Rowan Walker, founder of The Bearded Baker, on his decision to ban laptops from his café – and how he deals with unjustified negative comments from customers.
With owning and running a café, the culture of customers using the space as a place to work in addition to drinking, eating and socialising has become common. You would be hard pushed to visit a busy coffee shop that didn’t have at least one table taken up by a laptop user slowly sipping coffee – and you wouldn’t blink an eye.
As much as it has become part of café culture, it can be damaging for us smaller guys. Our café, The Bearded Baker, is especially small. We have two tables that can both seat four, and a window table that holds two. We rely mostly on takeaway business to allow us to pay the bills, but the income from ‘sit-in’ customers is important too (particularly on rainy days, of which we have our fair share of in Edinburgh). So, when someone sets up office at a table and orders the cheapest menu item going, profits for the day tend to stutter.
This problem hit its height for us in mid-July this year. We had always had laptop users in the café – it wasn’t much of a problem when we were new and we’re not exactly in the centre of Edinburgh either. There was often room for them. However, from the beginning of this year, as we were becoming more established, we were turning people away due to our ‘lappy campers’. There was even one day where the entire café was taken up by three people using their laptops and spending a grand total of £7.20. This is when we decided something had to be done.
We introduced a no laptop policy that was met by a hugely positive response on social media. From regulars who often struggled to get a seat to other local cafés sharing similar stories, a vast majority agreed it was a good move. We immediately noticed a difference in sales and profits. A couple of laptop users have taken umbrage – with one leaving a damning Tripadvisor review stating she was “thrown out” and that “it was the worst customer service [she’s] had in Edinburgh”.
There’s no better way to react to unjustified negative customer comments than to embrace them fully. As any small business owner will know, getting a bad review or hearing something negative about your business is a painful thing. However, if it has no credibility there’s a whole host of people ready to tell you otherwise – your customers. Share it on social media and explain what really happened, as we did with this Tripadvisor review, and that one negative comment will be outweighed by many, many positives.