Free Wi-fi Etiquette at an Internet Café

Finding a café offering free wi-fi without a time or data limit, and without signing up for anything, is always somewhat of a revelation. One that serves decent coffee, and freely offers up a plug to charge up my laptop? Shangri-La!

When I find a spot where the wi-fi is dependable and free, I'm sold, and I quickly become a recognizable regular. This week I've been in Toronto staying with a friend who also happens to be a skilled barista at Toronto's very eclectic espresso bar Dark Horse. I've had a sort of carte blanche to sit at the bar sucking back macchiato and enjoying free wi-fi, but it has got me thinking. What is the best etiquette for enjoying free wi-fi at a local café?

After talking it out with friends who work the industry, and many a fellow patron, here are some dos and don'ts to help you avoid overstaying your welcome when your enjoying hours of free wi-fi:

Do: Tip your barista well.
A barista is like a bartender, plain and simple. 15% should be your starting point for a tip when the service is good. Impressed with the latté art or their willingness to cater to your unique order? 20%-25% tip goes a long way in what is often a decently skilled, but low paying field.

Make your barista feel like you appreciate the work they do, and they are likely to even bring you a glass of water, or a free dessert here and there, even on your 5th hour of sitting in their café.

Don't: Order off the menu, especially during peak hours.
You might have some unique dietary concerns, or maybe you're just very particular, but that really unique coffee order of your's is the bain of your local baristas existence.

It's often that the chemistry of certain drinks just doesn't work out, making a unique drink order something that is impossible to really pull off cleanly, and during busy hours, an awkwardly placed drink order can really slow things down.

You don't really want to be the person who baristas make fun of when they're off hours, so build a good relationship with your barista and consider asking their opinion about what works. Doing so your helping to build a shared atmosphere of respect that makes the difference between a place you are welcome to stop by, and one you are welcome to stay at.

Do: Order something every 2 hours.
A single coffee followed by 4 hours of free wi-fi? I'm a bit of a coffee fiend, and I easily cut through even the smoothest cappuccino in mere minutes. While often café's offer water, that doesn't mean that one coffee is all you need to buy to spend hours lounging about.

I like to order something at least once every 2 hours, if not something on the hour. It could be expensive to do so depending on the prices, but think about what you spend at a bar. $8 pints or cocktails (without the free wi-fi) seems perfectly reasonable at 11:00pm. If a place is offering free wi-fi, it's with the hope of drawing in business. Take advantage of that and you risk ruining a good thing for everyone.

Don't: Download torrents or large files.
Every once and a while you find a café with an un-throttled top tier internet connection, which is really the holy grail to a remote worker like myself. While the promise of free and abundant wi-fi is certainly glorious its best to not abuse the power it comes with.

If you happen to stumble upon an ideal open high speed network, respect that the owner spent the extra dough for you and don't overdo it. Don't download torrents, or large app updates, and if you're a developer (like me) save those really big pushes for your home network.

Do: Get to know your barista.
Finally, and I think this might be the most important way to ensure you never overstay your welcome; get to know your barista by name. Ask them about their life, they're relationships, if they're going to school, what they recommend from the menu.

The best way to always be welcome somewhere is to just be friendly, kind, and genuine with the people who serve you. Nail that, and always be welcome to enjoy hours of free wi-fi at your nearest café without scornful looks from overworked and under appreciated baristas.

(images: Sean Rioux)