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Side Dishes: August First uncertain about Wi-Fi future

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Before Burlington’s August First even opened its doors, the social-media crowd had adopted the café and bakery. Owners Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick leaned heavily on tweeting and blogging to build buzz. Later, the spot’s free Wi-Fi attracted that same tech-savvy clientele. But now its future is in doubt.

“It actually costs us $10 per hour per table to pay our bills,” Whalen explains. In the early morning and late afternoon, people parked at tables with their laptops are fine, but at lunchtime, when the eatery gets ultra-busy, it’s a different story. “Some people were coming in and bringing their own food, which doesn’t work,” Whalen says. “There would be eight tables taken up by people who spent $2 on coffee.”

For a time, instead of policing their customers, the couple decided to nix the service. Although Wi-Fi is currently back on, Whalen and Merrick are pondering new ways to keep its use under control, such as turning off the flow during the midday rush.

Rich Nadworny, owner of Digalicious and a frequent user of the bakery’s Wi-Fi, likes that idea just fine. “They have to do business during the lunch hour. That’s when they make their money,” he points out.

And he has another solution in mind — asking his fellow customers to let table hogs know they’re hurting the biz. On his blog, Nadworny writes: “From 11:45 [a.m.] to 1:30 [p.m.], if you see someone drinking a coffee working on their computer, go up and tell them that if someone needs a table for lunch they’ll have to move.”

Why should customers start policing each other? “We love [Whalen and Merrick], and they’re stuck between choosing to do their business and supporting their community,” Nadworny writes. “We should be able to figure this out so they can do both.”