Why a Burlington bakery is saying so long to laptops - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Why a Burlington bakery is saying so long to laptops

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Megan Palchak set up a makeshift office space at August First in Burlington. She used her phone and laptop to do a little business while enjoying a cup of coffee.

"Personally, I like to work in coffee shops," she said.

Trouble is, among the homemade soups, salads and sandwiches here, the cafe scratched some things from its menu. Now, no screens are allowed.

"It's a nice place to come and work, but we can't be a workplace," said Jodi Whalen, who owns August First.

August First wants to stop so-called coffee shop cybersquatting, where customers stay for hours, taking up tables without ordering much.

"Sometimes five or six hours and it prevented other customers from finding seats," Whalen said.

Whalen studied the number of lost customers due to lack of seating and estimates squatters ate up about $15,000 in potential profits last year, as would-be diners just walked out the door.

"We have tried to compromise for years," she said. "But we just reached the point where we have to make this big change."

Laptops and tablets are no longer welcome here.

"I suspect they are going to lose some customers because of it," said Paul Olsen, who teaches business courses at St. Michael's College.

Olsen worries a screen-free policy could end up biting August First.

"Consumers are going to judge and decide with their wallets," Olsen said. "You never want to say to customers, you're not welcome here. And really, they are sort of saying that."

He points out that patrons can still read books and newspapers and use their phones for as long as they want, and says business lunches could be canned if screens can't be used.

"The jury is out if the increased business they get from more turnover in the restaurant will outweigh losing some of those customers," Olsen said.

August First says it's not worried about losing business. It says the trend of cafes going screen-free started on the West Coast and it's slowly catching on here. In fact, Whalen says she's been contacted by other areas businesses, wondering how it's going.

"A lot of people understand this is a bakery and cafe; it's not an office," Whalen said.

She says places welcoming customers with free Wi-Fi in recent years now recognize it might be bad for business.

"The pendulum is swinging back because businesses are losing money with having Wi-Fi there," she said. "Unfortunately a lot of people have taken advantage of it."

Palchak had no problem with the new policy. She just might choose a different café next time.

"If I had known about the rule, I probably wouldn't have come," she said.

But on days when she's got no work to do, she'll return. She'll just leave the laptop at home.

"I really enjoy this space. Laptop-free or not," Palchak said. "I'll come back."

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