Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

Talking to Coffee Shop Strangers Isn't the Worst Thing

With wi-fi freeloaders draining the bottom line, café owners try out creative approaches to get customers to stick around.
Customers gather around tables at Sightglass, a coffee bar and roastery, in San Francisco, California May 8, 2013.
Customers gather around tables at Sightglass, a coffee bar and roastery, in San Francisco, California May 8, 2013.REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Birch Coffee, on 27th Street near Madison Avenue, looks like an archetypal hip café: exposed brick walls, darkly stained wood, Edison-bulb lighting, books wedged into built-in shelves. Laptops, though, are less omnipresent than one might imagine. Wi-fi is only available after 5 p.m. during the week, and the café doesn’t have many outlets.

So if you can’t chip away at your work while you’re drinking your latte, what are you supposed to do? Next to the register, a black-and-white letter board encourages patrons to take a laminated prompt to their table and invite conversation: