library goes, the reference desk is usually better than the front desk for helping you get set up. Don't count on getting a lot of work done the first time there, if you need wireless, since I've never had it go flawlessly right off the bat. Once you have your library card and you've gotten everything working, though, you can sit in the library and work till your butt goes numb, and no one minds.

The only drawback I've experienced in either of these places is the net nanny software. I once had trouble doing schoolwork (pharmacy school) in Panera b/c the net nanny software blocked a perfectly respectable web database that had the dread word DRUG in the title. Clearly, someone was thinking of the children.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2007

Argot tea. Free connection, lots of places to plug in.
posted by xammerboy at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2007

I love laptops at coffee shops and typically your more independent shops (ie, not Starbucks, B&N, Borders), have free WiFi access. It also depends on the store, but I've also found Starbucks to have the best access to outlets.
For the T-Mobile hotspots: If you already have a t-mobile phone with Internet access, you get access to t-mobile hotspots, too.
posted by jmd82 at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2007

In NYC, quite a number of cafes discourage plugging in, and the main reason I've been offered is that they run a risk of lawsuits if their electricity damages a customer's laptop. I'm not sure if I buy that, but I've heard it from a few different sources. Since my laptop's battery lasts approximately 45 seconds, I've become a connoisseur of places with an open-outlet policy.
posted by Eater at 11:34 AM on February 21, 2007

In NYC, quite a number of cafes discourage plugging in, and the main reason I've been offered is that they run a risk of lawsuits if their electricity damages a customer's laptop.

That's a BS reason. They just don't want you using there power.
posted by 6550 at 12:02 PM on February 21, 2007

Both of your questions depend completely on the location in which you plan on wifi'ing. Why wouldn't you just ask them?
posted by TheAnswer at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2007

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